How to Save Money on Vet Bills: My 21 Tips

how to save money on vet bills

how to save money on vet bills

My animals seem to cost us a fortune, so I decided to find out how to save money on vet bills, if it can even be done!

This article may be published on my senior dog website but trust me, all the very helpful tips you’ll read about will help you, no matter what type or age of pet you share your life with.

A hefty sum

I like to bring home old dogs with issues. What can I say, they’re the ones I truly love that make my soul soar. They’re also the ones that cost a lot of money…until our 4ish year old dog Jack because paralysed one August day saving money on vet billslast year that is! Of course younger animals get hurt or sick, but for some reason we never thought that would happen to Jack.

You may be wondering how I ended up with such a young dog, when all I talk about is my love for the special oldies, and you would be right to wonder. Simple. My husband got tired of getting attached to a dog that didn’t hang around too long, so we fostered a young dog and of course being the foster failures we are, he fell in love with him and became his best pal.

Hubby would have minor freak outs every time I came home from the vet and would ask how much the bill was. After Jack’s paralysis, MRI, spinal surgery and hospital stay that bill was £5,000 in one hit (roughly $6,200.00). Yes I did frequently remind him of the “one day” outlay as opposed to Red’s care over many years.

You see why I’m writing about how to save money on vet bills!

Here are my 21 tips for saving money on #vetbills Click To Tweet

In no particular order here are my 21 tips

Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity in pets is such an enormous (no pun intended) problem, we’re causing our pets to develop life threatening diseases and painful conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, cancer and arthritis to name but a few.

Get off the couch and exercise your dog. If you can’t, or won’t, find someone who can.

Feed your dog twice a day. No leaving overflowing bowls of food out 24/7 to be eaten at will, and practice portion control. If your vet recommends smaller meals more often that’s great too. If you aren’t sure what your dog’s ideal weight is, and the amount of food he needs to achieve then maintain it, ask your vet.

Cut down on the treats. Don’t deny it, he didn’t get fat on his own, and stop letting other people give him treats as well. When you do want to reward him try a piece of chicken, cheese or some delicious homemade treats.

Contrary to popular opinion, overfeeding is not the best way to show love, exercise, routine, training and a healthy lifestyle are.

CLICK THISObesity in Dogs

See your vet regularly

Of course vet appointments cost money, but it’s cheaper to pay for a health check then the many visits, medications, treatments and possible long term care when concerns go unchecked and problems untreated.

Feed a high quality nutritionally balanced diet

This is a tricky one, and I’ll explain why. There are those who…

Promote a specific brand of dry dog food and swear by it

Believe dry food is nutritionally dead

Prescribe condition specific food as the only diet your dog should eat if he suffers from heart or kidney disease for example

Believe prescription diets are filled with unhealthy, unhelpful and unnatural ingredients

Recommend a raw diet as nature intended

Believe in a whole foods homemade diet, tailor made to your pet’s needs

And on and on.

I started off feeding my dogs dry food, then I added wet food for interest and variety. When Red was diagnosed with heart issues my vet put her on a prescription heart diet, then when she developed kidney problems he switched her over to a prescription kidney diet. Now she’s finally seeing a holistic vet and after blood tests he created a whole food, home cooked diet for her, which she absolutely loves!  

What should you do? I always recommend research. Read about the various types of dog food (dry, canned, dehydrated, raw…), what people love about them and what they don’t. Consult with your vet, and perhaps a holistic vet if you’re interested in what a more natural approach has to offer. Be prepared to read and hear tons of conflicting information, and at the end of the day choose a path that makes sense for you.

CLICK THISTypes of Dog Food: Which is Best?

Talk money

I know it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, I’ve had it many times, but explain you aren’t made of money (unless you are!!), so you’d like to hear options when it comes to treatment. Of course you’re not going to deny your pet the best treatment, but there’s nothing wrong with financial options.

Leave a money hungry practice

Some practices make it pretty obvious their objective is to make as much money from you as they can. Tell me you haven’t experienced that! No this is not a dig at vets in general, only those who seem to “bully” you into agreeing to expensive and invasive tests and procedures you later discover were not necessary. I have found myself in a few situations like that, and it has made me cautious.

Is your dog food costing extra because of “health” claims?

