Vet bills got you in doghouse?

By LINDA LOMBARDI Modified: March 26, 2009 at 7:40 am •  Published: March 26, 2009
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When her dog, Liza, started having seizures, Alison Taub was alone at home for the first time since having major surgery — and her regular vet was closed for the weekend.

The problem was in Liza’s heart. "The emergency vet was actually a specialist in heart problems and pacemakers, which was really lucky,” she said. "But they were also very expensive and demanded money upfront.”

Taub had to leave a $2,000 deposit before treatment could begin — treatment that would eventually add up to almost $6,000. The only bright side of the otherwise bad timing? Taub had just signed up for a CareCredit health credit card to pay for her own surgery, a card that also was accepted by the vet.

"The emergency vet had a 3-month, interest-free option set up, so I knew I had some time to work it all out,” said Taub, of Lake Forest, Calif.

Veterinary medicine can do amazing things nowadays, such as implant a pacemaker though a dog’s jugular vein — treatment that Taub said "had a huge effect.” But the bills can be astonishing, especially when we’re worried about the economy. It helps to plan ahead and know your options.

Managing finances
Before you get a pet, make sure you understand what your expenses will be, said Anna Worth, president of the American Animal Hospital Association. The initial cost of a puppy or kitten, whether it’s a thousand dollars for a purebred or a smaller fee from a shelter, is a fraction of the lifetime care costs.

Consider pet health insurance. A couple of places to start: the guide to plans recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association (www.healthypet.com/sealbuyersguide.aspx), and the insurance plans offered by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.aspcapetinsurance.com).

The ASPCA offers options starting with an accident-only plan at $7.50 per month for cats and $9.50 per month for dogs, and part of the proceeds from each plan goes to support the work of the ASPCA.

A health credit card may help manage your cash flow. Vets who accept the CareCredit card may offer payment plans with no-interest periods starting at three months.