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13 tips to cut your pet's veterinary bills

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Americans love to own pets, and like all living things, they need care. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 43 million households in the United States own a dog, and 37 million households own cats, and they cost us a mean of $200 per dog and $81 per cat, per year. But sometimes, the high cost of pet care can drive people into debt

Bruce Silverman, VMD, of Village West Veterinary in Chicago, shared these 13 tips to reducing the cost of veterinary care.

  1. Know your vet's fees in advance. The cost of basic care shouldn't come as a shock. Don't be afraid to call around to compare.
  2. Look for places with alternative payment policies. If your vet's policies don't meet your financial constraints, find one with more flexible payment arrangements.
  3. Get pet credit or insurance. Advances in medical technology allow specialty veterinary centers to offer the same high tech care offered to human patients. But without pet insurance or good credit to qualify for a pet health credit card, you may not be able to afford it.
  4. Ask even the most uncomfortable questions. It's difficult to decide on what to do or pay for in an emergency. Ask your vet what he would do in your situation, and use the vet's response as a baseline for your decisions. 
  5. Research your pet's health problem. The Internet has a lot of unsubstantiated information, but it also has some great sources to learn about what's ailing your pet, and the type and cost of care it may need. 
  6. Beware of "bait and switch" advertising. Sometimes a free exam becomes a strong-arm tactic to sell you more than your pet needs. 
  7. Understand all options. Pet care at both the high and low ends of the cost spectrum may be only minimally helpful. Often there's a happy medium offering the broadest treatment success.
  8. Request detailed explanations. If your vet says your pet needs a specific procedure, ask why. Get a second opinion if the answer leaves you with more questions than answers.
  9. Practice preventative care. Early intervention is always the best medicine. 
  10. Read online reviews. Websites such as Yelp can help you find vets who offer the best care at the best price. Be skeptical about comments that are repeated by multiple reviewers -- they could be placed by the vet's friends or foes.
  11. Prepare for end-of-life (palliative) care.  As your pet ages, medical treatment often becomes more frequent and expensive. As the benefits get lower, you may need to weigh what your limited resources may be buying for your loved one.
  12. Negotiate fees respectfully. Haggling with your vet is not recommended, but it never hurts to ask for a price reduction if you truly need a break.
  13. A new or improved hospital may directly translate into higher fees. If you've been a loyal client for years, and have noticed the sudden markups, let them know how you feel -- in a tactful manner.

See related: Pet debt: How animals can cost you dearly, Good dog, bad bill: Compare vet care financing options

Published: July 1, 2011


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