Owning a dog can be both incredibly rewarding and shockingly expensive. As a Financial Planner, I often help my pet-parent clients budget for regular dog expenses and plan for the unexpected ones.
Vet care can be one of the most expensive parts of owning a dog, accounting for more than 25% of the total annual costs. You should budget at least $250 per year for routine vet costs, plus emergencies. Most dog owners will experience at least one emergency during their dog’s life that will cost upwards of $2,000.
Although it’s not possible to avoid vet costs completely, there are ways you can help keep the costs manageable while still ensuring that your dog is healthy and happy.
5 Ways to Save on Vet Costs
Vet costs are unavoidable, but they can be managed.
Vet bills are a major part of owning a dog. On top of annual preventative care, you’ll need to be prepared to handle any emergencies that may arise. With a little planning ahead you’ll be able to allocate your vet dollars wisely, eliminate unnecessary costs, and ensure that your dog is well cared for without going bankrupt.
1. Preventative Care
One of the best ways to avoid high vet bills is to invest in preventative care. Spending the time and money now to set them up for a healthy future will pay off in the long run.
Annual check-ups are essential for spotting issues early.
Preventative Vet Care:
Although it may be tempting to skip the vet this year if your dog appears healthy, these annual check-ups are essential to your dog’s long-term health. Annual exams give your vet the opportunity to spot any health issues early, when they can be addressed and before you’re facing significant treatments and costs.
Tips for Saving on Preventative Vet Care:
- Never skip annual exams. Regular check-ups can help spot issues early, before the treatment costs are out of control.
- Don’t put it off. Book an appointment as soon as your dog shows symptoms to avoid the extra fees of an after-hours emergency call.
- Have an honest conversation with your vet about vaccines. Most vaccines are good for three years, and some are not necessary at all, depending on your lifestyle. Make sure you’re only getting the vaccines you need.
At Home Care:
There’s plenty you can do at home to avoid unnecessary vet visits. A safe and healthy lifestyle will go a long way towards minimizing future health risks and reducing vet costs. Learning to do some of these steps at home will save you further money on grooming services.
Regular grooming can help prevent future health issues.
Tips For At Home Care:
- Dental issues are one of the major causes of emergency vet visits; brush your dog’s teeth and check their gums regularly.
- Keep your dog’s nails trimmed to avoid injuries and infections.
- Promote a healthy coat and skin with regular baths and grooming.
- Invest time and energy in training your dog and maintaining their skills. A well behaved dog is less likely to get injured or get into something it shouldn’t.
- Learn basic first aid skills, so you can treat minor injuries at home. Alway err on the side of caution, and don’t try to treat major issues yourself. A small cut can be cleaned and bandaged at home, and a follow-up vet appointment can be booked during regular office hours, saving you the off-hours emergency fees.
Your lifestyle will have a major impact on your dog’s health – both physical and mental. Dogs require structure, exercise and affection to be happy and healthy.
Feeding your dog good quality food can help prevent health issues.
Lifestyle Savings Tips:
- Help your dog maintain a healthy weight. Feed them good quality food, and supplement with healthy, dog-safe whole foods to keep costs down. You can even feed them less, which will make your food dollars stretch farther. Healthy dogs don’t need vitamins, so think twice about supplements, and even treats – cut up veggies make a cheaper and healthier treat.
- On top of feeding, regular exercise can help keep your dog healthy. Daily walks will keep their weight in check, joints strong, and minds sharp.
- Make sure your dog is not bored or depressed. More walks, games, training and affection can help, and keeping your dog happy can prevent future health issues.
- Socialize safely. Make sure your dog is well-trained and will listen even in distracting environments. Be wary of dog parks and other places where dogs may be aggressive, ill or unvaccinated.
- Have a dog-safe home. Keep dangerous foods and other items out of your dog’s reach and provide safe toys for playing and chewing.
Staying active will keep your dog healthy – both physically and mentally.
2. Plan Ahead
Even with the best preventative care and lifestyle, some vet costs are unavoidable. You’ll have regular annual costs, and you’ll also need to be prepared for emergencies. Most dog owners will experience at least one vet emergency during their dog’s life that will cost more than $2,000, so it’s important not to leave this to chance.
Money is the last thing you want to be worrying about when your dog is hurt.
Here are some of the ways you can plan to handle an unexpected emergency vet bill:
- Pet Insurance: Pet Insurance is becoming more popular and can be a good way to protect yourself while building your savings, or as a way to spread out the costs of vet care. Read more about pet insurance and whether it’s worth it here.
- Pet Health Spending Account (HSA): A pet emergency fund, or HSA, is a great way to save for emergencies. Pet HSAs are not tax-deductible like human ones, but knowing that you have the cash set aside to cover any unexpected bills will allow you to focus on your dog during an emergency.
- Pet Loans: A few companies now offer loans and credit cards specifically for emergency vet expenses. Although there are only a few options available (CareCredit and ScratchPay are two), these loans typically have an interest-free grace period, giving you quick access to the cash you need and some time to pay it off. Like any loan or credit card, be sure you understand the terms and conditions, including interest rates and payment due dates.
