Anyone who has had to make use of veterinary services can attest to the fact that veterinary care has become more sophisticated and better able to diagnose and treat pet ailments. However, with sophistication and technology has come the reality that veterinary care is expensive. In human health care, much, if not all, of the cost of care is covered by insurance, social services, Medicare and when all fails they are absorbed by hospitals. Veterinary medicine has some degree of a financial safety net under patients as well. Pet health insurance is available to pet owners however relatively few avail themselves of pet insurance. Some are unaware of the benefits of insurance while others are unaware of the sophistication of veterinary medicine and thus are not prepared for unexpected costs.
To learn more about pet insurance, click here>
Just as in human health, many pet owners do not consider avoidable risks and hazards to their pets ahead of time. Prevention is always less costly and less traumatic than treatment. Let’s look at a few basic steps pet owners can take to keep their pets healthy and reduce the need for interventional treatment.
1. See your veterinarian often
The first step is to make use of your veterinarian as a source for early detection and information. Your pet should be thoroughly examined by your veterinarian at least yearly. While this advice may seem strange for reducing costs, the truth is that the price of routine wellness exams is nothing compared to the price of fixing a major problem later. Regular physical examinations often allow your veterinarian to detect problems before they are critical (and expensive).
2. Observe your pet's behavior
Always be aware of what is going on with your pets. Are they active and playful? Is their weight and body condition good? Do they smell clean? Ears, teeth, skin — all can give you a heads up that there is something your veterinarian needs to evaluate. Changes in appetite, toilet habits and water intake can be an indication of a problem. Carefully observe your pets even when they’re healthy, after all, if you don’t know what is normal how can you recognize a change?
3. Get ahead of common pet threats
Keeping your cat indoors; keeping your dog in a fenced, enclosed yard; keeping your dog on a leash when walking — these basic precautions can do a lot to prevent fighting, eating toxic substances, automobile accidents and coming into contact with sick animals. You will be able to eliminate the expense of emergency care and traumatic injuries. Preventing infectious diseases involves a combination of avoidance and immunization. Vaccination recommendations have changed a great deal in recent years. Vaccination is not indicated as often as it once was, but it is important that you discuss preventive vaccination with your veterinarian. For more about vaccination recommendations, click here>
Most pet parasites are also preventable by using year round controls and preventives. These parasites pose threats to dogs, cats and people (especially children). While some parasitic diseases are incurable they are often avoidable. Don’t forget to check out “Beware the Bug” for more parasite information.
4. Practice regular hygiene with your pets
Another common veterinary expense that can be reduced is dental disease. Daily brushing will not necessarily prevent the need for veterinary dental care, but it will do much to control tarter, calculus and gum disease. Ask your veterinarian to teach you how to brush your pet’s teeth and check out these instructional videos:
- Brushing your dog's teeth
- Brushing your cat's teeth
Diseases of the ears and skin causes a lot of pet discomfort and can lead to chronic problems. Make sure your pet is well groomed and clean. Evaluate his ears for discharge and odor and ask your veterinarian how best to keep them clean.
5. Prevent pet obesity
Over half of all dogs and cats are significantly overweight, according to petobesityprevention.org. Obesity puts dogs and cats at risk for avoidable health problems. Since we are responsible for feeding our pets, we are also responsible for their weight management.
Click here for 5 reasons why pet obesity is a big deal>
Look at this list and consider the cost savings. None of these steps are difficult, nor are they particularly costly, but the savings can be significant.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Dr. Maro: How to prevent pet emergencies
Let me begin by saying, not all emergencies can be prevented, but many can. Being prepared and informed, and taking the steps detailed here can save your pet’s life and save you a significant amount of money.
Emergency veterinary visits can be costly endeavors with lots of anxiety for both owners and their companions.
The pandemic has increased the demand for urgent veterinary care, at a time when delivery of care has been hampered by COVID prevention procedures, and staffing has been reduced due to family care demands.
It has not been unusual for veterinarians to turn away patients because of caseloads which have caused staff to work through lunches, at a pace that is not healthy or sustainable.
Many emergency veterinary clinics have had over eight-hour waits for evening and weekend appointments.
After decades of working in veterinary medicine, including years of emergency and overnight practice, I am convinced that 80% of emergencies can be prevented with more regular maintenance veterinary care, monitoring bloodwork and creating an ER prevention plan with your regular DVM.
