by Amanda K. Jones, LVT
HOW TO SAVE MONEY AT THE VET (INCLUDING WHAT THE ONLINE PHARMACIES DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW!)
by Amanda K. Jones, LVT
In case you haven’t noticed, quality vet care isn’t cheap. But if it wasn’t–I’d be worried. Because it would be your pet’s health that had to suffer! The cost to run a veteinary clinic is more than what many people expect and most veterinarians retire before their college loans are paid off.
Of course, you probably could care less about all that! You just want your pet to receive proper health care without breaking the bank. Understood. Let’s find out how.
Tip #1: Be straight up!
If your pooch is acting sick and you KNOW he ate something out of the garbage–tell the vet! I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone through a list of expensive (and sometimes unnecessary) diagnostic procedures to find out that the owner knew all along what the problem might be!
“Oh yeah–I did notice that I had a sock missing . . .” Ugh!
We had one gentleman who knew his dog ate a pair of panties but didn’t want to tell us because, well . . . the panties didn’t belong to his wife.
Fortunately, the dog got better but his pocketbook paid the price. Not sure what happened to the marriage.
We’re not here to judge you–we’re here to make your pet feel better!
Tip #2: Follow your vet’s recommendations when it comes to preventative medicine (heartworm preventative, vaccinations, blood tests, etc.).
Do you think heartworm pills are expensive? Well, the cost of heartworm preventative is chump-change in comparison to what it costs to treat a heartworm positive dog.
Depending on the dog’s weight, a month of heartworm preventative can cost $3-8. If your dog tests positive expect to pay $500-$1000 (or more) to have him treated. Egads! That’s a mortgage payment for some folks.
And by the way, ALL DOGS are at risk for acquiring heartworm disease, even if living indoors. It only takes ONE bite from an infected mosquito. I’ve seen all kinds of dogs test positive for heartworm. The past few our clinic treated included a Chihuahua, a Bouvier, a Siberian Husky, and a Labrador retriever.
There has been a lot of discussion lately between the veterinary community and vaccine manufacturers. Thanks to scientific advances the immunity provided by many pet vaccines is lasting longer. Therefore, many veterinarians are recommending giving boosters on certain vaccines every three years instead of yearly. That will save you money!
Hopefully your veterinarian has jumped on this bandwagon. Vaccines are essential in protecting our pets against deadly viruses. But the less vaccines we have to give the better. It all depends on your pet’s age and lifestyle. Talk to your vet.
(At the end of this reports you’ll find a link to the latest canine vaccine guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association.)
Blood tests often reveal hidden health problems. If a disease is detected early, it will be both easier and cheaper to treat–for both you and your veterinarian. Treating diseases involving kidney failure and liver disease will cost you lots of money if your pet is in the later stages.
Even if your pet’s blood tests are normal you will have a baseline of his healthy values if there ever is a problem in the future. Not a bad investment.
Tip #3: Ask you veterinarian to price match products you find on the Internet.
I don’t know of any veterinarian who wouldn’t do this for a loyal client. If they say no, they’re downright crazy in my opinion!
Don’t expect to just walk into a clinic you’ve never been to before and ask them to price match. You have to establish a relationship with them first (see Tip #10).
Go to the website where you found the product(s) you want to buy. Enter what you need in the shopping cart. Go far enough into the checkout process where you have a total listed (obviously you don’t want to actually purchase the product.) MAKE SURE TO INCLUDE THE SHIPPING INFORMATION. You could also just print the information off the main product screen as long as the shipping information is included somewhere on the page.
Print this off and take it to your vet. Make sure that it is dated somehow as they probably won’t honor anything that wasn’t printed out during the last few days.
The truth is, online pharmacies could give a hairy melon about you and your pet! Trust me, I’ve been forced to speak to their customer service representatives on more than one occasion.
Veterinarians and their staff work hard to establish relationships with their clients. When you buy from them not only do you get the product (heartworm tablets, flea prevention, arthritis medication, whatever) but you also get the advice and knowledge that comes along with it. Sure, buying something for a cheaper price is a right you have as a consumer. But have you thought about WHY it’s cheaper?
