How to Save Money at the Vet – Part 1

Are you worried whether you will be able to provide for your pets should something happen to them? Veterinary care can be expensive, but here are a few things that will save you money in the long run.

There have been some interesting discussions lately about the cost of veterinary care for pets. It got me thinking about what pet owners can do to try and limit their vet bills, while still caring for their furry family members. More and more options are now available in both human and animal medicine. And while vet care is significantly cheaper than human medical care ($19K for a knee surgery compared to $3k in a dog), many pet owners are taken by surprise when their pet needs medical treatment.

Historically medical care for our animals was pretty basic. Dogs and cats rarely visited the vet and when they did, they often didn’t come home again. We now expect the best of medical treatment for our furry family members, but of course all this fancy treatment costs money. And because our pets can’t tell us they feel unwell, often their diseases are diagnosed at a much later stage than in humans, meaning more costly and lengthy treatment. Learning how to detect problems early on in your pet can save you money and heartache.

Talk to your Vet

Vets want to help you and your animal. We are all big softies at heart, which is why so many of us are broke! If you have restrictions on finances, tell your vet. They will be happy to work out a way that your pet can receive some treatment within your budget. Leaving things to the very last minute will only make things more expensive for you. If your pet has been sick for months, it will take longer for them to get better and ultimately cost more. Sometimes there are organisations that can help you look after your pet if money is tight, so it is worth looking into these organisations for where you live, or ask your vet about payment plans.

Get to know what is normal and abnormal in your pet

We all know that dogs and cats can’t talk. They are also very good at hiding their problems. Pets age quicker than humans and at 7 year of age they are considered geriatric.  They are also living longer than they used to, partly due to advances in medical care. From an early age get used to what is normal for your pet. When you take your dog or cat to the vet, watch closely and ask the vet what they are looking for. Vets are very happy to help you implement early intervention tactics to keep your pets healthy, after all we want your pets to be healthy and happy as much as you do! Run your hands all over your pet, check in the mouth and ears and identify any changes. Be a pet detective and if you notice anything ask you vet for advice.

Develop a good relationship with your vet

Vets are genuinely interested in helping animals, it is what got us into the industry and what keeps us there. Be organised, come with a list of concerns and questions. If you work as a team you are more likely to be able to develop strategies to keep your pet healthy.  In developing a good relationship with your vet it is helpful to try to find a vet you like and has similar approaches and interests. For example if you have an interest in alternative therapies, find a vet who has training in this area. Many vets have special interests in behaviour, senior pets, cats, physiotherapy, acupuncture, the list goes on. It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask when you make the appointment about the interests of the vets in the practice, often this information is available on the practice website. Once you find a vet you like, hold onto them and try to book in for the same person each time. Not only will you save time having to go over things each time you visit, but it will be much easier to develop a relationship that allows you to ask for email or telephone advice (which is free advice!). Vets are busy, like any professional, but we are also happy to answer phone enquiries, particularly for existing clients we know well.

Handle and train your pet well

Another time and money saver is to train your pet to stand still for an examination. Unfortunately many dogs and cats are very nervous at the vet, particularly if they are not used to being examined. If they know they get treats for someone touching their feet or looking in their ears, half the battle is won. Many pets end up needing to be sedated or anaesthetised for examination or blood collection and cannot be properly examined. This limits preventative care and increases costs when something does go wrong. Keep training sessions short and use lots of treats to reward calm behaviour.

Don’t let your dog eat junk – we are what we eat

It sounds obvious, but dogs in particular are very adventurous when it comes to food. Dogs do not always have a cast iron stomach and while they will sometimes solve the problem themselves by vomiting up the disgusting thing they eat, sometimes they will get severely ill. Worse are the pets that eat toys, shoes, plants and seeds or socks, things that may end up needing surgical removal. Also make sure your dog never eats cooked bones and fatty things like sausages from the BBQ. If you feel the need to ‘share’ your food with your dog, aim for plain, non-fatty, unprocessed, non-spicy foods. Which takes us to our next point.

Feed a good quality diet

Avoid turning your dog into a fuss-pot with terrible teeth. We all know those dogs that refuse anything except hand-fed BBQ chicken. Eating just one protein source is not a balanced diet. Dogs should eat a variety of different nutrients, whether this is in the form of pre-packaged pet food or home-cooked diets, make sure your dog is eating a variety of foods and discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian. Vets are not subsidised by pet food manufacturers, we just want your dog to eat a balanced diet that helps to prevent costly dental extractions. For many owners manufactured dry food diets are the easiest way to provide a healthy diet, but do try to add in some raw bones or dental chews to look after those teeth. If you are happy to provide a home-cooked natural diet, get some nutritional advice to make sure you are doing it right.

Know your breed disorders

If you have a purebred dog, you may already be aware of the diseases that are more prevalent. A list of these is available here by breed. If you have a large breed dog, it is important to not let them gain weight too quickly when growing and you must avoid supplementing with extra calcium. If your dog is large and deep chested it means they are more at risk of bloat. Small breeds are at increased risk of heart problems and luxating patellars. Many pet owners are completely unaware of the diseases their pet is prone to and have no idea what to look for. This is a great thing to discuss with your Vet when you first get your dog, so you know what to do to limit the risks.

Use preventative parasite control and vaccination

Another fairly obvious one, but one that should be mentioned. Many pets are not on adequate flea control or worming. Your pet needs a flea treatment once a month, heartworm monthly and intestinal worming every 3 months. Many skin problems are simply caused by fleas. Heartworm prevention is cheap compared to the cost of treating a heartworm infection and you can buy an intestinal wormer for only a few dollars. Vaccination can also prevent certain fatal diseases. Speak to your vet about how often you need to vaccinate your pet, based on their lifestyle.

Desex

Unless you have a breeding animal (and you will need a big bank balance if you are considering this!), desex your pet. Male dogs can smell a female on heat a couple of kilometres away and will do anything to escape your backyard. They can easily be hit by a car or get into trouble with those pesky testicles. Your dog won’t miss them, and being an entire male dog is a little like being a teenage boy at a strip club. Female dogs have a 30% chance of developing mammary tumours and similar odds of getting a uterine infection that will require emergency surgery at a much higher cost than a simple discounted desexing surgery.

As a vet I want you and your pet to live long and healthy lives. Helping pet owners keep their dogs healthy is a passion of mine and it costs very little money to be observant, use preventative parasite care, visit your vet regularly and pay attention to your pet. We hope this article has helped you identify some things you can do to save money, while keeping your pet healthy and happy. Watch out for part 2, for more things you can do to save money at the vet.