- Packages: Ask your vet about packages or bundles for preventative care. Some vets will let you pay a flat annual or monthly fee, which covers all routine exams and vaccinations, and can help spread the cost and make it more predictable. Just be sure you understand exactly what’s covered, and plan for how you’ll handle any uncovered costs.
3. Speak Up
Although the vet is the expert, and no dog owner wants to argue with them while their dog is experiencing an emergency, it’s important to remember that you are in charge. Speak up, and not just during an emergency – have some honest conversations with your vet before an emergency happens.
It’s up to you to speak up for your dog – and your wallet!
Speak Up to Save:
- Be honest with your vet about your financial situation from the beginning of your relationship. Ask for options – from payment arrangements to different treatment options, if you don’t ask you won’t know. Always ask for a written estimate, and if you’ve found a lower cost elsewhere, give your vet the option to price-match.
- Do your research and investigate any vet your are considering working with. Make sure they have appropriate training (preferably in the US) and good reviews. Talk to them to make sure you and your dog like them, and that they are compassionate towards both animals and their owners financial situation.
- Don’t be guilt tripped. Know how to say “No” to your vet. Most vets are professional, animal-loving people and will be understanding if you’re honest about your resources. They may offer other treatment options or payment arrangements – some vets will even work for free (although they don’t want you to know that…). However, not all vets are so understanding. Be assertive, ask questions and be honest about your willingness and ability to pay for certain treatments.
4. Shop Around
Like any service, it pays to shop around and know the market. And it pays to do this BEFORE an emergency comes up.
Like any expenses, it pays to shop around and negotiate for vet care.
Shop Around for Savings:
- Always ask for a written estimate for any recommended treatment, and get a second opinion to make sure the costs and treatment plan are reasonable. With your written estimates, you’ll have negotiating power and can ask for price matching from your preferred vet.
- Get prescriptions in writing. Filling them on site at your vet is usually more expensive – with a written prescription you can purchase medications at another vet, or online, usually at a much lower cost. Be aware that some vets charge a fee to write the prescription.
- Watch for sales! Vet clinics are businesses, after all, and may periodically run specials for new or existing clients, or service packages. Keep an eye out for these types of sales in your area, and give your current vet the chance to match.
5. Get Creative
Even after doing all the above steps, you may still find it hard to cover the costs of your dog’s emergency care. Here are some additional, creative ways to cover vet costs:
From volunteering to fundraising, there are many creative ways to cover the cost of your dog’s care.
- Vet Colleges are always looking for patients to practice on, and usually charge significantly lower fees. Be sure you’re working with an accredited college.
- Nonprofits and shelters sometimes offer vet services for low-income pet owners, or may accept volunteer time as payment. Some are even running pop-up clinics in low-income neighbourhoods. Use the ASPCA’s look-up tool.
- Barter. Offer to volunteer at a nonprofit or vet’s clinic in exchange for services, or offer trade other services with your vet.
- Start a fundraiser. You can do this old-school, with a local bake sale or yard sale, or get digital and create a crowd-funding campaign on GoFundMe.
Saving on Vet Costs
A healthy lifestyle will support your dog’s health and happiness.
Vet costs are an unavoidable part of owning a dog. Not only is preventative care essential to keeping them healthy and happy, but most dog owners will experience at least one emergency during their dog’s life. It pays to take some time to plan for how you’ll handle these expenses, and take steps to avoid emergency vet visits whenever possible.
Preventative care and a healthy lifestyle are key to keeping your dog healthy. Annual exams will catch problems early. Basic vaccines offer protection from illnesses, but some vaccines are not required annually, or at all. Have an honest conversation with your vet about preventative care.
Obesity is a major cause of health issues in dogs. Feeding them high-quality food (but not too much) and making sure they have regular exercise will avoid weight-related health issues in the future. Good grooming will avoid dental and other issues. Keep on top of your dog’s training – a well-behaved dog is less likely to get injured.
Focus on keeping your dog healthy and happy today, to avoid health issues in the future.
No matter how healthy you keep your dog, some emergencies are unavoidable. Plan ahead for how you will handle these, whether that’s Pet Insurance, a Pet HSA or a pet-specific loan.
Don’t be afraid to speak up with your vet. Be honest about your finances and ask about treatment options and payment plans. Don’t be guilted into treatments you can’t afford. Always get written estimates and prescriptions, shop around for the best rates, and give your vet the opportunity to price match.
When all else fails, get creative with alternative service providers like Vet Colleges and Non-Profits, trade services, or start a fundraising campaign for your furry friend.
Vet costs are unavoidable, but you have more options and control than you think. Be honest about your resources, take excellent care of your dog, and plan ahead for emergencies, and you and your dog can look forward to a long and healthy life together.
Jen Jones is a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist with more than 25 years of experience. As the founder of ‘Your Dog Advisor’ and the ‘Canine Connection’ rehabilitation center, she applies a holistic, empathetic approach, aiming to address root causes rather than merely treating symptoms.
Well known for her intuitive and compassionate approach, Jen adopts scientifically-proven, reward-based methods, encouraging positive reinforcement over punishment. Jen specializes in obedience training, behavior modification, and puppy socialization. Her innovative methods, particularly in addressing anxiety and aggression issues, have been widely recognized. Jen has worked with many of the world’s leading dog behaviorists and in her free time volunteers with local animal shelters and rescue groups.