Vet and client discuss pet's health care

Think you have to sacrifice quality to save money on vet care? If so, you’d be wrong.

In fact, both human and animal medicine share these fundamental financial pearls of wisdom: Concentrate on wellness, be proactive, know where you can save your pennies and stick up for yourself and your pets. To that end, here are my tips for saving bucks when it comes to your pet’s health care.

When You’re at the Vet’s Office

Schedule Complete Physicals. Statistically speaking, you’ll manage a condition much better if you can catch it in its infancy — and a complete physical examination is the most cost-effective way to do it. Ideally, each time you go to the vet for any health-related reason (ear infection, limp), your pet should get a full physical. If you don’t see it happening, ask for one.

Get Routine Lab Work. Just like with physicals, you’ll save in the long run if you’re proactive about annual lab work, which should include more than just a heartworm test. For younger pets, a CBC, brief chemistry, and fecal and heartworm tests should be standard. Outdoor cats should also get tested for FeLV and FIV. For middle-aged to older pets, add in a longer chemistry screen, a urinalysis and a thyroid test. Geriatrics of both species are best off with semiannual lab work.

Keep Up to Date With Vaccines and Titers. Know what it costs to treat parvovirus, distemper or leptospirosis? Recommendations vary widely on the ideal timing and frequency of vaccination, and vaccine reactions are undeniably worth keeping shots to a minimum, but there’s no denying pets should be protected against a variety of diseases preventable via vaccination. Another alternative is titering. Although more expensive than vaccinating, this blood test can sometimes serve as an estimate of your pet’s continued immunity against some diseases, so the need for a vaccination can be waived.

Don’t Forget Routine Dentistry. Surgically extracting a tooth can cost anywhere from $20 for a stray baby tooth to $1,200 or more for a major molar. I’ve seen mouths that have cost their owners more than $12,000 — and plenty that deserved six digits if their owners could have afforded them! At a minimum, the need for routine, anesthetic dentistry should be assessed once annually for large dogs and twice annually for small dogs and at-risk breeds, like sighthounds.

Daily brushing sounds like an onerous chore, but for pets who learn to tolerate it as youngsters, there’s no reason brushing needs to be an unwelcome procedure. I’m more of a slacker than I should be (all my pets came to me as adults), but my sister’s big dogs get their chops brushed every evening during the nightly movie hour. We know that humans with healthier mouths live longer, and although studies have yet to be undertaken to prove a similar connection in pets, we have no reason to believe this finding isn’t applicable to animals. Clean teeth can save you cash, but longevity is priceless.

When It’s Time to Pay the Bill

Appeal to Your Vet. If you’re going through a tough financial time, it doesn’t pay to be shy. Tell your vet or the hospital office manager about what’s up and ask them to take your financial situation into account when making drug and product recommendations. Sometimes they’ll even offer less expensive, over-the-counter options or home remedy approaches when applicable.

Investigate Pet Insurance. If you’re aware of what’s coming down the pike, you can save money in the long run. After all, interest fees on credit cards can add up, which is why you should consider taking on a pet insurance policy before you run into trouble. There’s nothing worse than knowing your pet’s health care is suffering because you were derelict in your fiduciary duty.

Here’s hoping these recommendations help you. In fact, I should start taking more of my own advice!