Costs of Care
As much as I hate to admit it, the cost of veterinary care has been a more limiting factor over the past 3 years than ever. When the economy tanked, one of the first things to suffer was routine veterinary care for pets. Our numbers at the hospital were down, as were nearly all of the hospitals around us. Things have slowly improved since then, which tells me that pets are getting back to having the visits and treatments they need and deserve.
What we saw for sure was that clients waited to bring pets in far longer than they previously did. Pets that had gotten sick (vomiting or diarrhea), weren’t eating, or were limping all came in after 3-4 days of these symptoms instead of just a day. The pets were generally sicker and required more aggressive care to get better — which increased cost for the owners. Clients also declined things like heart worm prevention and flea/tick prevention.
The cautionary tale here is that waiting is often detrimental to the pet and the pocketbook. Money then played a much bigger part in the discussion about whether we’d treat or euthanize, or how we’d be able to treat.
Just to provide some examples of cost, I’ll put down a dollar amount and some things that we treated in that range of cost.
•under $500 = vomiting, diarrhea, limping/lamenes, intestinal parasites, fleas, a routine vaccine appointment for a young healthy pet
•$500-$1000 = tumor removal, severe dental disease, laceration repair
•$1000-2000 = infected uterus, bladder stone removal, intestinal blockage, hit by car, heart worm treatment
•over $2000 = knee surgery, bone fracture
These costs are obviously enough to derail a family budget, especially if they’re unexpected. There are a few ways that we can take money off the table as part of the decision about how to care for a sick pet.
Save up money before getting a new puppy or kitten to cover for vaccines, spay/neuter, and annual visits.
Create a savings account for your pet. Setting money aside ahead of time is a great way to buffer for unexpected illness or trauma. This is sort of like a flex spending account or health savings account for people.
Pet Insurance is a great way to take money out of the decision-making process. There are plans that cover everything (well health to accident/illness) or just big emergency visits. Premiums will vary, but most of the time they’re a manageable monthly payment that allows owners to spread out the cost as part of the regular budget instead of sudden major expenses. I’ve had several pets in the last 7 years receive treatment instead of euthanasia because owners were able to use insurance to pay for the extensive care the pets needed.
Most veterinary hospitals have clients pay up front, then receive reimbursement from the insurance company. Some companies don’t even require a vet’s signature — just an invoice and what was diagnosed. I’ve never had a client complain about the company they had selected, so I think overall these companies are reliably good for customer service. I don’t feel comfortable recommending a particular company, but I will say that the majority of our clients use VPI. A quick Google search turns up MANY companies.
My best advice for controlling veterinary costs is a combination of the two strategies. Have the insurance available for big things — unforeseen expenses for injury and illness. Also keep a small separate savings account for the annual visits and routine things. Even if the account doesn’t cover everything, you’ll have the opportunity to lower costs by having a little buffer.
None of us, owners and vets alike, want the decisions to be made by money. It’s well worth it to plan ahead a little so we can keep the focus on making our pets well again.