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A little while back, I offered you a post on cutting corners when it comes to paying for pet care. Buy food in bulk (freeze the excess), order stuff online (but don’t assume it's always cheaper) and buy human equivalents wherever possible (diapers are soooo much cheaper when they’re made for babies and not our incontinent oldies!). These were just a few of your favorite recommendations.
This post is that one’s risk-averse twin. Its job is to tell you where you really, really do not want to scrimp. Sure, go ahead and clip coupons, bargain-hunt and steal the best deal you can, but try to steer clear of the following areas when you do.
1. Early training and socialization. Just adopted a puppy or kitten? It’s time to start socializing! It’s never too early to start investing in your pet's future happiness by exposing her to all kinds of new things (but around 3 to 12 weeks is ideal for puppies, and 2 to 7 weeks — and up to 14 weeks — is a great time for for kittens). Not that it needs to cost anything, mind you. But socialization, as we refer to this process, is one of those areas where your up-front investment — whether it’s in time or money — will yield big rewards down the line.
In the case of pups, most veterinarians will recommend that you seek out a credentialed training professional for puppy kindergarten classes. These can seem pricey at times, but I promise you there’s no better way to spend your money. Not if what you’re looking for in a puppy is a warm and friendly, happy-go-lucky sort.
As far as kittens go, the same concepts hold true (but in lieu of kindergarten classes, you want to expose her to as many people, pets, noises and experiences, like visiting the vet or groomer, as you can). The idea, whether for dogs, cats or humans, is to be sure you invest time and energy in making sure your baby gets safely exposed to as many new things as possible during the window of time she is most receptive to them. Makes sense, right?
2. Preventive medicine. Preventive medicine is like exercise. It works best when you start early in life and never stop doing it. Think about it: The first few puppy and kitten visits are all about prevention. This includes everything from routine parasite prevention (a must in most U.S. locales) to learning how to train a pet, brush her teeth, clip her claws, clean her ears, feed her right and get her sterilized (among other preventive measures).
3. Microchipping and identification. Get a high-quality tag on a high-quality collar. Now back that simple safety measure up with a microchip your veterinarian can easily implant. And do NOT forget to register it! It’s really not that expensive. But you need to do it right.
4. Veterinary care in general. I came across this magazine article a month back on how to save money on vet care and almost threw the thing across my dentist’s lobby when I read this “juicy tip” (and I paraphrase): “Veterinarians can vary widely in how much they charge. Call around to find the lowest prices you can find on basic services like spaying, neutering, prophylactic dentistry, annual visits and basic exam fees.”
OK, so it’s not as if you shouldn’t take your veterinarian’s price into consideration. Of course, it’s an issue.
But here’s where I disagree with the author: Price should not be your primary criterion when choosing a veterinarian. You should be looking at quality, too, and overall value instead. Be aware that price-shopping basic services can be misleading. Many veterinarians underprice these services (often so you can afford the preventive medicine we value most). As such, these prices are sometimes the least indicative of a practice’s overall pricing structure.
Here’s where I get to underscore the obvious: The quality of your veterinary care is perhaps not the smartest place to pinch a penny.
5. Therapeutic diets. As long as you’re feeding your pet a complete and balanced diet, cutting corners on pet food has not been shown to be detrimental to healthy pets. But when your pet is sick, you’ll not want to skimp. Indeed, these diets can be every bit as crucial to your pet’s health as any medication your veterinarian might prescribe. Ask your veterinarian how best to afford these premium diets (buying in bulk can help).
6. Specialty care. When your veterinarian says you need to see a specialist, she doesn’t mean you should open up the phone book and look for one. She’ll refer you to someone in particular. In almost all cases, that veterinarian will have completed a residency in a certain field of study, such as ophthalmology or oncology, and passed a rigorous examination. This is what we refer to as board certification.
When your veterinarian refers you to a board-certified specialist, she’s doing so because your pet suffers from an illness or injury that requires a more specific set of knowledge and skills. If you can’t afford this level of care (it inevitably will cost more), let your veterinarian know right away, so she can offer alternatives. Whatever you do, don’t take this opportunity to go looking for cut-rate “specialized” care elsewhere! In most cases, there is no substitute for board certification.
7. Dentistry. Time and again, studies have shown that pets with untreated periodontal disease can experience more health complications than their treated counterparts. The moral of the story: Do not skimp on dentistry. I’ll even go you one further: Do not skimp on brushing and prophylactic dentistry. Preventing periodontal disease in the first place is how you help your pet avoid pain, infection and expensive dental procedures in the future.
8. Pain relief. What kind of a person says “no” to pain relief for their pets? Turns out there are plenty. I’ve met lots of pet owners who flat-out didn't believe their silently suffering pets were experiencing pain. Once convinced, however, these people never looked back. Their pets were not only more comfortable in the short run, but many ended up living longer for it.
9. Pet insurance. Spending $30 to $40 a month can seem like a lot of money, especially if you’ve just bought a new puppy and incurred the expenses that go with it. Which is why many first-time pet owners demur when I recommend pet insurance, which costs about that much. Everyone thinks calamities will never befall them. And they may never. But a few years down the road, when your pet has become a part of the family, the right pet insurance policy may help pay for the emergency medical care, orthopedic surgery or, heaven forbid, the cancer treatment that may help keep your pet around longer. The peace of mind of knowing you’re prepared is absolutely priceless.
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