The reality of pet ownership is that there are expenses that relate to the maintenance of your pet’s health. Skipping maintenance and wellness testing often leads to negative types of surprises for owners.
An example of the pitfalls of skipping maintenance care is a dog I examined yesterday, which had not been to the veterinarian for five years. The dog came in because of a terrible breath odor. During the exam, I noted several additional problems, including pain in the knee and a mild lameness.
The breath odor was secondary to severe oral infections and an oral tumor.
The severe oral infection had led to a heart murmur and valvular heart disease. Blood work showed the dog had serious Lyme disease.
This urgent care case was diagnosed with four life-threatening problems. These included severe oral infection, heart disease, Lyme disease and a tumor that could be cancerous.
The reason the owners did not go to the veterinarian previously is that they believed their dog was healthy.
If the dog had developed the oral tumor with secondary infection, it is likely the pet would have gone into congestive heart failure and/or end-stage kidney failure secondary to Lyme disease, and the family would not have understood why their pet “just got sick and died, suddenly.”
TIP #1: Don’t skip regular exams, and ask for wellness testing that is appropriate for the age and species of your pet.
Emergency prevention starts with regular (every four to six months, depending on your pet’s age) wellness visits, which must include blood, urine, parasite and other relevant species and breed disease risk testing.
At routine visits, vets hear from owners, “I can’t afford blood work, so just give my pet what is absolutely necessary.”
Like the pet above, instead of spending $400 on regular testing, they end up having $1,500-$4,000 dollars bills for emergency care. When faced with their pets’ possible imminent death, owners will often spend more than is financially prudent for care. And I have witnessed this every week of my practice life.
TIP #2: If your pet has a history of health problems, ask your regular veterinary for some backup medications to keep on hand in case of relapse.
For example, if a pet has a history of pancreatitis or digestive upset when getting into the trash, ask your vet for nausea and antidiarrheals to start in case of a weekend or holiday emergency. For pets with a history of severe allergic reactions, I send owners with an emergency anaphylaxis kit to keep on hand and teach them how to use it.
TIP #3: Monitor your pet’s eating, behavior, bowel movements and urination. Do regular home exams, so variations from normal are quickly noted.
Check your pet’s gum color, teeth, ears, skin (check for color changes, lumps and bumps), know their resting heart and breathing rates and keep a record for the vet. Maintain a copy of all health records you monitor and copies of vet visits in a folder, and take the folder to vet and ER visits.
TIP #4: Pet-proof your home, yard and car.
Use the same principles you would for a toddler in your home and vehicle. Remember to use pet seat belts or carriers, yard confinement safety practices, keep trash secured and keep potential toxins in locked cabinets.
TIP #5: Know your veterinarians’ emergency and sick pet scheduling policies and office hours. Note where the nearest emergency clinics are located, familiarize yourself with the location, hours and policies.
TIP #6: Create a wellness care budget and a plan/budget for emergencies, so funding your pet’s care during a crisis doesn’t become part of the decision-making crisis.
TIP #7: Keep the ASPCA Pet Poison Center number on hand, (888) 426-4435
In the event your pet accidentally ingests a plant, toxin, spilled medication or chemical, call this number (with credit card in hand), and find out if an ER visit is needed, before heading to an emergency center.
Five Ways to Save Money on Vet Care in 2016
The cost of veterinary care for pets is increasing annually, even for routine services. In a struggling economy, minimizing veterinary expenses while providing the best care for a pet can be a challenge. Some preventive measures and at-home care can keep expenses low, without compromising a pet’s health care.
- Feed a High-quality Diet
It is often said that diet is the cornerstone of good health. This saying holds true for pets, too. High-quality foods may be slightly more expensive, but because they usually have fewer fillers, pets need less food per meal. The better the diet, generally speaking, the healthier the pet and thus the less veterinary care they need.
- Keep Teeth Clean
Dental care is extremely important for pets. Tartar is a common problem and can lead to gingivitis or tooth decay these conditions may result in the need for expensive veterinary dental work. In addition to keeping the teeth clean and the breath fresh, oral health also has an impact on overall health. Unhealthy teeth and gums can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream, which may lead to conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, or bacterial pneumonia.
