The report, Tame your pet costs, published by the consumer group, recommends pet owners comparison shop for both veterinary care and pet medications/pest preventives.
"It's difficult for consumers to gauge what constitutes a fair price for any of the hundreds of services their pet might require. The best time to comparison shop is when your pet needs a routine checkup, not when you're stressed out by a sick or injured animal."
The report recommends pet owners prepare ahead of time by getting prices from three or four local veterinarians for routine exams and procedures as well as urgent and emergency care services.
When it comes to filling prescriptions, research shows two-thirds of pet owners get medications from their vets. According to available data, mark-ups on pet meds from veterinary clinics can exceed 1,000 percent.
It's interesting to note the vast majority of pet owners who responded to the Consumer Reports survey -- over 80 percent – say they have not cut back on the amount of money spent on their companion animals. And this was the case even during the height of the recession.
If you've found it necessary to cut back on pet care expenses in recent years, I recommend you read my article Caring for Pets in a Tough Economy for tips on how to keep your pet healthy and happy even when money is tight.
Is It Smart to Shop Around for Veterinary Care?
From my perspective as both a DVM and a pet owner, finding the right veterinarian for your dog, cat, bird or other companion is rarely simply a matter of cost.
And that's not to say price shouldn't be a consideration when you're looking for a vet – just that it shouldn't be the only consideration. Only you can decide how much of your income you can afford to part with toward the care of furry family members.
If you're budget-conscious, I think it's a great idea to plan for, say, two yearly wellness exams and a teeth cleaning for your dog or cat. Knowing the cost of these services ahead of time means you can include them in your budget planning.
Read here for some excellent advice on being a smart consumer of pet medications.
What About Urgent and Emergency Care Costs?
It's much more difficult to prepare in advance for expenses for a pet that becomes ill or injured, or has a life-threatening situation requiring treatment at an emergency clinic.
I highly recommend you familiarize yourself ahead of time with the emergency facility you'll use in the event you need one. Part of this planning should include finding out what forms of payment the clinic will accept – cash or check only, or do they take credit cards? Some pet owners set a credit card aside to use only for pet care emergencies.
Other pet owners purchase pet health insurance coverage for their animals. The plans run in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 a month for a dog, and a bit less for a cat. You still must plan to pay upfront for the care your pet receives, but depending on the situation, you can submit for reimbursement from the insurer.
I also recommend you familiarize yourself with the difference between urgent care situations and true life-threatening emergencies. Some pet conditions actually look or sound or smell worse than they are. Conversely, some truly life-threatening situations might not appear initially very serious.
Knowing when to incur expensive emergency services and when it's safe to wait for an appointment with your regular vet can help control pet care costs.
Another Consideration: What Type of Medicine Does the Vet Practice?
When deciding on veterinary care for your precious pet, in addition to finding out about fees, I recommend you also look at the prospective DVM's practice philosophy.
Ideally, your vet's approach to keeping your pet healthy will mirror your own.
There are traditionally-oriented vets, holistically-oriented vets, and integrative vets like me who combine the best of both worlds of medicine in our care of animals.
As a general rule, a traditionally trained DVM will focus on treating your pet when she's ill or injured, using drugs and/or surgery. A holistically trained DVM will usually be more interested in promoting wellness and preventing illness.
Proactive, integrative vets like me bring the philosophies of both western and alternative medicine to the treatment of patients. Both approaches have practical application in the care of companion animals.
Questions to ask prospective veterinarians might include:
- What is her position on vaccinations? Does she do titering to test pets for immunity before vaccinating?
- How quick is he to dispense drugs like antibiotics and steroids to his patients?
- How often does she employ alternative methods of healing in her practice like herbs, nutritional supplements, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy or physical/movement therapy?
- How does he feel about raw feeding, if that’s how you feed your pet or plan to feed in the future? It’s important that you and your vet have similar philosophies when it comes to nourishing your pet.
Other Things to Check Out
If possible, it's always a good idea to 'preview' a prospective vet's practice to check your comfort level with the facility and staff. A few things to look for:
- What are office hours? Are they available evenings or weekends?
- Is the facility clean and organized, with a calm atmosphere?
- Does the staff seem caring, professional and communicative?
- How many doctors are in the practice? Are any of them specialists?
- Are they equipped to handle emergencies? If not, to whom do they refer those cases?
It's also good to find out what kind of diagnostic equipment is available. Many small or new practices don't have x-ray or scanning equipment, for example, which means you'll need to go elsewhere for those types of services.
If you're starting from scratch in your search for a vet, the following online resources can help you build a list of prospective DVMs in your area:
- The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) provides a list of accredited vet clinics in your area.
- The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) lists holistic veterinarians in your area.
- To learn about board certification for specialists, go to the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties webpage.