More and more pet food manufacturers are jumping on the “health and wellness” bandwagon, appealing to consumer interest in grain free, organic, whole foods, omega 3s, glucosamine and the like.   

Adding supplements, for example, may have given them an excuse to raise the price, when in fact there is no added benefit at all. My research suggests there’s no way to know the quality or actual amount of the supplement added, and whatever has been added is destroyed by the manufacturing process anyway.

Don’t pay more for no added benefit.  

Compare prices for medication

This one is super important, and could save you a ton of money!!

I’ve always bought medications at the vet. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of comparing prices online. Laziness perhaps? Time saving? Not planning ahead?

I guess what finally prompted me to look at online pharmacies was that as the number of medications Red was prescribed increased so did the cost, and I mean massive costs. One of her medications cost £120.00 a month (roughly $149.00) and that’s just for one, she was on 7!!

When I started questioning the staff I also found out they charge a dispensing fee. Check with yours to confirm, but not only am I being charged for the medication, but I also have to pay for them to hand it over.

To order a prescription drug online obviously requires a written prescription from the vet. Do you know even including that charge (£11.00 or roughly $13.00), I found prices online that were at least ½ and often 1/3 cheaper?

Don’t be embarrassed

When I first decided to order online and needed a prescription, silly as this may sound I was uncomfortable letting them know I was ordering elsewhere. After awhile I got over it. They never gave me attitude which I appreciated, and that’s a lot of extra money we can’t afford to throw out.  

Beware

Not every online pharmacy is legit, so you’ll have to be careful. Do your research to find one that’s reputable – ask other pet parents what they do and your vet may have a recommendation as well.

Here’s what I did

I made a list of all the medications Red was taking, then had a conversation with the vet staff about price, dispensing fee and tax for each. I made a note of the total price and whether or not it was a prescription medication. I than checked each medication online, made a note of the pharmacy, price and delivery charge.  

Every pharmacy I checked had a minimum order for free delivery, so I tried to order enough to avoid the charge. Sometimes the price difference was great enough that spending a couple of dollars on delivery was still cheaper.

If you’re buying a human medication, don’t forget to check places like WalMart, ASDA (UK), supermarkets with pharmacy counters and drugstores to compare.

A medication my vet charged £120.00 (roughly $149.00) that lasts 1 month, I got online for less than 1/3 of the price. That’s a massive saving.

A human medication I paid in the £80 range (roughly $99.00), I bought in a drugstore for £29.

You have to be organised enough to order in advance because delivery can take time. Yes it’s obvious, but I have found myself waiting until the last minute loads of times. I knew the vet order would be in the next day, and my laziness wouldn’t affect my dog’s health, only our bank account.

See a holistic vet

Not everyone is interested in alternative medicine and that’s fair enough. Having said that it might be worth your while to go and have a chat anyway. You may find you like what you hear, and I believe it can likely reduce your Red having acupuncturevet bills.

Here’s what’s happening at the moment with us.

I recently starting taking Red to a holistic vet. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my vet but we’ve relocated to another country for a few months, and since I’ve always wanted to take her to a holistic vet I found one here.  

Dr Ortega has taken Red off a couple of her medications and replaced them with supplements, which are less expensive than the drugs. In a couple of weeks he will do blood tests to see how she’s responding. We don’t yet know if she’ll have to go back on the medication, but for now she’s doing well, it’s costing less and her little body doesn’t have to cope with drugs.

Acupuncture is a part of her treatment plan, and that we are paying for. It’s a lot less costly than I expected it to be, and again it’s another tool in her healthcare plan.  

Red was on a prescription diet for many years, and the cost per month was about £26-£30 (roughly $32.00-$37.00). She is now on a whole foods homemade diet consisting of chicken, brown rice, quinoa, broccoli, carrot, apple and olive oil. I haven’t calculated the cost but I know it’s nowhere near what I was spending, and is a whole lot better for her.

Another reason I like this type of medicine is there are no side effects to anything she is taking. No side effects, no other problems cropping up that will cost to treat and possibly impact her health in a negative way.

Use supplements

Sounds like a good idea to use supplements as a way to keep your pet healthy, support his immune system, reduce the need for costly medication for joint pain (for example) and of course reduce vet visits.  

The thing is, which supplements are the right ones? Is it bone broth? Turmeric? Fish oil? Glucosamine? These are all popular, highly recommended supplements with lots of positive results reported by pet parents. Is there one I can recommend to you? I’m afraid I can’t because I don’t know your situation and I’m not a vet.

