What Are Some Good Ways to Save on Vet Bills?


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Dr. Barchas,

I am sure I am not alone when I say that one of my biggest worries is that something will happen to my dog and I won’t be able to afford the vet bill. In your experience as a vet, what would be your list of common sense things a dog owner can do to avoid an accident, etc. that would require extensive treatment. I am sure you have seen a lot of the same mistakes we owners make over and over.

I for example, let me dog ride in the front seat of my car. I know I am risking his involvement in an accident and really need to get a harness for him for the back. Thanks for your input.


Sue, your question makes an excellent follow-up to my recent articles on tooth brushing and foxtail avoidance. In those two articles I suggested that performing routine dental home care and avoiding foxtails are good ways to avoid costly vet bills.

But it turns out that for dogs and for cats there is an even more fundamental tactic one can employ to save money and avoid misery.

Here is the most valuable, life- and money saving recommendation I can offer dog owners: use a leash unless your dog’s recall is excellent.

On-leash dogs almost never get hit by cars. They almost never fall off cliffs. They rarely get into fights (and, if everyone properly leashed dogs with poor recall, they never would get into fights). Off-leash dogs, on the other hand, get into trouble all the time. 95% of the canine trauma cases I have seen could have been avoided with proper leashing.

Be aware that merely having your dog on a leash is not enough. You need to hold onto your end of the leash (it sounds like common sense, but I frequently see dogs walking themselves, with their owner holding onto a cell phone or iPod rather than the leash), and you need to pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re busy texting while you’re walking your buddy, you might not notice the drunk driver running the stop sign, or the upcoming un-neutered 120 pound dog owned by a Haight Street punk.

I recognize that off-leash play time is necessary for most dogs. But off-leash activities are safer when owners think about what they’re doing.

Unfortunately, many people don’t think before they remove the leash. Many others are in denial about their dog’s poor recall (hint: if you ever have chased after your dog, shouting his name repeatedly to no avail as he ran across a street or field or yard or beach, then your dog has poor recall). These people’s dogs frequently suffer serious, totally avoidable injuries.

Here is my number one piece of money saving, misery preventing advice for cat owners: keep your cats inside. I have seen published data that indicates allowing a cat to go outdoors reduces his life expectancy by seven years. That alone pretty much says it all. But just to be clear: unless they escape, indoor cats don’t get hit by cars, they don’t get lost, they don’t get into fights, they don’t get killed by coyotes, they don’t contract FIV/feline AIDs, they don’t contract feline leukemia virus, and they don’t get shot with BBs or otherwise suffer abuse at the hands of neighborhood psychopaths. Outdoor cats, on the other hand deal with these problems routinely.

Leashing dogs and keeping cats inside are the veterinary equivalents of quitting smoking. Each provides a consistent and easy way to prevent misery and save money.

Harnessing your dog in the back seat of your car definitely is safer than leaving him loose in the vehicle. I recommend it, but I am happy to say that car crashes are not common causes of veterinary visits where I work.

My other big piece of advice is not to skimp on routine things. Monthly heartworm prevention is much cheaper than treating heartworm. High quality flea control products are much cheaper than the treatment for toxic reactions to cheap knockoff brands. Semiannual checkups are much less expensive than late night emergency visits.

And don’t forget: brush your pet’s teeth, and stay away from foxtails.

Photo: a canal, a road, a dog, and a cell phone. Recipe for disaster.

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