9 Ways to Take a Bite Out of Pet Bills


I recently spent $1,500 on my cat, Puck. He’s got cancer, and this is the third time in 10 years he’s had major surgery.

Total bills so far: nearly $10,000.

Shocked? Don’t be. It’s not just the cost of human health care that’s getting out of control. So is the cost of veterinary care.

From a 2015 Washington Post article:

According to a 2011 report by the American Pet Products Association, the cost of routine and surgical vet visits has risen 47% for dogs and 73% for cats over the past decade. Pet owners spent about $8 billion on vet care in 2000; by 2013, that figure climbed to more than $14 billion.

So what will you do if the cost of caring for your furry friend gets beyond your reach?

Fortunately, you have many options, from vet schools to animal welfare organizations. Here are nine tips.

1. Look for Lower-Cost Alternatives

Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, as well as other routine care.

To find animal shelters and pet rescue groups in your area, you can go to sites like Petfinder.com or check the low-cost programs through the ASPCA.

2. Try a Vet School

Veterinary school services are typically cheaper than vet clinics and animal hospitals. While procedures are performed by students, they are usually supervised by a vet.

Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s list of accredited veterinary colleges for a location near you.

3. Shop Around

Vet prices can vary widely. For example, when I was looking for a new veterinarian, I called six different clinics. The base cost of a visit ranged from $35 to $75.

So, check around. Prices can depend on the clinic’s location, its equipment costs, and even the student loan debt of the vet.

4. Ask Your Vet for Help

If your pet needs an expensive medical treatment, or you’re struggling to cover the cost of care, discuss the situation with your veterinarian. Many vets offer payment plans or discounts to their steady clients.

5. Find a Charity

If your vet can’t help and you can’t afford an expensive and necessary medical procedure, you may be able to get help from a charity.

The Humane Society has a list of charities, some of which help with the cost of life-saving medical care for pets.

6. Look for Cheaper Prescriptions

If you’re buying prescription medication directly from your vet, you may be overpaying. Compare prices online at sites like PetCareRX, Doctors Foster and Smith, and 1-800-PetMeds to see if you can find the same medication elsewhere for less.

Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. You can find cautions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding what should make you suspicious about the quality of medications.

You may be able to get generic pet meds for $4 at stores like Target and Kroger. Finally, if you don’t want to stop going through your vet, ask if he or she will match the best price you find elsewhere.

7. Keep an Eye Out for Specials

Just like human-centered businesses, vets often offer specials. My vet has offered a 20% discount for new patients and $25 off dental cleanings.

Be sure to check out veterinary websites and social media accounts for deals.

8. Be Proactive to Protect Your Pet’s Health

Take steps and precautions to reduce your pet’s chances of requiring expensive medical care. For example, the American Humane Association recommends spaying or neutering your pets:

Spaying females prior to their first heat cycle nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland, and greatly reduces their risk for perianal tumors.

Other tips include:

  • Getting Wellness Checkups: Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than a cure. Make sure your pets get annual wellness exams. Keep up with the vaccination schedule, and discuss heartworm prevention with your vet.
  • Pet-Proofing Your Home: Keep dangerous foods out of reach of pets and avoid bringing toxic plants into the house. You can check out the ASPCA’s list of people food your pets shouldn’t have and its toxic and nontoxic plants database.

9. Compare Treatments

If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course of action. Consumer Reports recommends that you ask your vet about treatment options and cost, as well as the likely prognosis for your pet.

Careful financial planning can help you avoid letting your pets ruin your bank account or your credit score. (You can see how your pet budget is having an impact on your credit by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

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