Monday, November 21, 2011



For any pet owner faced with a possible bill for veterinary services that might be more than your budget can allow for...but you just feel that you have to go ahead with the expensive procedure, there are some options for you to consider.  To put yourself in a better position to handle some of these unexpected expenses, a little pre-planning goes a long way toward peace of mind when the expense shows up.  Some of these ideas should be researched before anything happens that requires a financial outlay and some will require some investigation on your part after they happen. 
13 Tips To Cut Your Pet's Veterinary Bills

By Erica Sandberg

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.

Adapted from:

Good Dog, Bad Bill: Compare vet care financing options

Learn how to pay the tab when Fluffy or Fido need expensive care

By Allie Johnson

With veterinary costs on the rise, and more sophisticated treatment options more readily available for pets, it's likely the average pet owner will one day face the prospect of a large veterinary bill. Before you and your furry -- or scaly -- companion find yourselves on the other side of the receptionist's counter looking at a jaw-dropping estimate, it might be a good idea to learn about veterinary care financing options.

 The increased veterinary treatment choices and costs can put a strain on pet owners' finances and credit. In 2006, the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association listed advances in pet medical care as one of the pet business trends of the year -- noting that more veterinarians are being trained as specialists who offer diagnostic tools such as MRIs and CAT scans and treatments such as canine dialysis, brain surgery and hip replacements.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2007 there were 8,885 certified veterinary specialists -- over 5,000 more than there were 20 years ago. Veterinary specialists include ER doctors, cardiologists, oncologists, neurologists, dermatologists and even ophthalmologists.

 Unlike humans, only a very small percentage of pets in the United States are covered by insurance. "It's becoming more and more of an issue. Sometimes, it's 'Am I going to eat or pay for my dog's surgery?' " says veterinarian Shana Savikko, who is a veterinary adviser for the American Animal Hospital Association.

How to pay a big vet bill

Though large veterinary bills can sometimes cause sticker shock, there are financing options that can help. Planning ahead for a veterinary emergency or illness by saving some money each month might be the best strategy.

"Whenever I had a new puppy walk into the clinic, the first thing I'd recommend was starting a savings plan," says Savikko, who used to practice in Oregon. "You can make it real simple -- $10 a week. That's two coffees you don't grab at Starbucks, or a pizza you don't order." Or, Savikko recommends pet insurance that covers catastrophic illness or injury, which she says can be a better value than a plan that includes routine care.

Many pet owners, however, put off saving or getting pet insurance, thinking they can start later or gambling on the chance that their pet might never have a major problem. Unfortunately, that gamble sometimes doesn't pay off.

For that reason, a few medical credit cards marketed for human health care needs also may be used to pay for pet health needs. CareCredit is endorsed by the American Animal Hospital Association and is widely accepted by veterinarians across the United States, and the Citi Health Card also may be used for veterinary care. Both cards offer zero or low fixed interest rates for periods of up to 18 months. Pet owners who expect to use one of these cards should check with veterinary emergency and specialty clinics to see which cards are accepted, then apply ahead of time to prevent the stress of having a pet's treatment hinge on approval.

Some pet owners choose to keep a standard credit card for emergencies, which might mean paying a higher interest rate. That's what Shirley Zarda, of Blue Springs, Mo., did after her 10-year-old black-and-white pit bull, Bella, woke her up in the middle of the night. "She could hardly walk, and she looked really bloated," Zarda remembers. At 3 a.m., Zarda rushed Bella to a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic and learned that the dog had gastric torsion -- a dangerous condition in which the stomach twists, usually after a dog gobbles food too quickly -- and needed immediate surgery that would cost $3,000. "I had to put it on a credit card, and I'm still paying for it," Zarda says.

Setting up a payment plan with the veterinarian is an alternative option, but one is a fast-disappearing one. Some veterinarians offer flexibility only to longtime clients whose checks have cleared in the past, while others do not offer payment plans at all. "Vets get stiffed a lot," says Allyson Regas, founder of Help-a-Pet, a nonprofit organization that helps disabled and low-income owners pay veterinary bills for dogs, cats, ferrets -- and even iguanas. Regas, who works with veterinarians every day through Help-a-Pet, says, "Many offered payment plans in the past, but just got burned too many times."

