Taking your pet to the vet doesn't have to mean getting taken to the cleaners. Here are some simple things you can do to keep your vet bills down without sacrificing the quality of the care that your pet receives.
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Use a Vet College
Have a veterinary college near by? Check to see what they charge for their services. They typically offer a sizable discount over what the local vet clinics and animal hospitals charge because they have lots of students who need to gain hands-on experience. Your pet will be seen by a student, but all care will be overseen by an experienced veterinarian.
For help finding a school near you, refer to the American Veterinary Medical Associations list of accredited veterinary colleges.
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Ask for Written Prescriptions
Most vets mark up the medications they sell considerably. Insist on a hard-copy of any prescription that your pet needs, so you can shop around for the best deal. If it's a medication that's also used to treat humans, you may be able to fill it at your local pharmacy. And if it's available in generic form, you may even be able to fill it at Walmart for $4.
Shopping online for pet meds can also save money, but you have to be careful not to get scammed. The FDA has some guidelines to follow to ensure you're dealing with a reputable pharmacy.
Feel more comfortable buying from your vet? Then, compare prices, and see if they'd be willing to match the lowest price that you were able to find.
Of course, free prescriptions are better still. Always ask your vet if they have free samples available before you rush out to fill a script. This is an especially smart move if you're trying out a new drug that you aren't sure will agree with your pet.
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Take Advantage of Specials
People doctors may not run specials, but many vets do. If you're shopping around for a new vet, ask if they offer a new patient discount and/or a multi-pet discount. If you already have a vet that you're happy with, find out if they ever run a deal on dental cleanings or other preventative care services. If they do, be sure to schedule your pet's visit then.
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Attend a Pop-Up Clinic
Many organizations, like the Humane Society and ASPCA, offer vaccination and spay/neuter events throughout the year to ensure low-cost pet care is available to the community. Just show up, and you'll be able to take advantage of the discounted services.
Check with your local organizations to find out when the next event is scheduled. If they don't have anything planned, they may know of other organizations that do.
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Shop Around for Services
Fees can vary considerably from one vet to the next. If you're looking for a new vet, call around to several offices to inquire about their fees for basic services (or services that you use regularly). Offices in high-rent areas will typically charge more, so be sure to check with some offices in less posh and trendy neighborhoods.
Once you've locked in a vet that you and your pet love, use your bargain shopping prowess to ensure you're getting the best deal on any care that has to be handled out of the vet's office. The service costs associated with ultrasounds, lab work, and other diagnostic tests can vary wildly from one provider to the next. Call around to compare prices. Then, let your vet know whom you'd like to use. As long as they receive the results of the test(s) they ordered, they shouldn't mind a bit.
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Consider All Your Options
Listen to the course of action your vet suggests. Then, ask what other options are available. She may not always suggest the cheapest course of action—even if it's just as effective. Let the vet know you're on a tight budget, and she may offer to help you with free samples, discounted services or a payment plan. But bottom line: your vet can't help you if you don't make them aware of your need. So, don't hesitate to talk about the financial side of the visit. Talking money doesn't mean you love your pet any less. It just means you're financially responsible.
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Ask for a Written Estimate
Any time your vet recommends a treatment or procedure, request to see a written estimate for the services that are to be performed. This will give you a clear picture of what you can expect to pay, and what is and is not included in that fee. If you see anything that you don't understand, or that seems unnecessary, you can ask about that, too. There may be extra services lumped in that could be removed to get the total down.
Want to shop around for a better deal? With a copy of the estimate, you'll be well-equipped to do that. Having everything in writing makes it easy to ensure you're comparing apples to apples. After all, a cheaper deal is only a better deal if you'll be getting the same quality of service.
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Plan for the Expense
Set aside money for pet care, but don't be too quick to reach for the credit cards when your pet's medical costs exceed your savings. Be upfront with your vet about your ability to pay. They may agree to a payment plan or recommend a line of pet credit with a no-interest introductory rate. If you can find a way to avoid paying interest, do it.
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Look Into Pet Insurance
Pet insurance can be a good deal, but it's important to understand what it covers and what it excludes before you buy. If you decide that your dog needs pet insurance, compare several companies to see which has the best deal for you, and be sure to evaluate whether you'll get enough value from the coverage to make up for the cost of premiums. Also, consider whether your vet takes the insurance that you're considering. If you don't want to switch vets, it's important to find a company they work with. Many insurance companies offer multi-pet discounts, so pet insurance may be a better deal for multi-pet households.
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Maintain Your Pet's Weight
Make sure your pet gets the right amount of food and plenty of exercise. A pet with a healthy weight is less likely to suffer from diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and cancer. And dishing out the proper portions also means less food expense for you. A win-win.
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Schedule Annual Exams
Take your pet for yearly check-ups, so the vet catches problems before they turn into something big and expensive. Early detection will save you money, and ensure your pet maintains a good quality of life.
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Talk with your vet about the proper vaccination schedule for your pet. Studies have now shown that the Distemper-Parvo vaccine only has to be given once every three years, and there are one and three-year options for the rabies vaccine.
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Seek Out Animal Welfare Charities
If your pet requires care that you can't afford, there are organizations that may be able to help. The Humane Society maintains a page of animal welfare charities. Some cater to specific breeds. Some are for service dogs. And some are designed to assist anyone who needs help. The page also includes suggestions for securing a loan or raising the funds quickly.