Paying for the Vet

Paying for veterinary care

When it comes to paying for veterinary costs, the lifetime health care costs of a pet, assuming you do all of the necessary treatments, is several thousand dollars.  Vaccinations and physical examinations for a healthy pet are around $100 a year.  The cost of heartworm prevention and flea and tick control are often about $60 to $120 for each yearly.  This is the basic cost of pet care for a pet with no health problems after the first year of shots and a spay or neutering. Unfortunately, most animals will get sick several times in their lives and the cost of treating health problems increases the overall cost of keeping your pet healthy.  Many people consider ways to handle the cost of veterinary care.  You should at least investigate and consider what you can and should do considering your situation.

1.      Self insure.  Veterinary care is expensive but not too expensive to afford with planning.  If you start a savings account when you start looking for a pet, it will allow you to pay for a lot of care without being in a bind.  If you have a thousand dollars upfront to put away, this would be great. However, most people do not have that amount of money to seed a savings account for their pet.

I suggest that you start with young animals putting away at least $20 a month during the first year.  That first year, a lot of expenses are present – lots of vaccines and a spay/neuter and sometimes other preventative medications or surgery.  You won’t be able to save much due to these costs, but if you can afford to save about $800 a year, every year  after that this will allow you to pay for all of your veterinary bills for one pet.  To save about $800 dollars, $15 dollars a week is a good start.  For most pets, yearly care is $200 to $300 a year.  Even with your regular care taken out of that money, $500 will be saved to start a nice emergency fund.  With multiple pets, the emergency fund can be used for both pets so it does not double the cost of the fund, unless you decide to do that.  If you save $500 to 800 a year after the first year, this will allow you to be able to pay for a major emergency after a couple of years.  I use this method myself.

2.      Care Credit: the care credit option allows you to charge your veterinary bills if they are over a certain amount and pay it off as you would a monthly credit card bill.  This is a separate crediting service that is managed like a credit card to cover only health care costs over a certain amount.  Many veterinary offices can run an application for care credit and get you an account before or after you receive care for your pet.

3.      Pet insurance.  This option has improved a lot in the last decade and its popularity is increasing over the last several years.  I am still not completely on board that everyone needs pet health insurance, but some people use this option. However, unlike your health insurance, veterinary offices will NOT file this for you.  Most of the time, you must get the paperwork filled out and send it in yourself to get REIMBURSED.  In other words, you still have to be able to charge services or pay the veterinarian with cash to cover the cost upfront.  These policies usually have a deductable, pay a percentage of the costs (typically up to 80%)  and include yearly caps on the cost of treatment with some policies.

Unlike most physicians who have a staff of medical billers to take care of your insurance needs and tract down payment for all costs after your copayment, veterinary offices do not have additional administrative staff to file paperwork.  This keeps the veterinary administrative costs down and allows you see a la carte (individual) costs upfront when you visit the veterinarian, unlike in human doctor’s offices; however, you have to do all of the work related to getting your money back.

There are currently several companies that offer pet insurance.  However, as with most policies, you have to make sure that they cover what you need.  Unlike with most human policies, you can get veterinary care policies that only cover catastrophic events.  Some policies, which cost a lot more, will cover the cost of routine veterinary services in the monthly premium, BUT almost all of the policies will NOT cover genetic, hereditary or pre-exisiting conditions.  This means that if your pet is at risk of a disease that has a high breed predisposition, the expensive treatment or medical care to maintain your pet’s health may be completely excluded from the policy due to a genetic or hereditary reason.

Finally, many of these policies exclude “preventable diseases”.  A preventable disease is usually  considered a disease that can be vaccinated against, such as parvovirus.  Treatments for these diseases are not covered if you did not take preventative measures.  Therefore if your dog contracts parvovirus (if you did not get him vaccinated), the policy will not cover the treatment, which is often many hundreds of dollars.   You may be able to get treatment covered if you did get your dog vaccinated since you did try to prevent the disease.

You should do extensive research on any potential insurance policy and read the fine print.  This will make sure that you will not be spending money on something that will not pay out in the long run.

The following link at MSN money includes information on pet insurance from last year.

It includes a decent amount of information pet insurance in general, as well as a final statement hat individuals who purchase pet insurance appear to spend more money on their pet’s health care than those without pet insurance.


Good luck in determining the best options for your lifestyle and budget.

S. Mason, DVM

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