For pet owners who can't pay for a procedure without help -- usually those who fall into a certain income bracket or who are unemployed or cannot work because of a disability -- nonprofit organizations and other funds can be tapped. Usually, you have to apply for a grant online or by phone and provide proof of income and a written cost estimate from a veterinarian. "We also ask each pet owner to pay a portion of the bill," says Regas. "It helps spread our dollars further."

Yet, says Regas, "If someone were to give me a million dollars tomorrow, it wouldn't be enough. The demand is overwhelming. There's really not a structure out there to help people with emergency vet bills or surgeries."

Cut veterinary costs

In some cases -- Zarda's for example, since Bella needed surgery within the hour, or she'd die -- doing anything but immediately whipping out your credit card or checkbook isn't an option. "I tell people that when there's an emergency, it's not the time to be shopping around," Savikko says.

In other cases -- such as when an animal needs to see a specialist, but is not in immediate danger -- it is possible to cut costs. Here are some options:

  • Shop around. If there is more than one specialty clinic in your area, call around to get an estimate on the procedure your pet needs. Consider meeting with the specialists, too. "If you don't have a good rapport with the specialist, you're not going to feel like you're getting your money's worth," Savikko says.
  • Consider a teaching hospital. Universities with veterinary schools often offer services at teaching hospitals, which can be an option for pet owners on a budget. But don't expect the services to be cheap. "Teaching hospitals are usually less expensive, but not vastly less expensive," Savikko says. "And sometimes they will redo procedures, such as blood work, that have already been done at the primary veterinarian to give the students a chance to practice."
  • Use the best veterinarian for the job. Some pet owners have their regular veterinarian perform a procedure, only to end up having to take their pet to a specialist anyway. Savikko recommends asking your veterinarian about the complexity of a procedure, the veterinarian's comfort level with performing it -- and whether seeing a specialist might be best. "By the time people get to a specialist, sometimes the specialist has to do a more difficult procedure," Savikko says. And, of course, more difficult means more expensive.
The pros and cons of financing your pet's medical care will vary depending on the method chosen:
  • CareCredit Veterinary Financing.  Prior Planning: Set up an account. The Pros: Quick approval. Can apply and get approved before your pet needs a procedure. Card cannot be used for new clothes, an iPod or anything other than health care. No-interest options for three, six, 12 or 18 months and extended payment plans for 24, 36, 48 or 60 months at a fixed 11.9 percent interest rate, for treatment fees of $1,000 to $25,000. Monthly payments as low as $25 on a $1,000 bill. The Cons: May be used at participating veterinarians only. Credit limit depends on your credit history and might not cover full cost of procedure. All plans not available at all providers. Late payment can result in interest of 26.99 percent and a late fee up to $39, depending on the balance.
  • Citi Health Card.  Prior Planning: Set up an account. The Pros: Like CareCredit, can be used only for veterinary or health care. No sign-up or annual fee. Account can be used immediately after approval. No-interest payment plans for three months for treatments of $99 or more; for six months for treatments of $299 or more; for 12 months for treatments of $499 or more; and for 18 months for treatments of $599 or more. Offers a budget payment plan at 12.96 percent interest rate for treatments of $1,000 or more; usually can be used anywhere MasterCard is accepted. The Cons: Credit limit varies, so it might not cover the full amount. Plans available depend on providers. Regular revolving interest rate of 21.98 percent. Late fee is $29 on balances up to $1,000; otherwise $35.
  • Traditional credit card. Prior Planning: Maybe.  The pros: Peace of mind. Convenient. You might already have one that could be used. The Cons: Possible high interest rate might cause you to pay hundreds of dollars more for the procedure. Temptation to use card for other purchases. Need high enough credit limit to pay for emergencies that could cost $1,000 to $5,000 or more.
  • Catastrophic pet insurance.  Prior Planning: Yes.  The Pros: Peace of mind. Less expensive than a comprehensive pet insurance plan that covers routine care such as vaccinations and teeth cleaning. The Cons: You might never get your money's worth if your pet never gets sick or has an accident. You usually have to pay the veterinarian and then wait for reimbursement, so you still need a credit card, savings account or loan.
  • Creating an emergency pet savings account. Prior Planning: Yes. The Pros: You can earn interest instead of paying interest. You don't pay premiums you might never get back. No worry about whether a procedure will be covered. If your pet never has an emergency, you benefit financially. The Cons: Requires discipline. Temptation to take money out for other expenses. Chance that an emergency could happen while your pet is still young, before you've saved enough to cover it.
  • Payment plan with veterinarian.  Prior Planning: Maybe.  The Pros: You can negotiate terms in person; a veterinarian who usually does not offer payment plans might make an exception for a regular client. Possibly more flexibility and lower interest rate than a credit card. The Cons: Many veterinarians do not offer payment plans, and it's becoming even less common. Specialists and emergency clinics are even less likely than family veterinarians to offer payment options.
  • Grant from a nonprofit. Prior planning: No.  The Pros: Money does not need to be repaid. Possible option for owners for whom other options are not feasible. Some veterinarians have "Good Samaritan Funds" available to clients in need; the Animal Friends Rescue Project offers a partial list of organizations that help with veterinary bills. The Cons: Usually have income ceilings and require proof of need. Rarely covers entire cost of treatment. Usually have an application process and waiting period. Most nonprofits have waiting lists and must turn some qualified pet owners away. Some nonprofits, such as Help-a-Pet, serve all 50 states and all types of pets while others are breed-specific or location-specific.
Adapted from:

