Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
When a close friend had a pacemaker implanted in her ailing Boston terrier, I was astounded.
I knew that my friend loved her dog and that she could well afford that level of medical care, but the five-figure price tag of the pacemaker, surgery and follow-up still left me reeling.
I asked myself what the average person, someone who does have budget concerns, would do if a beloved pet (my grand-dog, for instance) needed expensive medical care. I learned that certain organizations offer help to pet owners who can’t afford necessary but costly treatments.
Here are several ways to find cheaper health care for your pets.
1. Find grants or charities to help cover costs
RedRover offers grants to pet owners in need and also has a directory of sites on which grants and other assistance may be found.
The Pet Fund also offers assistance to owners who cannot afford necessary, non-urgent veterinary care.
The Humane Society lists charities that may offer financial aid for life-saving treatments.
2. Ask your vet for a discount or payment plan
If you already have a vet you trust but are suddenly hit with the need for an expensive procedure you can’t afford, ask if he or she can help in any way, either with a discount or an extended payment plan.
3. Seek out discounted routine care
Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often provide low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and other routine procedures.
Experts urge pet owners to spay females prior to their first heat cycle because this prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer and nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland and reduces the risk of perianal tumors.
4. Check out veterinary schools
Procedures are performed by students at veterinary schools, but they are always supervised by a fully qualified veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has a list of accredited veterinary colleges, so check to see if there is one near you.
5. Shop wisely for prescriptions
If you’re buying medications from your vet, compare the prices with those at online sites like 1-800-PetMeds and Pet Care RX. If you see a big difference in price, ask your vet if he or she can offer competitive prices. If you’re a Costco member, did you know that your membership also gets you access to discounted pet medications?
If you decide to buy your meds online, make sure you patronize only reputable sites like those mentioned here. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that some companies sell counterfeit or expired drugs.
6. Take steps to keep your pet healthy
One way is to schedule regular checkups and make sure that necessary vaccinations are done at the right time. Another is to prevent the kind of food-borne (or plant-borne) illnesses that happen at home simply by keeping dangerous foods and toxic substances away from your pet.
And don’t forget to give your pet regular tooth brushing, nail and paw care, and grooming.
7. Find a vet before an emergency happens
If your pet has never seen a veterinarian, don’t wait until you have a sudden emergency, when you may have no choices beyond expensive emergency care. Choose a vet, either in private practice or at a veterinary hospital, so you will have someone to consult when the need arises.
8. Consider insurance
Some pet owners prefer to think ahead and purchase pet insurance. The ASPCA offers insurance policies for both cats and dogs, as do other reputable providers, including Costco. These are not cheap, so if you are considering coverage, the ASPCA recommends that you ask the following questions:
- How much does the plan cost?
- What will affect your reimbursement?
- Is wellness coverage available?
- How much experience does the provider have?
- What will the insurer require of you and your vet when your pet needs care?