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Should You Price Shop for Veterinary Care?
According to Consumer Reports, pet food
and vet care costs have risen 4 percent
since 2008. This means pet care expenses
are increasing at a much faster rate than the
rate of inflation.
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
Comments by Dr Karen Becker:
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.
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
Questions to ask prospective veterinarians might include:
•What is her position on vaccinations? Does she do titering to test pets for immunity before
•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