First of all, many people don’t realize that veterinary products purchased from online retailers DO NOT COME WITH THE MANUFACTURER’S GUARANTEE. This is simply because the manufacturer did not approve for these products to be sold without the establishment of a client-doctor relationship. Someone out there with a veterinary license is making a pretty penny redistributing these items as bootlegged items.
So, let’s say you’ve been giving your dog his heartworm preventative faithfully each month as directed. Then he tests positive for heartworm. After all, no medication in animal or human medicine is 100% effective. (Can we say birth control pills?) It happens.
If it shows in your dog’s medical record that you have purchased heartworm medication from the clinic on a regular basis THE MANUFACTURER WILL PAY FOR 100% OF YOUR DOG’S HEARTWORM TREATMENT! If you’ve purchased heartworm medication from an online vendor it’s up to you to foot the bill.
Just last week our clinic treated a heartworm postive dog. Luckily his owner previously purchased a year supply of heartworm preventative from us (who knows if it was actually given to the dog). When he tested positive for heartworm guess who paid for the treatment? Yep–the manufacturer.
Imagine if manufacturers of birth control pills had to be held responsible for all those unexpected pregnancies! This demonstrates the value pet manufacturers place on the establishment of a vet-client relationship.
Now, I told you earlier that giving your dog heartworm preventative was a good investment right? Don’t expect the manufacturer to pay for treatment if you decide to buy just one or two pills. It has to show on your pet’s medical record that you’ve purchased the amount recommended by your veterinarian.
Keep in mind that if you ever say, “No thanks” to a refill on heartworm preventative, “client declines heartworm preventative” gets written in your pet’s record. Hopefully that doesn’t come back to haunt you later on! If you think I’m just blowing a bunch of hot air into your face just to make sure you purchase your products from the vet take a look at what Novartis has to say about it.
Follow the link (http://www.interceptor.novartis.us/dog/en/about.shtml) and then scroll down to the bottom of the page where it says, “Novartis 100% Satisfaction Guarantee to Veterinarians.”
See? I’m not making this up!
The guarantee also applies to other products besides heartworm medication. If your dog has some kind of reaction or if for some reason you are unhappy with your purchase good luck getting any support or refund from the online vendor!
They also say these products are “exactly like what you get from your vet!” They’re not. Many clients receive products that have expired or in packages written in a different language.
We also don’t know how these products are being shipped or stored. Have they been baking in a non-air-conditioned warehouse somewhere? Freezing in the back of a delivery truck? Who knows?
Bottom-line–give your money to your veterinary hospital. They have your pet’s best interest at heart.
Tip #4: Spay or neuter your dog
Research has proven time and time again that spayed and neutered dogs have fewer medical problems as they get older. Females dogs that have not been spayed are at an increased risk for mammary cancer and infected uteruses. Intact males are more likely to develop prostate and testicular cancers. All are expensive to treat!
Would you rather pay for a routine or a complicated surgery if it meant saving the life of your dog? Trust me on this one–it’s a total no brainier. You’ll thank yourself later.
Taking care of a litter of puppies is also NOT CHEAP.
Tip #5: Don’t have pet insurance? Apply for CareCredit or the Citibank Health Card.
There may come a time when your pet requires a medical procedure that you can’t afford. Hopefully you’ll never have to face this situation, but chances are you will. And it’s never at a time when you have lots of extra cash in your bank account just waiting to be spent!
Many veterinary hospitals do not offer payment programs. This is simply because many pet owners never follow-up on their payments. Don’t take it personally. If they did accept payments they would have to charge even more to cover the costs associated with the deadbeats. But that doesn’t help you out does it?
Well, luckily there is a solution to this problem. Veterinary hospitals have begun working with two companies that take care of setting up payment programs for them. This is a great solution because the credit service pays the hospital and you can take as long as you want (almost) to pay off the bill. Just be sure to pay off the balance before the interest kicks in. It all varies depending on the plan you choose and what you are approved for.
