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How to get cheaper (or free) vet care

Office visits for your four-legged friends can cost more than yours do. But you don't have to roll over. Here are some specific tips to take a bite out of vet bills.

By MSN Money Partner Sep 4, 2013 6:54PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News. 


MSN Money partnerOne day I noticed that my puppy was acting strangely. She walked a few steps, stumbled, fell over and slowly got back up, only to fall over again. I realized her tummy was extremely bloated.


I rushed her to the vet. The vet examined her for a few minutes and started to chuckle. Then my puppy let out a bellowing burp and the vet actually started to laugh. When he asked me if I had left dog food out, I remembered the large bowl on the kitchen floor for my other dog. My puppy had four cups of food in her ½-cup stomach.


It wasn't serious -- although food bloat can be a very serious condition -- but I wasn't laughing when I got the bill for $100.


Between routine care and those little surprises, your pet's medical bills can get expensive. But we have a list of ways to find less expensive or even free vet care.


1. Look for low-cost alternatives

Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and other routine care. To find animal shelters and pet rescue groups in your area, check out Petfinder.com's list. Also, if you can't afford to spay or neuter your pet, the ASPCA has a list of low-cost programs that can help.


2. Try a vet school

Veterinary schools are typically cheaper than vet clinics and animal hospitals. While procedures are performed by students, they are supervised by a vet. Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association's Accredited Veterinary Colleges list for a location near you.


3. Shop around

Vet prices can vary widely. For example, when I was looking for a new veterinarian in New Orleans, I called six different clinics. The base cost of a visit ranged from $35 to $75. TV station KARE 11 in Minneapolis found a wide range of prices among 13 clinics for several common procedures. The price often depends on the clinic's location, its equipment costs and the student loan debt of the vet staff, it said.


4. Ask your vet for help

If your pet needs an expensive medical treatment or you're struggling to cover the cost of care, discuss this with your veterinarian. Many vets offer payment plans or discounts to their steady clients.


5. Find a charity

If your vet can't help and you can't afford an expensive and necessary medical procedure, you may be able to get help from a charity. The Humane Society has a list of charities, some of which help with the cost of life-saving medical care for pets. Click on your state to see what's available. Keep in mind that the demand for this type of assistance is high.


Image: Dog (© moodboard/Corbis)6. Look for cheaper prescriptions

If you're buying prescription medication directly from your vet, you may be overpaying. Compare prices online at sites like:

  • PetCareRx
  • Doctors Foster and Smith
  • 1-800-PetMeds

Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says: "FDA has found companies that sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, and sell expired drugs." It offers some red flags to look out for.


You may be able to get generic pet meds for $4 at stores like Target and Kroger. Finally, ask your vet if he'll match the best price you find. In fact, my vet promises to beat the best price online by 5%, and I don't have to pay shipping costs.


7. Keep an eye out for specials

Right now, my vet is offering a 20% discount for new patients and $25 off dental cleanings. Just like human-centered businesses, vets offer specials. Be sure to check out veterinary websites and social media accounts for deals.


8. Be proactive to protect your pet's health

Take steps and precautions to reduce your pet’s chances of requiring expensive medical care:

Spaying females prior to their first heat cycle nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland, and greatly reduces their risk for perianal tumors.
  • Getting wellness checkups. Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than a cure. Make sure your pets get annual wellness exams to spot problems early on before they become costly and heartbreaking. Keep up with the vaccination schedule, and make sure you discuss heartworm prevention with your vet.

9. Compare treatments

If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course for your pet. Consumer Reports recommends that you ask your vet these questions before you decide what to do:

What are the treatment options?
What are the immediate and long-term costs of each? What's the prognosis for recovery?
What will the pet's post-treatment quality of life be like?

Have you faced a situation where your pet required expensive care?


Karen Datko contributed to this report.


More on Money Talks News:

1Comment
Sep 5, 2013 12:14PM
avatar
hold on to your hats, Seattle residents, the nearest vet school is in Pullman, just a mere 285 miles away....
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