Ways To Make Vet Visits Affordable

Cutting down on your pet’s health expenses without compromising its health is possible, veterinarians say. Pet owners can forgo some procedures and even discard inoculations from their pet’s protocol without risking their animal’s lives. But the process of choosing which ones to keep, and which ones to drop, depends a lot on the pet’s habits. Here are some factors to consider in seeking more affordable care options.

Pet Care by the Numbers

American pet owners spent an estimated $12.2 billion on veterinary bills in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association. Nevertheless, some veterinarians have seen a severe downturn in income from non-medical procedures and services, such as boarding. To cut expenses, many are cutting their employees’ hours. But, unfortunately, most are not cutting their fees.

Tips for Lowering Costs

Cost cutting can begin with evaluating your pet’s annual inoculations. Not all inoculations need to be administered yearly, as many vaccines stay in the bloodstream longer than was previously thought.

“People who have been getting vaccines for their pets every year, probably could slide on some of them,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian at the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Hills, CA.

If there is any doubt how much of last year’s inoculation is still potent in the pet’s bloodstream, the vet can conduct what’s called a titer. Talk to your vet about whether the fee for a specific titer is less than the potential savings from skipping the inoculation.

In evaluating which vaccines to drop and which to keep, a pet’s location and lifestyle are also important factors to consider.

“An out-and-about pet needs more vaccines more than a couch-potato kitty or dog who takes it easy,” Dr. Cruz said. An indoor cat may simply not require a leukemia vaccine booster. A pooch romping through a deer-tick ridden field in Connecticut needs a vaccine for Lyme Disease; but a city dog strolling a Southern California sidewalk may not.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners issues protocols of what vaccines are needed at each life stage. Though the AAFP “highly recommends” the FeLV vaccination for all kittens, booster inoculation is recommended only in cats considered to be at risk of exposure.

There are just some procedures pet owners can’t stint on, however.

“Hard times are not an excuse to skip your pet’s annual shots,” said Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA’s Executive Vice President, National Programs and Science Advisor, “but it does make sense to talk to your vet about personalizing your pet’s vaccine protocol. Some vaccines are optional, while others are essential in preventing serious diseases.”

But skipping on the pet’s annual exam altogether is not an option. “It’s much more expensive—and risky—to treat illnesses than to protect against them,” Zawistowski said.

Evaluating Other Types of Pet Care

Owners can also cut economic corners in other modes of preventative care, such as for periodontal disease. Dental care—vital for keeping bacteria in the gums from leaching into the bloodstream and ultimately into an animal’s kidneys, liver, or joints—does not have to be conducted under anesthesia in every case, not even for cats.

Although not all veterinarians conduct dental work on conscious animals, the difference in price could well be worth seeking out a veterinarian with that expertise. Gas anesthesia can cost from $94 to $112 for a 60-pound dog, plus $27 for anesthesia monitoring, according to a 2009 study by EC Veterinary Economics & Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates. Though tooth cleaning can be less effective when not done under anesthesia, this option is preferable to not cleaning the teeth at all.

As with all types of care, because every individual pet is different, be sure to talk your veterinarian about the best protocol that will work for your pet.