The two payment services are Care Credit ( http://www.carecredit.com ) and the Citibank Health Card (http://www.citibank.com/us/cards/cardserv/healthcrd/). You can apply online for credit. Your veterinary hospital will probably have an account set up with one or the other. Do a search to see if your veterinary hospital is listed on their list of providers.
Other medical providers such as dentists and eye doctors also accept this form of credit, so it can be used for things other than your veterinary bills. If your veterinary hospital does not have an account set up with either company, you many want to consider taking your pet to another hospital in your area that does.
Here’s some testimonials from the CareCredit website:
My dog was very sick and needed emergency surgery or she would have died. I had the money for the surgery in savings, but when the vet offered to enroll me in CareCredit, I thought that it would be an opportunity to spread the payments over a six month period, without interest, and not have to dip into savings. It was great. It made a very traumatic experience less traumatic because I didn’t have to worry about the financial aspects. – Maryann M.
I am single and live on my own with very little income. My cat is my baby and he became sick. I was so upset because I did not think I would be able to afford his healthcare. My veterinarian told me about CareCredit and I was so pleased that I was able to apply and have an account that I could use for my cat’s healthcare. If it was not for CareCredit, I would not be able to afford healthcare for my best furry friend in the entire world. – Rebecca F.
CareCredit seems to be more popular with veterinary hospitals because it’s endorsed by the American Animal Hospital Assocation but both companies offer pretty much the same features and benefits.
The advantage to using these accounts as opposed to a credit card is that you don’t have to pay any interest as long as you pay off the balance before your deadline. If you don’t you’ll be paying some hefty interest charges though!
Tip #6: Decline optional items and services.
When someone from the veterinary staff presents you with an estimate for a surgical procedure or hospitalization, ask if there are items that you can decline. Sometimes they won’t tell you unless you ask.
Each hospital is different, but many clinics are required to present you with an estimate that includes everything but the kitchen sink. It may surprise you that the main reason this is done is NOT to make more money (although it certainly helps) but to protect the hospital in case something happens to your pet.
For example, Mr. Smith’s toy poodle Fluffy comes in for a dental cleaning. The dental goes fine but a few days later Fluffy starts acting sick. It turns out that Fluffy has kidney disease and her body has not been able to recover from the effects of anethesia.
Unfortunately, Mr. Smith declined the pre-anesthetic blood panel that was offered to him. Otherwise the veterinarian would have known not to do the dental.
However, if the hospital had not offered Mr. Smith the blood panel there is the potential here for a lawsuit.
It should be said that the surgical risks involved with anesthesia are very small (in human and veterninary medicine) but they do exist. By offering you the most complete package possible the hospital is simply protecting itself from owners who like to play the “blame game.”
Another example could be Mrs. Johnson and her Labrador Retriever, Max. Max comes home from being neutered and licks his incision open.
Mrs. Johnson says, “Well how come you never offered me an e-collar? I’m not paying to have it sutured again!” And the hospital ends up doing it for free, because no, she wasn’t offered an e-collar.
For surgical procedures like a spay or neuter an estimate may include things like bloodwork, IV fluids, and an e-collar. However, depending on the age and health status of your pet they may not all be required. Talk it over with your vet. But cutting out these items can significantly cut down your costs. Again, it depends on the health of your pet.
Bloodwork checks your dog’s liver and kidney functions before going under anesthesia. Normally this is a requirement for older pets but if your dog is young it may not be necessary unless you want to know his normal blood values for future reference.
Your pet will be fasted in order to go under anesthesia and IV fluids will keep him hydrated during and after the surgery. Pets receiving IV fluids during surgery ususally recover more quickly and smoothly from the anesthesia and it keeps their blood pressure elevated. An IV catheter also allows a technician to infuse life-saving drugs as quickly as possible in case of an anesthetic emergency.
