How to prepare for your vet costs

By: Jane Doucet

Author: Canadian Living


How to prepare for your vet costs

By: Jane Doucet
Three years ago Ruth Abramson rushed her cat, Maiya, to the emergency vet clinic after she fell  from Ruth's third-floor Vancouver apartment's fire escape. Maiya was lucky: she strained muscles, and broke teeth but no bones. Still, Ruth estimates the total cost for the ensuing exams, tests, X-rays, blood work, dental surgery and medication came to about $9,000.

Each province has its own fee guide that vets consult to set prices, which means costs for treatments and services vary across the country. If you're a cash-strapped pet owner (and who isn't short on money these days?), here's how to find the best price for your pet's medical needs without compromising care.

1. Comparison shop
"Call several clinics to compare prices on the same services and medications,"
advises Annette Armitage of Advocates for Responsible Pet Ownership in Halifax. In Nova Scotia, for example, a general examination costs $42 to $95 (rural clinics charge less because their office space is cheaper). "People are often willing to travel some distance to receive specialized and affordable care," says Armitage.

2. Ask about a payment plan
If finances are tight, tell your vet. "Some practices will create a monthly payment plan for a valued client," says Dr. Duane Landals, registrar of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. "You can also discuss treatment  options that cost less."

3. Ask about discounts
At Annapolis Animal Hospital in New Minas, N.S., co-owner Dr. Dana Power offers various discounts, including 15 per cent off dental procedures in February and August. "Giving customers a small savings encourages them to take better care of their pets," she says. "Plus, if you can get a pet's teeth cleaned regularly to prevent extraction, it'll be cheaper for the owner in the long run."

4. Budget for emergencies
Most emergency clinics charge slightly more for the initial exam because they operate after hours, but other services and medications are on par with local clinics and the provincial fee guides, says Sandra MacLean, hospital manager of Metro Animal Emergency Clinic in Dartmouth, N.S. Often, numerous tests must be done to determine an accurate diagnosis; that, plus surgery and treatment, can be expensive. "Ask for an estimate up-front so there are  no surprises," says MacLean.

5. Research pet insurance
Insurance is most beneficial when your pet is young; even puppies need a clean bill of health to qualify. Policies don't usually cover older animals with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes.

"If you have one pet, insurance is a great way to protect your finances," says Armitage. If you have multiple animals, the total insurance premiums may outweigh any money you'll save.

For example, Armitage has four dogs and three cats, so she'd have to pay seven monthly premiums  costing thousands of dollars annually for animals that may never have health problems.

This story was originally titled "Vet Costs" in the September 2009 issue.

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How to prepare for your vet costs