How to Save on Veterinarian Bills

By Tracy Libby

How to Save on Veterinarian Bills

When dog owner Melody Peterson’s bull terrier, Shasta, ate Peterson’s carpet, the veterinary bill set the Bend, Ore., resident back $1,800. That’s the good news. The bad news is that subsequent veterinary visits due to complications cost her an additional $2,500. A year later, Shasta ate a mini blind cord and the price tag for emergency surgery cost Peterson another $1,800. All told, Peterson has shelled out more than $6,000 on veterinary bills because of her dog’s propensity to eat anything and everything in sight, be it plastic water bottles, rocks, carpets, cell phones, or mini blind cords.

Shasta, who appears to have as many lives as a cat, is currently living the well-deserved life of a pampered pooch. Although Peterson’s pocketbook took a big hit, she doesn’t regret the money spent. She considers herself, and Shasta, quite fortunate.

While Peterson’s situation may be excessive, Americans spent an estimated $24.5 billion for veterinary expenditures in 2006, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, with $16.1 billion of the pie chart going to canine veterinary care. While the AVMA estimates that dog owners spend on average $356 per year for veterinary care, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc., (APPMA) estimates the 2006 figure higher, at $672 per year for the average dog owner.

Whether your own veterinary bills have fallen lower or higher than these averages, chances are you could have saved money. Preventative care, according to Wendy Wallace, DVM, certified veterinary acupuncturist and owner of the Four Seasons Animal Hospital in Lafayette, Calif., is key to reducing veterinary costs. She recommends a proactive approach with the following 10 strategies:

  • Feed well-balanced, good-quality dog food This allows your dog to maximize nutrients while eating less, so your wallet benefits, too. “Correcting problems at this level may prevent the development of more serious problems,” says Dr. Wallace. Also, many human foods, including chocolate, mushrooms and grapes, can cause serious health problems, so never offer these to your dog.
  • Keep your canine fit and trim Keeping your dog at its right size can increase its life span by nearly two years. Dr. Wallace says overweight dogs are subject to diabetes; heart and respiratory problems; arthritis; increased surgical risks; decreased immune function and increased damage to joints, bones and ligaments. To reduce your dog’s weight, look for foods formulated for calorie restriction and exercise your dog daily, with walks, scheduled playtimes or other activities.
  • Brush your dog’s teeth daily This will not only prevent tartar buildup, but also periodontal disease -- a progressive disease that can, in advanced cases, lead to decayed gums, infection and liver, kidney and heart damage.
  • Groom your pet weekly This will help prevent hot spots, rashes, mats and painful broken nails, which can require anesthesia to treat. “Hair and skin are reflective of nutritional health,” says Dr. Wallace. Daily inspections of the ears, nose, mouth, teeth and feet can help you spot minor issues before they escalate into potentially life-threatening and expensive problems.
  • Keep parasite prevention and vaccines current Internal and external parasites, such as ticks and heartworms, and diseases like parvo, distemper and hepatitis can require intensive hospitalized treatment for your canine, which is a great deal more expensive than the cost of vaccinating.
  • Spay or neuter your dog This way, you decrease the incidence of pyometra (a potentially life-threatening uterine infection), mammary cancer, unwanted pregnancies in females and prostate infections in male dogs. Spaying or neutering also decreases the tendency to roam, which, in turn, decreases the odds your dog will fight with other animals or will be hit by a car.
  • Dog-proof your home and yard Store medications and all toxic products in a safe place. Keep poisonous plants, cell phones, slippers, marbles, dolls and other hazards out of reach. Secure all fences and gates.
  • Schedule (and keep!) regular checkups It is especially important to keep those that include laboratory testing, such as blood chemistries, complete blood cell counts and urinalysis. “This allows detection of disease early when it is likely to be more treatable and prevent or extend the quality of life before more expensive procedures are necessary,” says Dr. Wallace.
  • Train your dog “If your dog is comfortable being handled, having his ears, feet and mouth looked at, it allows the veterinarian to do many procedures safely, such as examining and treating ears, removing foreign bodies and caring for wounds, less expensively and without general anesthesia,” says Dr. Wallace.
  • Consider purchasing pet insurance Pet insurance can act as a safeguard against unexpected illnesses and accidents. But be sure to shop around. Prices, plans and coverage vary from company to company.