- Establish a Regular Grooming Schedule
Regular grooming helps keep a pet in top condition, and it can also alert owners to potential health problems before they become serious. A weekly or bi-weekly grooming session allows owners to perform a hands-on examination of their pet, checking for scrapes or cuts, lumps and bumps, and potential allergies or infections of the eyes, ears, and feet. The grooming session should include brushing or combing (as appropriate for the coat), cleaning the ears and teeth, and trimming the nails. Many pets dislike having their nails trimmed, but allowing nails to grow too long can cause damage to the feet and toes. A nail grinder may be more acceptable to your pets, and may decrease the stress and struggle at nail trimming time.
- Learn About Pet Health
A basic understanding of pet health issues will often save on vet fees. Knowing which conditions are generally mild and transient, which are more serious, and how to tell the difference, can prevent unnecessary trips to the veterinarian. Safe home remedies may address the problem, without the need to purchase expensive prescription drugs. This does not mean a seriously ill pet should not see a veterinarian, of course, and if even mild symptoms don’t improve within a couple of days a veterinary consult is in order.
- Consider Pet Insurance
Pet insurance can provide significant savings on pet care expenses, by reimbursing 60-100% of covered services after the deductible. With costs for common illnesses and emergencies often in the thousands of dollars, pet insurance can more than pay for itself the first time it is needed. Different companies have different levels of coverage, so compare pet insurance plans to ensure the plan fits the potential needs of the pet owner. One plan, PetFirst Healthcare, provides additional coverage such as boarding fees if the owner is hospitalized, advertising and rewards if the pet is lost or runs away, reimbursement for unrecovered pets, trip cancellation fees, and burial or cremation.
Keeping pets healthy and keeping a full wallet can sometimes seem like contradictory goals, but owners can take a few simple steps to minimize veterinary expenses. Awareness of common health issues and an individual pet’s health status means mild problems are treated at home and potentially serious problems are noticed earlier. Good diets promote good health and reduce the need for veterinary care, and an insurance plan can minimize the impact of serious illnesses or emergencies. Taking a proactive approach to pet health can result in lower veterinary costs, while keeping pets in their best possible health.
Dogs and cats are the two most popular pets on the planet, but the differences between these two animals are stark. Dogs tend to require far more attention than cats do. From a financial standpoint, this translates into more expenses. Dogs need to be brushed every day or every few days—more if you own a particularly energetic breed that frequently gets dirty. More energy results in more injuries, and dogs often benefit from training.
As a rule, owning a dog will be more expensive than owning a cat. It’s important to decide before you adopt which of the two animals is a better fit for your lifestyle.
Adopting From a Shelter
Adopting a dog from a legitimate shelter assures you first that the dog has been taken care of. Shelters take care of immediate medical needs and vaccinate and treat for common maladies such as kennel cough, parvo, and distemper. The adoption fee covers the cost of this medical care, as well as food, shelter, and transport.
Many people prefer to adopt from a shelter. Most of the animals are there because they’ve been abandoned by previous owners or are the victims of puppy mills. Adopting is the most humane option and gives the dogs a second chance. The cost of adoption ranges from $50 for mixed-breed dogs up to $500 for purebreds.
While the cost of adoption may seem high, it covers a number of expenses and can actually save you money in the long run. The total cost of everything a shelter provides for a dog often exceeds the adoption fee.
Purchasing From a Pet Store
Pet stores are usually the go-to option for first time pet owners, but many animal lovers warn against them. Pet stores, particularly smaller ones, often purchase their animals from high-volume breeders. These breeders are more concerned with making a profit than the well-being of the animals. This means that animals purchased from pet stores have a higher risk of health problems than those adopted from a shelter or bought from a licensed breeder.
High-volume breeders often keep animals confined to cages for years, only allowing limited amounts of exercise per day. They do this to keep the males and females separated, only allowing them together for the purpose of mating. The Best Friends Animal Society, an organization dedicated to the proper treatment of pets, details the problems with puppy mills and ways the average person can fight back.
The average cost of purchasing a dog from a pet store is upwards of $1000, but despite this higher cost, there are few benefits. Unlike shelters, pet stores don’t spay and neuter animals, and most don’t treat illnesses.
Purchasing From a Breeder
A licensed, legitimate breeder is the way to go if you’re interested in a specific type of dog. Licensed breeders undergo routine inspections of their facilities and treat their animals with care, so you don’t have to worry about the ethics of their operation. Breeders are the easiest way to get a purebred dog of the type you want. People interested in competing in dog shows will most likely need to go through a breeder to get papers for the American Kennel Club.
