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What To Do About High Vet Bills

Have a Pet? Here are some ideas to help combat high veterinary costs

About a month ago, I answered an ad on Craigslist for “free puppies.” After exchanging a few emails (and pictures) with the owner of the six-week old lab mix puppies, we decided to go and take a look. They were adorable! (Who can resist puppies, anyway?)

We ended up adopting two – cute brown and fuzzy, fun and energetic and full of mischief. Our kids fell for them immediately. They seemed the perfect addition to our family.

That is, until a week after they arrived, one of the puppies (we had named him “Nutmeg”) seemed a bit ill. We took Nutmeg to a local vet, figuring that he probably needed to be de-wormed … and it was time for his first round of shots anyway … and were dismayed when the vet told us the diagnosis – Parvo. Parvovirus is a viral disease that affects puppies much more frequently than it affects adult dogs. The virus grows quickly, and attacks the intestinal lining cells, causing diarrhea, vomiting, weakness and immune system suppression. In very young puppies it can infect the heart muscle and lead to "sudden" death.

We had no choice. Our “free” puppy was hospitalized for two days, and the bill added up to over $1,100! Unbelievable! Poor Nutmeg. And my poor wallet!

This got me to thinking, and with a little research, I discovered that Americans spend approximately $18 Billion each year on vet bills! I wondered if there is anything we can do to keep veterinary bills under control. It turns out that there are some positive steps we can take to help keep our bank account balances healthy!

According to Roseann Trezza, the executive director of Associated Humane Societies, Inc., the key to keeping pet health care costs down is using common sense and preventive care.

  • Cultivate a relationship with your veterinarian. Taking your pet to the same doctor each time ensures that he or she gets consistent care. As an established patient, your vet will also be much more likely to “work with you” to pay for emergency care, should the need arise.
  • Plan ahead. Don't wait for an emergency to seek care. As I discovered with Nutmeg's illness, its much more expensive and difficult to seek health care in a time of crisis.
  • Consider alternatives to “for-profit” veterinary practices. Humane society or university vet clinics may offer thriftier medical services than private practitioners. Ask other pet owners for their opinion of clinics that you consider.
  • Keep careful records of your pet's shots and other health-care services. If you switch vets, you won't risk having costly procedures duplicated if you can't recall what was done.
  • Check to see if your vet offers a “puppy plan.” Some veterinarians offer anaconomical plan that, for one price, pays for everything your new pet needs for the first six-months of life.
  • Spay or Neuter your pet. It has been shown that pets that have been spayed or neutered has decreased chances of getting a variety of serious illnesses. It's also generally known that such animals have fewer behavioral problems.
  • Take care of your pet's teeth. It sounds funny, but brushing your pet's teeth is a good way to avoid costly dental diseases later. Oral bacteria can lead to serious problems and complications.
  • Just as you would for yourself or a family member, get a second opinion when the vet recommends a costly or risky procedure for your pet. In any case, ask questions. Don't accept anything you don't completely understand.
  • Shop around for pet medicines. A quick Google search yielded several online pharmacies (http://www.nationalpetpharmacy.com; http://www.drsfostersmith.com; http://www.1800petmeds.com). The “DrsFosterSmith.com” site offered everything from Yogurt Drops for your doggy to a mini "jukebox" that plays "Love Me Tender" to your bird. Your vet may also have samples of some medications.
  • Consider purchasing pet health insurance. Pet health insurance works in much the same way as human health insurance. There's usually a deductible and copay and certain pre-existing conditions or breed restrictions may apply. Some of the insurance carriers I was able to find are PetCare Pet Insurance (1-866-275-PETS) and VPI Pet Insurance (1-800-USA-PETS or 888-899-4VPI).
The bottom line? You can do something to avoid breaking the bank taking care of your pet. You don't have to be rich, just careful and informed.
Published Feb 13 2010, 03:37 AM by moneycoach
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