This year, pet owners will spend $12.2 billion on veterinary care, according to the American Pet Products Association. Here are seven ways to lower your bills without shortchanging your furry friend.
Schedule annual exams.
“One year in a pet’s life is equivalent to seven in human life, so a lot can change quickly,” says veterinarian Karen Felsted, of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. Trouble is, most pet owners don’t think annual exams are necessary—one survey found that 63 percent of dog owners and 68 percent of cat owners question the need for regular vet care. But yearly exams can help spot problems before they escalate or prevent common issues (like heartworm or dental disease) altogether, so you avoid costly solutions later.
Help them stay slim.
More than half of pets are overweight, and just like in humans those extra pounds increase the risk of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. How do you know if your pet is pudgy? Both cats and dogs should generally have an hourglass shape, and you should be able to feel their ribs. To help Fido slim down and maintain a healthy weight, exercise him daily, don’t feed table scraps and limit treats.
Don’t skimp on pet food.
In general, look for foods that list protein like turkey or chicken (not “meal”) first. Because they have better ingredients and more research behind them, high-quality foods also cost more. Yet here’s the kicker: Unlike low-quality foods which, as a result of the numerous fillers, require that you feed your pet more to get the appropriate nutrients, high-quality foods are so nutrient-dense that you can feed your pet less (in fact, if you don’t, your pet will gain weight).
House your pet indoors.
Although indoor pets can get sick, they have less chance of getting hit by a car, tangling with other animals, or eating something harmful, all of which could send a pet to the vet. When they are outdoors, keep pets leashed.
Watch for telltale signs of serious problems.
Certain early warning signs can alert you to health problems that should be treated before they escalate. “If you can catch a serious illness early, your pet is less likely to have complications and secondary conditions, which can keep costs down,” Felsted says. These signs include:
• Weight loss (especially without feeding changes), which might indicate diabetes, kidney disease, and some cancers
• Vomiting or diarrhea, which could mean your pet’s swallowed something foreign or may have inflammatory bowel disease
• Bad breath, which could indicate dental disease or a tooth abcess
• Extreme or unusual lethargy
• Pain or limping when moving, which can be a sign of arthritis
Consider pet insurance.
“Pet insurance can help you pay for conditions that require expensive treatments,” Felsted says. Because policies vary, do your homework before committing. First, decide what coverage you want. You might, for instance, be comfortable paying out of pocket for wellness exams but want protection against serious injuries. Let your personal finances guide you and remember that the more extensive the coverage is, the more it will cost. Also, consider your pet’s current health—for instance, does it have a hereditary disease that could be costly to treat down the road?
Have a heart-to-heart with your vet.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your ability to pay for care. Why? “Instead of an expensive gold standard treatment, your vet might recommend a medically-appropriate alternative that’s less expensive but could still benefit your pet,” Felsted says. Also, ask if your vet discounts for seeing multiple pets in the same exam; some vets do this as a courtesy.
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