Thursday, July 22, 2010

Taming Vet Bills

Taming Vet Bills
Times are tough. Many people are unemployed or under-employed.  With so many other things tugging at our pocketbooks we need to be sure that our fuzzy kids aren't left out when it comes to proper vet care.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

It's an old cliche' but so very relevant in so many situations.  If you don't get a 30 dollar oil change every few months, you can wind up spending thousands to repair your engine.  If you don't get the proper preventative care for your pets, you could wind up spending thousands at the veterinary hospital.
  • Get your pets vaccinated.  Parvovirus and distemper are awful diseases that affect many unvaccinated pets - especially puppies. Pet parents who have experienced these diseases can tell you that their dogs suffer greatly. Sometimes a pet parent can spend thousands of dollars at the vet and the dog still dies.  Those that survive can have life long complications - especially from distemper. 
    • Vaccinations against Rabies, Parvovirus, and Distemper are only needed every one to three years (depending on the vaccine).  Luckily, these are not surprise or emergency vaccinations - pet parents can save money specifically for these things.  Rabies vaccinations are required by law. Rabies disease is transmittable and potentially fatal to humans and most mammals (dogs, cats, raccoons, etc). 
    • Puppies and kittens must get a series of shots, starting at 6 weeks of age and every 3-4 weeks thereafter until their last vaccine is given after they are 16 weeks old. Talk to your vet about the schedule and please please don't let your pet on the ground or on the floor in public until he/she is done with shots.  Please don't let him/her in the dog park, Petco, Petsmart, etc.. They can pick up diseases easily before they are done with shots.
    • note: For the more experienced pet parents -  I know there are some schools of thought about how often or even if vaccs are needed.  I'm not smart enough to debate anyone on this subject. But I will say with some confidence though that if you choose not to vaccinate your pet for health reasons then titer testing is a must to make sure your pet still has antibodies. But this is a discussion for another time. This post is about saving money. Titer testing costs several hundred dollars. Vaccinations are quite cheap in comparison.
  • Keep your pets on heartworm preventative each and every month.  Heartworm is an awful preventable disease that is often fatal if not treated.  Worms grow in the heart and cause all kinds of complications- heart disease and enlargement and- eventually death.  Many dogs feel like they are choking as the worms fill up the heart.  Treatment for heartworms consists of basically poisoning the worms. Then the worms have to be absorbed in the dogs circulation. Some dogs don't even survive the treatment.  Also the treatment is very expensive. Expect to spend 600 dollars or more for treatment depending on the size of your dog.  Heartworm preventative will cost less then ten dollars a month depending on the size of your dog.  That's less than 30 cents day. Once again - not a surprise expense - something a pet parent can prepare for. 
    • Dogs that are mostly inside still need preventative.  All it takes is one mosquito bite for your dog to become infected.
    • Also note: If you have never used heartworm preventative, get with your vet first.  An inexpensive test needs to be done to insure your dog doesn't already have heartworms; and certain breeds (collie type breeds) might have medical issues with certain brands of heartworm preventatives.
    • Also be aware that heartworm medication is a prescription and generally requires one in order to obtain it.


  • Keep Fifi's or Fido's weight in check.  Obese dogs have the same complications as obese humans - heart and joint disease, diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc.. Keeping weight at an acceptable level will save on vet bills.  Feed your dog a nutritious dog food (talk to your vet) and cut  back on table scraps and dog biscuits.  Some human foods are okay for an occasional low calorie treat - carrots, apples, etc.. Once again talk to your vet and see a previous post about foods that are bad for our pets:
    • Note: I'm not smart enough to talk about a raw diet.  If you decide to do this, do your research and talk to your vet


  • Keep your fence in good repair. Replacing a board might cost 5 dollars.  Much cheaper than the 600 to 1,500 dollar vet bill you will incur if your dog gets hit by a car.  Fence only 4 feet high and your dog keeps jumping it?  If you can't afford a 6 foot fence right now, keep Fido inside until you can save up the money.  Sometimes no matter what you do, your dog will get out of the yard. Some of them are just that good. These dogs should only be allowed outside when they can be attended to.  These dogs are not only in danger of causing you a huge vet expense but they could loose their lives, get lost or stolen.  More info on escape artists can be found here: Additionally, even if your dog is not an escape artist, never take him/her out in public without a secure collar  or harness and leash.  Not only is this the law in most areas, but more importantly, any dog can get distracted and take off.  A dog running after a rabbit might not notice the speeding car coming in her/his direction.  
  • Please don't let your dog ride in the back of a pickup truck.  All it takes is that one time for your dog to jump out while you are speeding down the highway - huge vet bill or worse- dead.  Not only could your dog get injured or killed but you might even cause a traffic accident.  Some folks might say that their dog has never jumped from the back of a moving truck, but my response is another old cliche' - "there is a first time for everything".  One example (of many I hear): A lady who was needing help finding a lost dog was telling me that her dog always walked down the street to go visit the neighbor's dog and "he always comes back".  A short time later, I received another call from a good Samaritan.  The dog was found dead.  So the baby always came back - except for that one time that he was run over by a car.  You dog might always ride well in the back of a truck - except for that one time he sees a deer or smells a female dog in heat.  Restraining our dog in the back of the truck is a bad idea as well. The dog can try to jump out and hang him/herself.  Pet parents should also be extra careful about letting their dogs stick their whole head or parts of their body out of the car window.  They could jump out or get hit by flying debris.

