How to Save on Your Veterinary Bills

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Like other medical professionals, veterinarians are always asked about the cost of the care of your pet or fur-child. Often we veterinarians hear “My vet bill was higher than my bill for the pediatrician.” Of course, there is third-party payment in human medicine and rarely is there pet insurance in veterinary medicine. Even then, you have to pay the invoice first and get reimbursed from the veterinary insurance company.  Do you know how many pets I have seen at the emergency hospital that had to be euthanized because the owner could not pay for the care of the pet, yet the owner had veterinary insurance?  I feel heartbroken when this happens.

Veterinary pet insurance helps, but you need to have the funds in hand to pay the veterinary bill to take advantage of being reimbursed by the insurance company.  And when that process works, it is a good thing for you as a pet owner and helps defray the costs of caring for your pet. I do hear that one veterinary insurance company does have point of service payment to the veterinary hospital so all you pay is your co-payment, just like in human medicine. I hope the other veterinary pet insurance companies follow suit.

A tremendous amount of work is being done by veterinary organizations such as the AVMA and AAHA to show where the costs of operating a veterinary hospital come from and how similar the costs of operating a veterinary and a human hospital can be.  Yet it is expensive to care for a pet during these economic times.

Four years of veterinary school alone costs between $100,000 to $200,000 for a veterinary student, leaving many of them in debt for years. Average starting small animal veterinarian salaries across the USA was a little over $66,000, down from previous years due to the economy.  But the costs of operating veterinary hospitals have gone up.

But that does not help you when you take your fur-child to the veterinary hospital. Here are some tips to help you curb the costs.

Maintain your pet at its optimal weight.

As I have written before, a dog or cat, kept at an optimal weight, fed a quality pet food, will live two to three years longer, have fewer disease entities,  and therefore your veterinary bills will be much less over the life of your pet. Since we have control over how much our pet eats and drinks, we can keep our pets at a healthy weight with just a little effort. And the rewards are great–less worries of diabetes, early arthritis, leg and knee problems, all of which all cost money.

What is optimal weight? Look at the breed charts for the weight that you pure bred dog should be. Keep your pet within that range. If he or she goes above the range, decrease the food amount food fed. If underweight, increase the food amount. Remember the hint to feel your dog’s chest. If it feels like rubbing your fingers over the top of your fingers or if you can feel the ribs, you are maintaining your pet at the correct weight.

Feed a high-quality pet food.

All the grocery stores and big box stores have a wide variety of high-quality pet foods available. But my recommendations are to feed a good quality food such as Science Diet, Iams, Eukaneuba, Purina, and Natural Balance. Make sure that your pet food is made in America and that the ingredients come from America as well.  The words “holistic,” “wellness,” and “organic” mean a lot to us pet owners in that we think they mean the same as in human food. But in the pet food industry, there is a lot of leeway about the words mean versus the food’s contents.

Feeding a high-quality food allows you to maintain the ideal weight of the animal. It provides savings in veterinary care by decreasing the number of visits, and it decreases the medical issues that cost money over time to you as a pet owner. Feeding cheap brands exposes your pet to medical and nutritional issues because of the poor quality, thereby costing you money at the veterinary hospital.

Throw out the silo feeder. Your pet does not need a constant access to a buffet bar, and you do not need the expense of the food or the subsequent veterinary costs for obesity and/or diabetes for an overfed, overweight dog

At the veterinary hospital: communicate and ask questions.

  • Ask for an estimate for the care that your pet is about to receive.
  • Talk to the veterinarian or technician about the estimate to learn what each charge is for and if further charges are necessary.
  • If additional work is necessary, such as x-rays or bloodwork, have the technician or nurse give you a new estimate so you can see the new charges upfront.
  • If your pet is hospitalized, make sure your estimate includes all charges to the anticipated end of the animal’s stay.
  • All estimates should have a range of charges, which allow you to see what your final invoice may look like.
  • Again, ask the veterinarian or technician to explain the charges so you understand them.
  • Ask your veterinarian to call or contact you if the fees for your animal go out of the range of the estimate and have them explain the additional charges and how much they will be.
  • Ask for an estimate for each day that your animal is hospitalized so you know what your invoice will look like. This questioning allows you to prevent “sticker shock” when the final bill for veterinary care is presented.
  • The majority of the veterinarians are currently paid on a percentage of the business they produce or by a new formula which is called Pro-Sal, which, again, pays the veterinarian according to what they produce. It is for this reason that you must communicate with the veterinarian all the anticipated charges for the care of your pet so you understand what work is anticipated to be done, what are the anticipated charges, and why are this work necessary. Ultimately it’s about what you and the veterinarian will learn from doing all this. This communication makes you feel better and reassures the veterinarian that you are aware of the anticipated charges for your pet.
  • Communication is the key to speaking with your veterinarian regarding the costs of anticipated services that he/she is going to provide your pet.
  • You save money by having your pet receive the necessary veterinary services for your pet and are also reassured that the work is necessary for the care of your pet.

Dr. Manda is a nationally-renowned doctor of veterinary medicine who has taken on many roles in the veterinary industry over the past 30 years. Dr. Manda possesses a unique mix of clinical skills in veterinary medicine, combined with an extensive background in business and marketing in the veterinary industry.

Dr. Manda has been an appointed member of the Management Committee for the American Animal Hospital Association, one of the charter members of the Institute for Laboratory Animal Management and Past-President and Charter Member of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association. He has made media appearances on the Leeza Gibbons show, had a successful talk radio show in the Philadelphia listening area entitled “Talking About Pets.”

Dr. Manda is currently a consultant to the global pet, pet food, veterinary and animal health industries and is a full-time Emergency Medicine veterinarian in Pennsylvania.

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