I ALWAYS recommend an IV catheter and IV fluids for females undergoing a spay procedure. However, for male pets being neutered it may not always be necessary because the procedure is far less complicated.
An e-collar is the lampshade or cone that goes around your pet’s head to prevent him from licking open the incision. (YES, it can be done–and it doesn’t take long.) But not all pets will need one. If you want to decline the e-collar just keep a close eye on your pet. Later if you decide he needs an e-collar you can purchase one at the vet or at the pet store.
However, if your pet DOES lick open his incision and it shows on his medical record that you declined an e-collar you WILL be charged to have it re-sutured!
Again, talk about the different options with the hospital staff. If you are sincere about it, they will usually work with you. Just don’t be rude or pushy. The person who presents the estimate to you most likely has nothing to do with setting the prices!
Tip #7: Bring in samples you collect at home.
If your pet is having a urinary-related problem try to bring in a sample of urine if you can. Your vet will have instructions on how to do this. It’s not that hard. We love clients who bring in urine samples from their pet because it means less work for us!
If urine must be collected by veterinary staff there is a chance you’ll have to pay for it, especially if your pet won’t “give it up” on his own and they have to obtain a sample using either a syringe or catheter.
The same goes for fecal samples. If your dog is having diarrhea the vet may want to examine a stool sample. Bring one just in case. If they don’t need it, no harm done.
Tip #8: Take advantage of manufacturer coupons.
Manufacturers of heartworm and flea products almost always have coupons available. Your veterinarian has them but you can also print them off the internet. Below is a list of websites and links that are current as of this writing. If for some reason the coupon link doesn’t work trying going to the product or manufacturer’s website and search for it that way.
Note: the following product and coupon links are for US residents. There are links to other countries listed on the manufacturers’ home pages. At the time this report was written Interceptor did not have a coupon available on the Novartis website. If there is still not one available call and ask your vet if they have one!
Merial (Heartgard Plus and Frontline Plus) http://us.merial.com/
Novartis (Interceptor, Sentinel) http://www.ah.novartis.com/
Tip #9: Purchase Pet Insurance
Because of the rising costs of veterinary care there are many companies offering pet insurance these days. It seems like everyone is starting to jump on the bandwagon. In fact, the ASPCA just started a program of their own. (You can read all about their program here: http://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/).
Comparing all the different plans is beyond the scope of this report, but policies start for as little as $6 a month. It’s defintely a worthwhile investment.
Usually you end up paying for any vet services you need and then the provider reimburses you.
I don’t want to be over-dramatic, but pet insurance could literally save your pet’s life! I know of one client whose Beagle was hit by a car and needed a surgery that only could be done by an orthopedic specialist. We’re talkin’ major bucks! Luckily she invested in pet insurance while he was a puppy and was able to have the procedure done for a MUCH cheaper price!
If you are interested in learning more about pet insurance and the different plans available there is an ebook called Pet Insurance Revealed that covers the topic in-depth. It is very well worth looking into.
For more information please visit the following link: (http://www.amandakjones.com/recommends/petinsurancerevealed)
Your pet and your pocketbook will thank you!
Tip #10: Be a loyal client.
I highly recommend finding a veterinary clinic you feel comfortable with and sticking with that clinic for the lifetime of your pet.
Let’s say it’s late in the evening and you have an emergency with your dog. He’s been hit by a car, having a seizure, etc. You call the clinic closest to you and ask, “what do I do?” If you’re a loyal client they’re going to say, “Come right in!” However, if you’ve never been to this clinic before and they’ve never heard of you, chances are you’re going to be referred to the local emergency hospital. Not cheap!
If you also have a long-standing relationship with a clinic there’s also a chance that they will let you make payments if your pet needs an expensive surgery or needs to be hospitalized. If you have a track record of coming in on a regular basis and paying in full each time they are more likely to trust your credit more than someone who has never been to the hospital before.
Each hospital is different though. Some won’t accept payments at all, no matter who you are. Again, don’t take it personally.
