The High Cost of Pet Care

Reply Sun 25 Aug, 2013 06:37 am
April 29, 2011

Containing the Costs of Pet Care


DEBORAH NOCELLA, a 43-year-old mother in Park Slope, says she feels as if she takes the family’s two dogs to the vet almost as often as she takes them to the neighborhood dog run.

Last year the Nocella family adopted two puppies, a pit bull mix named Pokie and a “puggle” named Browny. Since then, Ms. Nocella estimates, the family has spent as much as $5,000 on veterinarian bills.

The dogs have had routine checkups and shots, of course. But then there were unexpected costs: Pokie arrived with a bad case of worms and kennel cough; some strange bumps on her paws turned out, after $700 worth of tests, to be warts. Browny has severe allergies and requires frequent trips to the vet.

Last November, Pokie swallowed Advil pills, which are toxic to dogs. She went into renal failure and required emergency treatment overnight in a nearby animal hospital. The treatment was successful and Pokie is fine, but the incident set the Nocellas back $2,300.

Pet owners like Ms. Nocella are spending more on veterinarian bills than ever before. The American Pet Products Association estimates that Americans will spend $12.2 billion on veterinary care this year, up from $11 billion last year and $8.2 billion in 2006.

Advances in veterinary medicine mean more extensive, and expensive, treatments are available for animals, but even ordinary costs like flea and tick protection can add up quickly. Here are some ways to curb those costs while still giving your pet the best of care.

LOW-COST ALTERNATIVES Local shelters often offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering for dogs and cats, said Dr. Louise Murray, vice president at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York and author of “Vet Confidential.” To find a shelter near you, check the A.S.P.C.A. Web site at www.aspca.org/pet-care/spayneuter.

Shelters where pets can be adopted may offer low-cost vaccinations and checkups. Mobile clinics, usually sponsored by local governments or animal protection agencies, also provide routine pet care for far less than a traditional vet would charge.

Veterinarian schools are another good source of low-cost care. Students are carefully supervised by qualified veterinarians, so pets receive quality care — everything from heartworm tests to major surgery, often for as little as a third of the price at a veterinarian’s office.

THE RIGHT VACCINES Keeping up with a pet’s shots will save money, not to mention misery, in the long run by preventing many serious illnesses. But that does not mean a pet needs every vaccine available.

“A corgi who lives on the Upper East Side doesn’t need the same protocol as a Labrador in Connecticut,” Dr. Murray said. “Your veterinarian should customize a vaccine plan that fits your pet.”

A HEALTHY DIET Many vets sell prescriptions and high-quality pet food, but the same brands are sold for much less at many pet supply stores or Web sites. Still, do not skimp on quality.

“Cats, for example, are carnivores and aren’t meant to eat carbohydrates,” Dr. Murray said. “Feeding them only the cheap dried food can lead to diabetes or blockages that will cost you a lot more in the long run than the price you’ll pay for the right food.”

DRUG DISCOUNTS If a pet needs regular medication, discount chains such as Costco can be cheaper than a regular drug store or the vet’s office, said Dr. Sharon Friedman, a veterinarian at the Berkley Animal Clinic in Berkley, Mich. But consult a veterinarian first, she advised, to be sure to buy the right medicine at the right dosage.

On the other hand, do not assume that tick and flea treatments or heartworm medications are cheaper at the big discount chains. Manufacturers want to distribute these medicines through veterinarians’ offices, so they often offer promotions and discounts there that are not available elsewhere.

“One company recently offered two free tick and flea treatments if you bought six doses. That worked out to be less expensive than PetMeds, a popular online store, or Costco,” Dr. Friedman said. “It often pays to ask.”

Many Web sites sell high-quality pet medications at good prices, but a recent Food and Drug. Administration. investigation caught some sites selling counterfeit, unapproved or expired drugs. Beware of any site that sells medications without requiring a veterinarian’s prescription.

The F.D.A. also recommends that consumers look for sites accredited as a Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site, part of a voluntary accreditation program.

CONSIDER INSURANCE Pet health insurance is a booming industry, growing more than 20 percent every year, although only an estimated 3 percent of pet owners have bought policies. While Ms. Nocella has never seriously considered buying pet insurance, she does acknowledge it might have come in handy the day Pokie ate the Advil.

But like health insurance for humans, pet insurance can be complicated and highly restricted. Some policies will not cover older pets or genetic conditions that certain breeds are known to have, such as hip dysplasia in retrievers.