Another benefit to purchasing from a breeder is that undesirable traits will likely have been bred out. Health and behavioral issues are minimized as much as possible through selective breeding, while the traits a pet owner wants—obedience, loyalty, friendliness, etc.—are encouraged.
That said, a breeder can be expensive. Many dog breeds start at $2,000 or more.
NOTE: These prices are only estimates and that real prices can vary significantly due pedigree and location of breeders.
If you’re interested in owning a dog but you don’t have a huge budget, these are some of the least expensive dog breeds to own.
NOTE: While these prices on average are relatively cheaper than the expensive breeds, they can cost significantly more depending on factors such as pedigree and certifications.
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Get your paws on some more tax write-offs.
While the IRS won’t let you claim your fur babies as dependents -- they’re generally considered a “personal expense” -- pets can still fetch you some extra tax breaks in some very specific cases, particularly if you have a service animal or you’re fostering a pet from an IRS-approved nonprofit.
And considering more than half of American households have a pet, and they spend an average of $1,560 a year on them, many strapped pet parents could use all of the help they can get. Annual routine veterinary costs for a dog are about $257, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and vet visits for cats run $182 per year -- but surgical expenditures can more than double that. And a fall Association of International Certified Professional Accountants Americans report found one in three people have sacrificed their retirement account to pay for pet-related expenses, and one in four would miss paying a credit card bill to cover something for their pets.
It takes a lot of scratch to pay for food, vet visits, cat litter and other essentials, but many of these expenses can be claimed if you have a service animal, your pet works as a guard dog or rat catcher, or you’re fostering your pet for an approved rescue organization. Here are five ways to potentially claim your pet on your tax return, according to tips from Embrace Pet Insurance and Alison Flores of The Tax Institute at H&R Block.
They’re service animals. Service dog expenses for individuals with physical disabilities, or who need a guide dog for vision or hearing impairments, are certainly tax deductible per IRS Publication 502 -- including the cost of purchasing the animal, its training fees and vet visits, as well as food and grooming fees to maintain the health and vitality of the animal so that it can perform its duties. Pet owners with mental health conditions that can benefit from the help of a therapy animal, such as PTSD, may also be able to find deductions.
“We’re talking about an animal that has been trained by an organization that is formally in the business of being a service animal,” Flores told Moneyish, suggesting you have a letter from your doctor diagnosing your condition as well as a recommendation or prescription from your doctor for a service animal. You should also have documentation of your service dog’s training, and you should keep receipts for all expenses related to your animal that you want to deduct.
They’re business animals. Working dogs and cats can be eligible for deductions to cover their living expenses, including food, veterinary care and training related to their jobs. Some animals that could qualify include security dogs protecting a place of business, or a cat employed to control rodents at workplace, particularly when hiring animals for these services is common in your field. “In a limited amount of circumstances, this would be acceptable to the IRS, but documentation is very important,” said Flores. “You need to demonstrate a need for the animal and maintain really good records,” such as a diary or log book of their hours worked.
They’re making money. Performing animals who star in print and TV ads, movies and TV shows, or critters making you money by being social media influencers (hello, Grumpy Cat), could also qualify for deductions if they are making their owners enough money to be taxable income. “If your dog is an Instagram star, that’s your business, that would be reported as self-employed income,” she explained, “so the IRS would look at it as a business, and then look at what business expenses are associated.” So transporting your pet to shoots, feeding them, grooming, etc., could possibly be deducted as business expenses.
They’re foster animals. If you foster a pet for an IRS qualified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, expenses such as food, medications, travel costs and supplies can be deducted. “If you sign up to provide a service to care for a foster animal, and you are contributing the cost of food and care of that animal, then you are kind of considered to be providing a service to a charitable organization, and in limited circumstances, that could be a charity donation,” said Flores - and eligible for a deduction. But the shelter or rescue that you are fostering animals for needs to be an approved 501(c)(3) organization. Flores noted you can’t write off expenses “for an animal you just found on the street and took in.”
You’re in the military and you’re moving. Prior to the new tax law, you could deduct moving expenses for members of your household, including what it cost to ship or transport your pet. “Moving expenses are gone for the majority of us -- but there is an exception for armed forces service members,” noted Flores, “and it includes the cost of moving your household, and traditionally pets have been considered part of your household.