Many veterinary hospitals also send their loyal clients coupons in the mail that can be used for numerous products or services.
Tip #11: Participate in Low Cost Vaccine clinics.
Does your clinic offer low cost vaccination clinics? Ask! Some hospitals designate a certain time during the week or month for vaccine clinics. This means no exam is done on your pet (so no office exam charge) and only vaccines are given. Obviously, only take your pet to a vaccine clinic if he is acting healthy and schedule an exam for another time when you can afford it.
Do not come equipped with a list of questions for the doctor during a vaccine clinic because they won’t be answered! That’s the whole point of the vaccine clinic. No office call!
Tip #12: Talk to friends, pick up the phone, and get it in writing!
Sometimes the best way to save money at the vet is simply to find the cheapest clinic in town! Sometimes though the cheapest clinic is not the best in terms of quality care and service–but only you can be the judge of that.
Ask your friends where they take their pets and ask what kind of prices they charge. Ask to see receipts if possible because some hospitals charge for things differently. How do your friends like the service there? Are the doctors knowledgeable? Is the staff friendly?
If you want to know how much a clinic charges just pick up the phone and ask! Sometimes you can get a good feel about the hospital just by talking to the person on the phone. Some hospitals won’t give prices out over the phone and will want to mail you the information instead. That’s fine–you’ll just have to wait a little longer.
Which brings me to my next point: always get prices and estimates in writing! This is hard to do over the phone which is why some hospitals ask if it’s OK to mail you something. But if they don’t, ask to have a list of prices sent to you in the mail (or pick them up yourself).
Veterinary hospitals can be quite hectic at times and sometimes the person on the phone will simply quote you the wrong price. It happens. Then when you go to check out–surprise! This is no fun for anybody.
If you are calling around to get estimates on surgical procedures always ask what’s included in the price. If you ask “How much to spay a 40 pound dog?” they might say $150. But that may be just the price for the actual surgical procedure itself. Things like anesthesia, bloodwork, pain medication, IV fluids, and e-collar are often not included in that price. Like I said, get it in writing.
Most clinics make you sign an estimate before dropping your pet off for surgery. That way there are no suprises come pick-up time. If there is no estimate given at the time of drop-off ask to see one (unless you really don’t what to know how much it’s going to cost!).
Remember too that an estimate is just that–an estimate. Some things just can’t be predicted ahead of time. But you should be notified if the bill is going to be higher than expected.
Tip #13: If you can’t afford one pet, don’t get another one!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen owners complain about how they can’t afford to take care of Pet A and then show up later with new Pet B! Yes, I know it’s hard to say no in some circumstances but you are doing the pet a disservice if you cannot afford to take care of him properly.
I know I wouldn’t have as many pets as I do if I didn’t work at a veterinary hospital. There’s no way I could afford it!
Tip #14: Have your pet examined sooner rather than later.
You know your pet better than anybody. If something just isn’t right, you know it. Don’t say, “Well, I’ll just wait a couple days and see if he gets better. I just can’t afford a vet visit right now.”
Chances are if you wait, your bill is going to cost more because whatever is bothering your pet will be harder to diagnose and treat.
We once had a woman who brought her cat in because she noticed he was drooling a little. Come to find out the poor kitty had a sewing needle stuck in his mouth! After giving him a light sedative we were able to pull the needle out easily.
If she had waited an extra day or even a few more hours chances are he would have swallowed the needle. A needle stuck in the intestinal track is a lot harder to find, and a lot harder to get out than a needle stuck in the mouth! (Needles should stay in the haystack where they belong!)
Kitty was lucky to have such an observant owner. And by bringing her cat in sooner rather than later, the woman probably saved herself at least $500-800. That’s a lot of catnip!
Everyday I hear pet owners complain about the high price of their bills and it makes me sad. I wish prices could be cheaper so more people could afford quality health care for their pets. Heck–I wish more people could afford quality health care for themselves!
But it is what it is.
Hopefully these tips will help ease the burden a little.