Others limit coverage to only one treatment per illness. So if your dog develops asthma, for instance, some policies will cover just the first trip to the vet although treatment will require multiple visits.

Prices for pet insurance can range from $12 to $50 a month, depending on the type and age of the pet and any pre-existing conditions. In almost all cases the pet owner pays up front, then files a claim for reimbursement.

Costs are higher to insure older, sicker pets, or for policies that cover preventive care, such as vaccines and veterinarian office visits.

Many pet owners prefer to save for unexpected vet expenses in an emergency fund instead of paying premiums for coverage they may not use. Dr. Murray suggested putting away a little each week until savings reach $2,000 to $3,000.

“That’s the minimum you’ll need if a serious situation arises and your pet needs lifesaving care,” she said

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Reply Sun 25 Aug, 2013 06:48 am
Dr. Murray suggested putting away a little each week until savings reach $2,000 to $3,000.

“That’s the minimum you’ll need if a serious situation arises and your pet needs lifesaving care,” she said

I don't think $2000-$3000 will be sufficient, if you live in the NorthEast in areas such as Boston or NYCity.

A routine visit to the vet for a dog is $88-$120 and that just lets you in the door of the vet practice. An MRI, if you pet should need one is a flat $2000 or more and a bandage, which my small poodle recently received is of the order of $100.

Many of the tests performed in the vet office are simply too expensive and one that really bugs me is the "wet mount" , a microscopic exam for yeast or bacterial in a drop of water. Since a trained 8th grader could perform the test, the fee for the test should be of the order of $5-$10 instead of the $50-$60 fee normally charged.

A night in the intensive care unit costs $1000 or more.

And so it goes.

Moreover, I'm of the opinion that vet insurance is worthless.

I feel that President Obama should regulate vet costs in much the same manner that he plans on lowering college costs for students.
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Reply Sun 25 Aug, 2013 07:40 am
Tell me about it I lost four cats in the space of a year mainly due to them all being roughly the same age and reaching the end of their life spans at the same time.

Spend at least five thousands dollars in vet bills trying to keep them in my life longer then mother nature was willing to allowed me to.
Reply Tue 27 Aug, 2013 12:27 pm
All I can say, is God help you, if either your cat or your dog has allergies. Too much money for a bag of dog food...
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Reply Tue 27 Aug, 2013 08:40 pm
I'm sorry to say it, but after nearly forty years of practice, I am pretty much ashamed to call myself a veterinarian. I NEVER had a bill on a single animal that exceeded two hundred bucks, and that included bone surgeries on dogs and cats, cryptorchid stallion surgery, hundreds on Caesarians on cattle, and a myriad of other procedures. Today, most young vets don't want the work - just the pay. Last spring, I had to fly home from Albuquerque to do a C-section on a cow because all three of the other vets in town had gone away for the weekend in the middle of calving season. Later, I had to Bangs and TB test a couple of bulls going to Utah. My bill was $39, and I found out another vet did the same thing while I was out of the area - for $279! Granted, I sure as hell never got rich at it, but the work was so rewarding that I wouldn't trade all those years for any amount of money. I realize that I'm a dinosaur, but that certainly doesn't make me want to evolve into a modern vet, or should I say "wannabe physician". I'm perfectly content to remain what I am.
Reply Tue 27 Aug, 2013 09:06 pm
You sound wonderful but to be fair to my current vet he have one hell of a lot of very expense testing and treatment equipments in his office.

Full blood analysis, xray, laser surgery, oxygen chamber and so on.

Of course when I had just handed a credit card to him and allowed him to employed all this technology the results seems not all that great as far as saving my animals is concern.

Right now I am down to two cats one with the cat leukemia virus in her body but thank gods to date is completely asymptomatic and her blood tests to date are good.

My vet tell me that there is an experiment drug that is very costly and I been holding back on this treatment until and if she become symptomatic or the blood tests start showing a problem.

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Reply Wed 28 Aug, 2013 12:22 pm
How would you like to spend $120/month on food for a 27 pound miniature Poodle?

Reply Fri 27 Sep, 2013 12:44 pm
You should get a dog.
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Reply Tue 14 Jan, 2014 04:13 am
Now a days pet care is very costly..I am spending 2-3 thousand dollar in a month...If somehow she let down from any problem..I am paying even more...
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