I say research and do more research.

As far as Red is concerned, I don’t give her anything just because it’s popular at the moment, no matter how many positive experiences I read about. I feel it’s best for Red to follow the advice of her holistic vet.  

CLICK THIS Supplements For Dogs: A Whole Foods Approach

Get a written estimate before treatment

Before any test or procedure is carried out (as long as it’s not an emergency of course), ask for a written estimate. Remember it’s only an estimate, but at least you’ll have a ball park figure of what to expect.

For a recent dental surgery my vet went over an itemised list of what is typically required. Some things he was able to eliminate, while others depended on what he found during surgery. The bill was slightly higher than the estimate, but that’s because teeth needed to be extracted and I was forewarned it would be a possibility.  

Contact your local veterinary college

I’m not suggesting you put your dog’s life in danger to save money. What I am saying is, students need hands on experience and some veterinary colleges may offer a discounted rate for things like spaying/neutering (all supervised by experienced vets of course). Have a chat and see what you think.

Pop up clinic

When I was living in Florida, one of the major pet supply chains offered regular pop up clinics for microchipping and rabies shots. They were super cheap, and very well attended. It’s “first come first served” so there’s typically a long line, but for that price it may be worth the wait.  

Pet proof your house

Probably not a piece of advice you’d expect to see in a money saving article, but it makes perfect sense. If you make your home pet friendly, you’ll cut down on the likelihood of an accident thus avoiding an unnecessary vet caring for an aging dog in a clutter free homeexpense.

One major issue is accidental poisonings. Keep cleaning products, medications and poisonous plants locked away or out of reach of pets. You know how clever they can be at opening doors, so put a lock on your cabinet if need be.

If your dog is blind, don’t leave things on the floor he can trip over, and pet stairs up to the couch will reduce the chance of a money costing sprain or injury.

CLICK THISMaking Your Home Senior Dog Friendly

Pay attention to behaviour changes

Any changes in behaviour, especially in a senior dog, need to be checked out immediately. Small things become large things very quickly, and the more serious the more expensive it can be to treat.

Spay/neuter events

Some shelters and large animal welfare organisations arrange “spay days.” You can spay/neuter a dog or cat for as little as a few dollars.

Vaccinations

Millions of pet parents are diligent about keeping up with their dogs’ vaccinations, while others believe they do more harm than good. I can say preventing disease is cheaper than fighting it, so whether that’s through vaccinations or more natural methods will depend on the type of vet you prefer.

Take advantage of specials

Some practices offer specials and promotions, so check if yours is one of them. Ask to be added to their mailing list so you don’t miss out. For example, February is National Pet Dental Health Month so your vet may offer free dental checks or a discount on teeth cleaning. Take advantage of it when you can, otherwise you’ll be paying full price later. A saving doesn’t have to be massive to be worth it.

Shop around

I am a firm believer in continuity of care, having one vet take care of all my pets’ needs. However there are times when that isn’t possible, giving you an opportunity to do some price comparisons.

A test like an MRI for example, is not likely to be performed in your vet’s office unless he works in a big animal hospital. If it’s not an emergency procedure where time is of the essence, ask your vet what specialist hospitals he recommends and make a few phone calls. It won’t take long and you may find huge price differences.

Pet insurance

Pet insurance can, in theory, save you money but not all companies and policies are created equal.

I adopt old dogs which most companies don’t want to insure, and those that do charge a fortune. Because Jack is young I made a call to discuss policies and I almost lost the will to live.

I don’t know how anyone can possibly get a clear picture of what’s offered, but I do know it’s important to ask as many questions as you can before signing up. To save money many people buy the cheapest, then when it’s time to claim they find out it covers nothing. Or the opposite – they pay for the most expensive to have as much as possible covered.

A woman I know has pet insurance and she pays around £40.00 a month (close to $50.00), and obviously as her dog ages her rate increases. Her dog had an ear infection, which insurance paid to treat. When he got an infection in the other ear they wouldn’t cover it.

Another thing I discovered was… a company may do an excellent job of covering expenses for a disease or illness the first year it happens, but may not pay anything the next year.

You could be spending a tidy sum each month for 6, 7 or 10 years before you ever really need it.