Following these simple and very doable guidelines will help you keep a leash on veterinary bills. Equally important, they will assure that your dog has the best chance to live a long, happy and healthy life, thereby increasing the enjoyment you share with your best canine friend.

Tracy Libby has authored six books about dogs, including Building Blocks for Performance (Alpine 2002). She exhibits Australian shepherds in obedience and conformation and also shares her home with six cats.

Tags: dog care

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Mary Ellen says: Try a grain free dog food and be sure the first 2 ingredients are protein sources. Add salmon or fish oil in small amounts daily or make sure they are in the food ingredients. Use distilled water for drinking. Use Gold Bond's Extra Strength Medicated Powder on spots that are red. Check out Nzymes online. If your dog "licks" the air as well, could be seizures! Shihtzus are prone to this (had one that did it for years and it WAS seizures). If your vet can't give you this type of information, get a new vet! My bichon had EXTREME symptoms with discolored spots, itching, etc. Did the above and she no longer has any itching, hot spots, or discoloring.

Posted on August 15, 2008

Susan says: My dog is a chiuahua mix, he looks like a miniature German Shepard, anyway he's alittle bit itchy between his neck and his chest on one side, I want to know what is this what is causing it and what I can do to make it go away? Also what about anger issues, he chews my vertical blinds as well as other things where as I have to put him in a kennel cage when i go somewhere. I feel sorry for him because he is my therepy dog and I love him dearly. Any help for him-he's 2 years old and I saved him from the SPCA a year ago?

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Abby says: My dogs do this as well. My vet says it's just allergies. Have you tried special shampoos for allergies? You may also want to change her food to something that is more allergy friendly.

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Gerry says: Our 3 year old shitzu/terrior when laying down contstently licks/chews her front legs & then rubs her ears & abdomine have taken her to vet says she is ok give her clariton sometimes . i beleave it is some kind a skin problem i have read that a 1/4 teaspoon of apple cider vinager is good for skin problems she is 13lbs hmmm

Posted on April 30, 2008

Chris Swank says: I have a 12 year old rescued pitt cross 48lbs bad hip from a horse and a biter. He has a 100 foot rope to run on as opposed to the 10 foot chain he was abused on when I got him. Any way he got a sharp object through the flap of his left ear two years ago and a drain was put in and Dr. Ordway told me there was a very good chance he'd lose the use of hearing in that ear, which he did but about the same time he lost hearing in his right ear. He's like 90% deaf from either direction, but lately I've been noticing him shaking his head and when I rub gently at base of ear, he groans but doesn't get aggressive. Also he is only aggressive towards other people and dogs that come on his three acres, which is territory. He sleeps with his cats and plays with them, just don't have the foods down at that time. Being I'm on disability and the wife works two jobs the bills have accumulated at the vet so I'm trying to figure out what could be wrong with that ear as I don't see anything in the cane. The staff at the vet's love Bubba knowing he must be muzzled before anything is done, heck they even come to the car to take blood samples or to give him a shot. Any ideas short of taking him in for another $200 visit. I spend money on his meds before I buy mine, his are rimadyl, tramadol, congroiten-glucosimine. Any help would be appreciated. Chris Swank at (209) 928-1792 home all the time. Or, e-mail me at .

Posted on April 23, 2008

Bob says: Hi, We have a goldenretriever. He always gets ear infections.Some one saw your show about using vinegar and alcohol? Is this right?

Posted on April 16, 2008

Melody Peterson says: This article was well written, honest and to the point. Good job as usual, Tracy!

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