As a specific example of what can happen in tough economic times when a pet owner is facing a decision about whether or not to take their pet to a veterinarian, consider this about cats:

As you've heard from Helpful Buckeye many times, a few dollars spent on regular examinations for your pets may well help you avoid a lot more dollars being spent later on for a complicated health problem that could have have been avoided. 

Cats are another victim of the poor economy

By Julie Damron

Felines are becoming victims of the poor economy when it comes to routine medical care. In the past few years, a large number of pet owners are not bringing their cats in for annual examinations, vaccinations, spaying or neutering, or routine dental cleanings. This means that these pets are not getting the preventive or necessary care they deserve. This is surprising given that more households are homes to felines over canines, and that most often these are multiple cat homes.

The annual wellness exams are about much more than vaccinations. This head-to-tail evaluation looks at the eyes, teeth, ears, heart, coat, abdomen, bones and everything in between. For senior patients (7 and older) a health visit is recommended twice a year. Keep in mind that animals age more rapidly than people do.

The main value in these exams is to identify disease or illness at the earliest stage possible. Cats are very good at hiding illness. This is a survival trait. This means that pet owners may often not always realize when health issues are present. If you do notice problems, bring your pet in for an evaluation. This will help give comfort to your feline sooner, and helps to provide the best possible prognosis for your cat.

Remember that your veterinarian is the best person to provide medical guidance for the care and welfare of your cherished feline. Preventive care will help extend the longevity of as well as quality of life for your cat.

Adapted from:

Of course, even with regular exams, emergency situations can arise and might require some expensive treatment.  To be ready for that possibility, make yourself more aware of the options presented in this discussion.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a bye this week.  Our divisional rivals, the Ravens and Bengals, played each other today.  It's hard for a Steelers fan to cheer for either one of those teams, but Helpful Buckeye had to pull for Cincinnati since that would have helped the Steelers in the standings.  Well, it wasn't meant to be...the Ravens quoth:  "Nevermore"....

Helpful Buckeye felt fortunate to be able to sneak in an outdoor bike ride this past week.  Now that we've already had a couple of snows, there were several places where cinders had accumulated in the bike lanes and those spots required some careful navigation.  But, it was still great to be riding outdoors!  I also saw a male tarantula on one of the roads, which is about a month later than I've ever seen one.  It's getting pretty cold for one of those to still be out looking for a female.

If you're traveling this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, be careful on the road and be sure to return home safely. 

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

1 comment:

  1. Doc:
    I stopped by today specifically to let you know I include you and your work here as one of the things for which I am thankful. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    One other thing that my Vet does which helps is that he offers a multiple pet discount. If I bring Rory & Fiona in at the same time for visits, I get a small break. And, (you're only the first person to know this bit,) with a new puppy Scottie arriving in December, it will really help us keep the medical maintenance in line. I really, really like my vet. It's one of the only things that I can say I've liked in my move from Baltimore! (Please say the following, "Geeze Holly, get over it, you've lived in Greensburg seven years now!")