A better option may be:

Opening a bank account and setting aside a certain amount of money each month exclusively for vet bills.

Or, at the end of each day take out all the dimes, quarters, loonies (in Canada), pound coins (in England) or dollar bills (if you’re in the U.S.) from your wallet, and put them in a special tin or jar designated for vet bills. You’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up.

Line of credit

Rather than charging a bill to your credit card and being slammed with hefty interest charges if you carry over a balance, what about a line of credit? Compare rates and see which is better. Perhaps your vet has a credit plan or offers payment options.   

Does your local shelter have a veterinary clinic open to the public?

Some shelters have a veterinary clinic available to those who have adopted from them, or open to the public. Either way the rates are often lower.

How to save money on vet bills – conclusion

Pets are going to cost money, that’s the reality of sharing our lives with our furry companions. That being said, it’s encouraging to know there are lots of ways to reduce the expense. I hope you have found my advice on how to save money on vet bills helpful, and you’ll share it with other pet parents you know.

 

What tips and tricks have you discovered that saves your money? Vet bills are something most of us struggle with, so if you have some advice please share in the comments section below, or my Facebook page.

 

How to Save Money on Vet Bills: My 21 Tips
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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30 thoughts on “How to Save Money on Vet Bills: My 21 Tips

  1. I take Mr. N to a vaccine clinic for shots and heartworm/flea medication. It’s a lot cheaper and quicker. He does go to the regular vet in between for wellness exams and whatever else goes on.

  2. Great tips – one of the reasons we feed our cats an all natural raw food diet and supplements is because we know it’s the best thing for their longer-term health and ultimately this will reduce our vet bills as they get older.

  3. These are great suggestions of ways to help save money without sacrificing your dog’s health. I recently had to take Theo to the emergency vet, and it was like being at a used car dealer. They wouldn’t give me the options until I signed that I refused the most expensive option. I really felt like they were playing “Let’s Make A Deal” with my dog’s health. Thankfully he wasn’t in imminent danger or I would have agreed to the most expensive option. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at a vet’s office.

    1. Thanks Beth. Emergency hospitals know they have you hostage, but some of their tactics are shocking, criminal even. I’ll never forget when I brought my cat to the hospital to put him down. It was a 24 hour hospital but obviously a vet as well. He had suffered what appeared to be a seizure as a result of the cancer he was suffering from. A girl from reception actually came into the room and requested payment before they would do anything. I was shocked at their lack of compassion, and obvious greed during such a horrific moment.

  4. These are really good tips. I don’t have pet insurance, but I know I really need it. I hope to get it soon. I’d also like to try a holistic vet.

    1. Thank you. I’ve never had pet insurance, I think I’d rather just put money aside every day for vet bills, unless you’re able to find great coverage. A couple of months ago I started seeing a holistic vet for Red and I’m loving it. Such a different approach and one whose philosophy I share. It’s worth even just going to have a conversation to find out what they offer.

  5. Excellent ideas! Investing in wellness definitely saves you on the costs of curing sickness. Your tip about getting good food is a great one. Junk food can do a lot of damage over time. We all need good nutrients to keep our bodies running as well as possible.

    1. Thanks Robin, I appreciate that. Good health definitely saves money and lives!! My new holistic vet was not impressed with the prescription diet Red was on and created a tailor made home cooked recipe for her, based on results of blood tests. She’s loving it and eating nothing but whole foods.

  6. These are great tips Hindy, thanks! I started buying Heartworm & Flea/tick meds at an online pharmacy but the price difference wasn’t all that good. In addition, manufacturers sometimes offer discounts that are only valid if purchased through the Vet eg Heartguard Flea/tick. In terms of human meds though, I recently learned that a Doctor in the US can write a prescription & get it filled by a Canadian pharmacy who will mail you the medicine! It saved my friend a ton of money when her Dr. Faxed the script to a Canadian pharmacy. If you take meds regularly, it’s worth asking your Dr. about it.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. It’s true, not everything is cheaper online. I have heard Canadian pharmacies are significantly cheaper and it’s funny because I’m Canadian, and when I lived there I never had animals on medication (or myself for that matter…touch wood!!).

