Everyone is trying to save money these days, including pet owners. But in an effort to cut back on costs, you may hear advice that could end up compromising your pet’s health. Regardless of what you hear, providing your pet with regular preventive care is the key to a healthy and long life for your pet. And an investment in preventive healthcare can reduce your long-term pet healthcare costs. How? Preventive care does just what its name suggests–it can prevent diseases that can put your pet’s life in jeopardy and be costly to treat. Regular exams also often catch budding health issues that can become bigger problems if left untreated, saving you hundreds–or even thousands–of dollars as a result and possibly even the life of your pet.
We recognize that cost is a major concern for pet owners, but selecting a veterinarian involves more than just price-shopping. There are several factors to consider when you choose a veterinarian, such as convenient office hours, how the veterinarian and staff treat you and your pet, and what type of payment options and plans they offer. Cost is often a factor, but it may not be the most important factor to consider. While some veterinary medical services may be offered at very low rates, remember that they also may not include comprehensive services. Make sure you compare “apples to apples,” so you know that the cost estimates you’re getting are for the same services. For example, one estimate might be for surgery alone, while another higher-cost estimate also includes some pre-operative blood work and post-operative pain relief; and when you add these services to the lower-cost estimate, the prices are more comparable than you originally thought.
And what about “Dr. Google?” More and more, people are resorting to the Internet to find information and guidance on health issues–for both themselves and their pets. Sorting out reliable from unreliable information online can be challenging, and the Internet is certainly not a reliable substitute for hands-on evaluation by your veterinarian or physician. Don’t get us wrong. Not all information on the Internet is wrong or misguided. But groups such as the American Veterinary Medical Association reminds us to be very cautious when relying on online information for decisions regarding your pet’s health. And steer clear of anyone offering online diagnoses or treatment recommendations, either for free or for a fee. They may be bogus, not to mention illegal.
Every good veterinarians will emphasized that annual preventive healthcare exams and regular preventive care–such as vaccinations, heartworm testing, fecal parasite exams, dental evaluation and more–save pets’ lives by ensuring they’re healthy. They can also save pet owners money by reducing or eliminating the risk of health problems that can be more expensive to treat. The cost of preventive care usually pales in comparison to the cost of treating the disease or problem that would have been prevented. Regular exams can also detect problems early, before they become more serious… and probably more expensive to treat. In a nutshell, spending the money up front on preventive care can save you a lot more in the long run.
Routine monitoring for tick-borne diseases and parasites (including heartworm), as well as keeping your pets up-to-date on medications, can save their lives. Pets should have annual wellness exams, and some pets may need more frequent exams.
Why? Well there is the story about a dog that came in for a routine dental exam and was diagnosed with atrial tachycardia, a potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm. The clinic where the owner went offers ECG screens before administering anesthesia to pets, because, according to the Vet, most unexpected deaths under anesthesia are due to an undiagnosed heart problem. The dog was rushed to an emergency clinic, where he had an echocardiogram and received medication. A routine dental exam ended up saving his life.
Doing the Right Thing
Vaccinations, along with spaying and neutering your pets, will also cut down on medical bills and keep your pet healthy by likely reducing long-term costs.
Although adverse reactions to vaccines are rare, they can occur and may lead to potentially life-threatening anaphylactic (allergic) reactions. Most reactions are mild and resolve quickly with little to no treatment, but some (such as anaphylactic reactions) require immediate emergency care, and any delay in treatment could be dangerous.
Sophisticated Healthcare Costs More
When it comes to specialty care, it can be harder to cut costs without compromising your pet’s health. Being proactive and getting your pet treatment as soon as possible can often help you avoid costly surgeries and other procedures.
A surgical specialist, who is board certified in surgery by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, says he generally only sees patients after something has either gone wrong or was simply ignored by the pet owner. He said he thinks the most important thing owners can do is to have small tumors and lumps removed from their pets early, during routine physicals.
“Too many times an owner will ignore a small tumor that isn’t bothering the pet and watch it grow to become nearly inoperable before they decide to take their pet in to have it removed,” he said. “What could have been a relatively easy, inexpensive surgery performed at a general practitioner’s office now becomes a referral to a board-certified surgeon for a much more complicated and expensive procedure that may involve skin flaps, skin grafts or even multiple surgeries. On top of that, if it’s cancerous you’re more likely to get positive results if you begin treatment immediately. And even if it’s benign, it should be removed as soon as possible.”
And then there is the battle of the bulge with the importance of preventing obesity in pets, a condition which often leads to a multitude of health problems.
“There are cases of obese pets that have broken a leg or become paralyzed from a ruptured disc just by jumping off the couch. Oftentimes, just by losing weight a pet can avoid having joint replacement surgery or having to take lifelong pain medications.
Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and joint disease, including arthritis, so keeping your pet at a healthy weight is a great preventive measure that keeps costs down throughout your pet’s entire life. By giving your pet the right amount of physical activity in an enriched environment and keeping their weight at a healthy level you may be saving yourself a wallet full of trouble. In addition to keeping your pet at a healthy weight, the type of food you buy can also help you cut costs.
If you’re paying for “premium” food, there may not be much difference between it and other, regular pet foods. Good nutrition can be achieved by a range of pet foods, in a range of prices. Product marketing terminology can be confusing. Consult with your veterinarian or the right pet shop owner about the best nutritional options for your pet.
Even though you make sure your pet receives exercise, proper nutrition, vaccinations and regular veterinary exams, it can still get sick. And in an emergency situation, it’s best to remember that cost-cutting measures could mean the difference between life and death. The best ways to save money on emergency care are to 1) provide good preventive care, so that problems are caught early, before they become more difficult and expensive to treat; 2) prevent emergencies by being cautious and minimizing your pet’s risk of injuries, poisonings or other situations that can be avoided with some forethought; and 3) recognize true emergencies and don’t delay treatment.
If you end up at a clinic or emergency facility with a sick or injured pet and you can’t afford treatment, ask the veterinarian about financial options before any procedures start.
Any good emergency/critical care specialists will have a discussion with the client as to what their financial status will allow them to do and what they are comfortable with. It’s wonderful how much specialty care is available these days, but not everyone can afford an MRI for their dog’s injured shoulder or endoscopy to look for inflammatory bowel disease.
There are different levels of care and treatment options that veterinarians can offer to pet owners.
And they realize finances are an important consideration. There’s never just one option. First, they’ll offer what’s medically best, and after that there are different levels of what they can do and options they can offer.
And don’t forget Pet Insurance is also an option; the AVMA “endorses the concept of pet health insurance that provides coverage to help defray the cost of veterinary medical care,” according to their Guidelines on Pet Health Insurance and Other Third Party Animal Health Plans.
In the event your pet gets sick, it’s a good idea to have some savings put away for that rainy day and perhaps even consider buying pet insurance. Insurance, can come in handy in a time of crisis or when a pet owner wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford an expensive surgery or other treatment. It’s important to purchase pet insurance before a problem arises, however, and not to wait until your pet is sick.
Thanks to AVMA for a lot of information contained in this feature.