One day I noticed my puppy was acting strangely. She walked a few steps, stumbled, fell over and slowly got back up, only to fall over again. I realized her tummy was extremely bloated.
I rushed her to the vet. The vet examined her for a few minutes and started to chuckle. Then my puppy let out a bellowing burp, and the vet actually started to laugh.
When he asked me if I had left dog food out, I remembered the large bowl on the kitchen floor for my other dog. My puppy had 4 cups of food in her half-cup stomach.
It wasn’t serious — although bloat can be a very serious condition — but I wasn’t laughing when I got the bill for $100.
Between routine care and those little surprises, your pet’s medical bills can get expensive. Here are some ways to find less expensive — or even free — vet care.
1. Look for low-cost alternatives
Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering. They also offer other routine care.
2. Try a vet school
Veterinary schools are typically cheaper than vet clinics and animal hospitals. While procedures are performed by students, they are supervised by a vet.
Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s list of accredited veterinary colleges for a location near you.
3. Shop around
Veterinarian prices can vary widely. For example, when I was looking for a new vet in New Orleans, I called six different clinics. The base cost of a visit ranged from $35 to $75. So, check around.
4. Ask your vet for help
If your pet needs an expensive medical treatment or you’re struggling to cover the cost of care, discuss the situation with your veterinarian. Some vets offer payment plans or discounts to their steady clients.
5. Find a charity
If your vet can’t help — and you can’t afford an expensive and necessary medical procedure — you may be able to get help from a charity.
The Humane Society of the United States has a list of pet financial aid-related organizations that help with the cost of certain types of medical care for pets.
6. Look for cheaper prescriptions
If you’re buying prescription medication directly from your vet, you may be overpaying. Compare prices online at sites like:
Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. Finally, ask your vet if he or she will match the best price you find.
7. Keep an eye out for specials
Just like human-centered businesses, vets offer specials. My vet has offered a 20 percent discount for new patients and $25 off dental cleanings.
Be sure to check out veterinary websites and social media accounts for deals.
8. Be proactive to protect your pet’s health
Take precautions to reduce your pet’s chances of requiring expensive medical care. Such steps include:
- Spaying or neutering: American Humane says of cats and dogs, “Spaying females prior to their first heat cycle nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland, and greatly reduces their risk for perianal tumors.”
- Wellness checkups: Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than a cure. Make sure your pets get annual wellness exams. Keep up with the vaccination schedule, and make sure you discuss heartworm prevention with your vet.
- Pet-proofing your home: Keep dangerous foods out of the reach of pets and avoid bringing toxic plants into the house. Check out this list from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) of people foods your pets shouldn’t have and its toxic and nontoxic plants database.
9. Compare treatments
If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course of action. Ask your vet about treatment options and costs, as well as the likely prognosis for your pet.
For more ways to save on costs for your four-footed friends, check out “20 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Pet Supplies.”
Have you ever faced a situation in which your pet required expensive care? Share your story below or on our Facebook page.
Karen Datko contributed to this report.
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