  7. Great tips, I am fortunate that Layla is a PAWS client (Pets Are Wonderful Support) so she has free annuals each year including vaccines, plus I have a yearly credit at the clinic for medications etc. PAWS also does once a week Free Vet Day where I can take her (Saturdays) if necessary. They also supply the meds and have a food bank for the pets if needed although I cook for her.
    I have though seen many people struggle to pay vet bills and give their pets the best and it is so sad.

    1. Thanks Ruth! I had never heard of PAWS except when I read you mention it on your site. Sounds amazing. It is tragic when some pet parents are faced with having to put their pets down because treatment is so expensive. I actually had a conversation with a vet about that once. I asked what would happen if I couldn’t afford to me, would I have to put my dog down and the answer was yes. I found the money but sadly not everyone can.

  8. Very good tips. Obesity is a huge issue with pets as well as humans and an easy way to reduce long-term costs and extend life. Kilo hates the vet so I hope he does not get too fat, sick or injured. We had a massive bill when our cat had an accident and broke her jaw- major specialist surgery twice and emergency care. We also had a wasted cost and unpleasant scary experience when Kilo stole a whole tray of dark chocolate brownies so very important to puppy proof. With Kilo we get lost of sponsored high-quality food, chew sticks, treats, supplements, and other products. I am hoping he will become an ambassador for a food brand I like. I would add dental care is one more thing. Any prevention is usually cheaper than fixing problems.

    1. As soon as you say the words “specialist” the cost skyrockets!! How lucky you get so much free stuff! Keeping on top of your dog’s dental health is a huge part of good health and lower vet bills.

  9. Keeping an eye on general health, weight and food intake must be a big way to keep bills down. Just day to day watchful maintenance, you see how a pet behaves how it changes its walk, and food intake, things like that.

    All of ours are insured except the lte adopted seniors. They are safer that way and we have no worries about taking them to the vet. You can, apparently get senior insurance policies now – who knew eh?

    1. Absolutely! Keeping an eye out means catching things early, increasing the likelihood it’s treatable, and the simpler to treat the cheaper it will be. I should imagine senior policies exist, what I can’t imagine is the cost!!

  10. First, I just love your header picture! What a precious face!

    I haven’t tried ordering medicine online. Though I have been able to a order a few meds through the shelter where I volunteer. Very nice because I was able to get the shelter discount.

    Also, really agree about getting estimates ahead of time in writing. I only recently started asking for these, but I find it really helpful.

    1. Thank you!! I couldn’t agree with you more, she’s too adorable. That’s interesting to order through the shelter. I hadn’t realised that was an option. Written estimates are good because you get the shock up front, then have time to adjust to the final bill. A huge bill all in one go is too much stress for the body to handle.

  11. Great post. Of, course, I’m all for raw or home cooked food. I do think it is cost effective since he has decreased the medications my dog has need….we healed from within. <3

    1. Thanks, and that’s what we’re now trying to do with Red. Replace some drugs with supplements and the vet took her off a prescription diet and created a home cooked recipe. I do prefer that philosophy to the one that prescribes drugs for every issue, rather than working with the body itself.

  12. Great post. I do have health insurance for the girls, but I have to pay for the treatment up front and that’s not always easy.

    1. Thank you. I hear you. Even though you know you’re getting most of it back, it can be challenging coming up with some of those amounts up front. Hopefully the insurance company reimburses you quite quickly, so you aren’t out of pocket too long.

  13. Lots of great information here! Pets can certainly be costly, especially if you have more than one. I agree with you that diet can be a huge money saver. It’s definitely worth it to spend a little bit more money on a higher quality food and have healthier pets than to have expensive vet bills from issues caused by a poor diet. I like the suggestion about ordering prescriptions online too. I’ve never done it before, but it’s definitely something to consider!

    1. So glad you think so! I never have just one and that’s part of the problem…I should say money problem. I didn’t order for a long time either, but when I looked into the price difference I was so annoyed, than grateful I discovered online pharmacies. Not everything is a huge price difference, but some things are significantly cheaper and even the items that aren’t still add up over time. You might as well reap the benefits with some extra cash in your pocket.

  14. One way my humans save on vet bills is by having both my sister and I on insurance! You definitely have to look around and find a company that fits your needs.

    1. Anytime I need insurance for anything I dread it. Such a minefield trying to decipher what’s covered, what isn’t and what’s hidden between the lines. If you’re able to find a good policy you definitely can save money.

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