By Jane Pae Magaro, Cheapism.com
There's nothing you won't do for your pet -- but wait until you see the vet bill. According to a poll conducted by AP-Petside.com and reported on NYDailyNews.com, vet visits during 2010 cost pet owners an average of $505 and more than $1,000 for serious illnesses. Although pet insurance is an option, most pet owners pay for everything, from screenings to major surgery, out of their own pocket.
Veterinary expenses might leave you feeling a bit ill yourself, so here are some preventive, money-saving tips.Your pet's health is priceless.
Get Ahead of Problems with Regular Checkups. It may seem like a no-brainer, but keeping your pet healthy is the easiest way to avoid costly procedures and prescriptions. Take your pet to the vet's office for an annual checkup and all the necessary vaccines. A thorough examination can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in potential procedures and drugs through early detection of common diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and dental problems.
Exercise for Physical and Mental Health. A run in the park keeps your dog's weight in check, social skills well honed, and sense of well-being positive. Daily playtime with a laser pointer or toy helps your cat remain vigorous and her natural hunting instincts sharp. Be it a dog, cat, hamster, or other companion, pets that don't engage in physical activity get bored and sometimes depressed, which could lead to destructive habits and behavioral problems. Check out a local dog run and/or look for a cheap but reliable dog walker or sitter. Regular playtime with your pet will keep him happy and healthy, and save you hundreds of dollars in chewed-up shoes.
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Buy the Best-Quality Food You Can Afford. You try to eat healthy food so why shouldn't your pet? Make sure your furry friend is getting the proper nutrition by choosing high-quality pet food. The supermarket brand probably doesn't cut it, but there are pet food brands that do. Read the labels carefully and look for high nutritional content. If you feed your pet the equivalent of fast food every day, you can expect to see (and pay to treat) health problems similar to those experienced by human fast-food junkies.
Be Extra Careful Outdoors. Fleas, ticks, animal attacks, and car accidents -- all problems that can easily be avoided by taking extra caution outdoors. When your dog is outside, make sure the leash is on firmly and securely and try to avoid areas with motor traffic or wild animals. As for cats, experts note the average lifespan of an indoor cat is 12 to 18 years while outdoor cats typically don't live more than five years.Delaying treatment can cause more serious problems.
Don't Delay Treatment. If you sense a problem with your pet, call your vet immediately. Subtle signs like behavioral changes, lethargy, or lumps in the skin can indicate big problems. Health issues are more easily treated when caught early, so don't delay in getting proper care for your pet.
Shop Around and Compare Prices. Some pet owners may be surprised to know that different veterinary offices charge different rates, so shop around. Good sources for cheap pet care include non-profit organizations, animal shelters, and clinics run by vet schools (if you're lucky enough to live near one). Locate animal hospitals or shelters run by humane societies and animal welfare groups such as the ASPCA, Bideawee, and the Humane Society. There may be other local non-profit animal hospitals near you.
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Itemize the Bill: Get Everything in Writing. The easiest way to cut costs on your vet bill is by eliminating extra fees. Whether for a regular checkup or specialized procedure, ask for an itemized quote. You'd be surprised at the small items you get charged for and how much they cost. Examine the estimate and see if there are unnecessary services or fees that you can waive. Don't be afraid to ask for an explanation of the service and its price; you may find a handful of disputable fees hiding behind a lump charge.Avoid emergencies by planning ahead.
Avoid Emergency Fees: Visit the Vet During the Day. While an emergency is, by definition, unplanned, try to take your pet to the vet during office hours. Many animal hospitals and veterinary offices charge hefty night or emergency fees, so if your pet shows any sign of illness, rush to the vet as soon as possible. The quicker you get there, the more options you may have for getting medical attention during the day. Some vets may refer your pet to an emergency animal hospital, which could mean hundreds of dollars in additional charges -- especially for services rendered during off hours.
Negotiate. Don't be afraid to negotiate fees. If you get a detailed quote, you'll be armed with knowledge and may be able to whittle down the cost of critical, high-priced services. Vets realize that most consumers pay out of pocket, so they may be flexible. Always ask if there are more affordable treatment options.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions or Get a Second Opinion. If your gut feeling warns you that something isn't right with the vet's care or course of action, don't be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion -- especially if a major procedure is recommended. Another doctor may suggest a less-invasive and less-costly treatment. Services such as X-rays can be unnecessary and expensive, so make sure whatever the vet does is in the best interests of your pet, not the doctor. If you have any doubts, check with the Better Business Bureau or your state's Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to see if any complaints have been filed against the vet.
Bottom Line: A combination of healthy diet and preventative care can help your pet live a long life. In many ways, pets are worth a million bucks, but by following these tips, you won't have to prove it.
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