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 financesBefore 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. Read the fine print carefully for these options. All insurance plans have exclusions.
At the vetVets charge differently, so when choosing one, you may want to factor this into your decision. But afterward, Worth recommends you avoid shopping around for each procedure on the basis of price. Consistency is important to your pet’s care, and what’s more, a vet is more likely to be flexible when you’re in a bind financially if you have a long-term relationship. Don’t be uncomfortable mentioning money — there’s usually more than one treatment option. Don’t neglect care and medicine that can save you money in the long run. Spay and neuter your pets, which prevents health problems as well as unwanted litters: for referral to low-cost providers, go online to www.spayusa.org. Have the vet show you how to do routine care yourself, such as nail clipping and toothbrushing.
At homeFeed quality food, but don’t overfeed — it’s not only a waste of money on food, but being overweight can cause costly health problems in pets. Keep cats indoors. It’s safer and better for their health. Train your dog. A dog that comes when you call is less likely to run off and get into an accident. Exercise your dog; it’s good for him, and a tired dog is less likely to find ways to get into trouble. And make sure your home is dog-safe. There’s a good reason ASPCA insurance excludes coverage for multiple instances of foreign object ingestion.
In a financial bindIf your vet is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association, he or she can apply to its assistance fund. Ask whether a payment plan is possible. But remember, most vets are businesspeople, and times are hard for them, too. Call your local shelter. In a few communities, there are low-cost clinics for low-income residents. If all else fails, there is a list of small charities that help with vet bills. Go online to www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/what_you_can_do_if_you_are_having_trouble_affording_veterinary_care.html.