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Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, there’s almost no limit to what you can do for your pet. Does your Burmese need a kidney transplant? No problem — if you have a spare $12,000 to $15,000. Could your Golden Retriever benefit from radiation therapy? It’s possible: Just cut a check for $6,000. You can even outfit your pet with carbon fiber and 3-D printed prosthetic limbs for a mere $1,500.
But if you’re like most people, you’re trying to spend less on veterinary bills, not more. So how can you trim your veterinary costs without cutting corners on your pet’s health care? Here are some options.
Invest in Preventive Health Care
It simply costs less to prevent disease than to treat it. Consider, for example, that a monthly heartworm preventive may cost $5 to $15, depending on the size of your pet. But if your dog contracts heartworm disease, your wallet could get dinged for $1,000 or more. Since heartworm disease can be fatal and there’s no approved treatment for cats, $10 a month can be a bargain.
Vaccinations, parasite control, dental cleaning, sound nutrition and other preventive care can help save you money in the long run. And regular checkups can help your veterinarian identify and treat health problems earlier, when they can be more affordable and easier to treat.
Reevaluate Annual Vaccinations
Veterinary medicine is moving away from the one-size-fits-all annual vaccination model to a customized approach based on your pet’s age, health status and risk of disease exposure. And that means your pet may need less frequent vaccinations.
Most core vaccinations, or those recommended for all pets, are licensed to be effective for three years or more. So after the initial series of vaccines and the one-year booster, a healthy pet may not need an annual vaccination, depending on state or local laws and your vet's recommendation. However, based on your pet’s risk of disease exposure, your veterinarian may suggest non-core vaccinations, which may need to be given more frequently. Consider talking to your vet about how to protect your pet from disease while minimizing vaccination frequency.
Ask About Preventive Care Packages
Many veterinarians “bundle” basic preventives such as vaccinations, parasite control and dental care and offer them at a discount in exchange for your continued business.
In most cases, you can spread out the payments over the course of the year, so it’s less painful than one or two big bills a year. You might even be able to save more if you can pay for the entire package up front.
Shop Around for Prescriptions and Parasite Control
If you don’t take advantage of preventive care packages, you can still ask your veterinarian for a written prescription and price shop for medications. Pets are often prescribed human medications, so you may find better deals and even low-cost generics at pharmacies in big-box stores.
Should you choose the online pet pharmacy route, check with your state pharmacy to make sure it’s a reputable, licensed business. It’s best to avoid foreign online pharmacies because they could carry medications that are counterfeit or not approved by the FDA. Many veterinarians are also willing to match online prices, which may save you shipping costs, as well.
Consider Pet Health Insurance
No matter how careful you are, torn cruciate ligaments, slipped spinal discs and intestinal foreign bodies can happen. Surgeries to repair these common conditions can be among the most expensive veterinary procedures. Pet health insurance can help defray the costs so you don’t have to make a difficult decision based on your finances.
Start a Pet Health Savings Account (HSA)
While it’s not tax-deductible like a human HSA, it does enable you to have ready money for hefty pet medical expenses. In the best-case scenario, you may put $5,000 to $10,000 aside, and if your pet never requires major medical care, you can keep that money (unlike money you put in a health insurance policy).
Still, it’s a good idea to have pet health insurance while you’re saving up, so you’re not caught short should a major surgery or illness occur.
Get It In Writing
When possible, ask for written estimates before any veterinary services are performed. That way, you can discuss each line item to make sure you’re comfortable with it and there’s less chance of surprise when the final bill comes.
Have a Candid Discussion About Finances with Your Vet
This is not a reflection on how much you love your pet but a responsible way to approach health care expenses. Often, there’s more than one way to diagnose or treat a condition, so your veterinarian can work with you to find an answer that fits your budget.
Learn At-Home Pet Maintenance
Do-it-yourself nail trimming, tooth brushing and yes, anal gland expression can save you a lot over the course of a year. Your veterinarian will be happy to show you how.
Don’t Wait Until the Weekend
Emergency veterinary clinics can be significantly more expensive than day practices. If you suspect your pet may be getting ill, schedule an appointment with your regular veterinarian during the week, rather than waiting until the evening or weekend when only the higher-priced clinics are open.
Keep Your Pet Lean
Obesity in pets can make them more likely to develop osteoarthritis, diabetes, crucial ligament injuries and other conditions that aren’t healthy for your pet or your finances. Helping your pet maintain an optimal weight is one of the best ways to avoid these expenses. Studies show it could even help your dog live almost two years longer than heavier pets. And what could be better than spending less money on medical care and having more healthy years with your pet?