Establish a relationship with your vet

Find a vet you like and go to him/her for all of your vet care needs.  If your dog gets injured or sick, your regular vet might be more willing to work with you on a payment plan.  Shot clinics may be a great way to save money (however, often they are no less expensive then the regular vet and many times do not provide a complete physical examination); but a yearly check up at your vet is a must  - not only for preventative care but to also establish that relationship.  Also, if a vet sees your dog regularly, he or she will be more attuned to your dog's needs and will be able to see health changes more easily. I get my dogs nails trimmed and anal glands expressed at the vet about once a month. Sometimes I go to my vet for nothing.  We just sit in the lobby and I give him treats.  This helps me for two reasons - a. 3 of my dogs are very shy and nervous.  I want them to get accustomed to the vet's office and I want them to know that going to vet office doesn't always mean something bad.  b. And of course, it establishes that relationship. The staff there knows me and my dogs. 

Get small health issues taken care of right away 

So you see a tiny little bald spot on your dog. You don't want to spend 30 or 50 dollars or so for a vet visit for something so small?  Well think about what it will cost when the spot gets bigger and it's harder to treat. What if that little spot turns out to be sarcoptic mange - which is transmittable to humans.  Take care of small problems before they become big problems.  Not only is it much cheaper in the long run, but your baby will avoid needless suffering.

Get your pet spayed or neutered

This is a good idea for so many reasons - pet over population, health issues, etc.. A neutered dog might be less likely to want to roam. A 200 dollar spay surgery is much cheaper than taking care of 15 puppies - or worse. Some Mamas have complications during birth just like humans and require c-sections or worse- can die. The vet bill can be very expensive and your dog will needlessly suffer.  There are many low cost or even free spay neuter clinics in San Antonio. Two Hundred Dollars is probably about what you'd pay at a regular vet. Lost cost (and sometimes free) spay/neuter resources are also available:

Get Pet Insurance

Shop around and read the fine print.  Some deals are better than others. Some are not deals at all. Ask your vet for advice.  It will be easier to come up with 10 to 20 dollars per month for insurance rather than come up with 600 dollars for an MRI or X ray if something goes wrong.  We have medical insurance for humans - why not for our companions?  keep in mind all insurance polices require upfront payment and then will reimburse you. 

Establish a savings account for your dog

Even if you only have a couple of dollars to spare, put it away for Rex.  If you don't have 2 or 3 dollars a month to put away, then start looking at what you can do without to come up with some spare change (but more is better).  Eat out less, give up foods that aren't good for you.  If you smoke or drink alcohol - give that up.  Give up that cable or satellite TV.  Instead of going out to the movies or to a night club, socialize with people and other dogs at free dog walking meetups.
So times are tight and you've done all that already and there is still no money?  Look a little harder.  Nutritionally, a meal of beans and brown rice has about as much protein as streak.  And it provides plenty of vitamins, minerals and fiber. You can get about 10 or more servings out of a 50 cent pack of dried lentils.  Gave up meat, candy and pastries already?  Can you eat a little less food?  Many of us eat way more than we need.  Can you cut back on a snack a day for the health of your dog?

Establish credit

Just so you will have it for emergencies.  Don't use it to buy new clothes or a game station. If you haven't established credit yet or if you are trying to repair bad credit; then you might have to start with cash secured cards or department store cards. Buy some necessities with them (groceries, school clothes, etc..) to get your credit going - but be sure to pay them off right away. Don't even wait until the end of the month. Have the money to pay the bill before you use the card. For vet expenses, also look into Care Credit:

When that big expense happens

So, you've kept your dog safe in your yard or on leash; you've kept her or his weight to an acceptable level and fed her/him quality dog food.  But a big vet bill still comes in and you are low on cash - what do you do?  Pay day loans are always a bad idea. But if you don't have credit established, then you might have to consider that.  Pawn something  - Jewelery, furniture, electronics, etc.. Anything that is worth less than your dog's life or health.  Which is everything.  If you spend time calling around to see which vet is the cheapest, the dog could be getting worse and the expense could be going up - not to mention your dog might be suffering.
So you've sold everything, you are hungry from lack of eating and you still can't afford the vet bill?
Charitable organizations are over taxed but give them a try -
Our dogs do so much for us and ask for so little in return.  We should try our best to make sure they are safe, happy, and well.  For more info on vet expenses,  and for information on free or low cost spay/neuter vaccinations, please see:
For information on cutting back on expenses - The Tightwad Gazette is an excellent resource - don't buy it. Get it at the Library:
Other useful info on saving money
La Trenda