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In How to Keep a Dog When You’re on a Tight Budget, I talked about a lot of different things you can do that will allow you to keep a dog even if you don’t have all that much money. Mostly, I talked about saving on food and toys, and considering getting a rescue dog instead of shelling out for a purebred puppy. I didn’t go into much detail on saving money on vet bills, like how to get cheap dog x-rays. This is something I want to talk about this time around.
Before we go any further, though, I want to point out that trying to do things on the cheap might not always be the best idea. You can shop around, yes, but I’m a big believer in finding the veterinarian that is absolutely right for you, and trusting him or her not to gouge you when it comes to treatments for your dog. Even if my finances go into the toilet at some point, Stephen will still be my vet. I’d never trust Janice and Leroy to someone I didn’t know – someone that I’d chosen simply because his or her prices were the lowest when it comes to cheap dog x-rays and other treatments. That said, if you’re just starting to shop around for a vet, or if you’re not hopelessly bonded to one as I am to Stephen, the following information can help you to save a bit of money.
As you could tell from some of my posts – perhaps most notably, Help, My Dog Ate a Battery! – a visit to the vet can empty your wallet very quickly. If the estimate for treatment is making you turn green, while sucking all the green out of your bank account, it really doesn’t hurt to shop around for cheap dog x-rays and other treatments – even if you’re already waiting for treatment.
You have a smartphone for a reason; it’s to make your life easier. And one way of making your life easier is to get a better price on veterinary care. So, let’s say you’re sitting in the waiting area of the animal hospital, waiting for them to take your dog in to be neutered. What’s stopping you from calling other veterinarians to see if they can give you a better price? Then, when the vet technician comes out to tell you, “We’re ready for Boris now,” you can say, “Yeah, but Dr. X says he’ll neuter Boris for about half what you’re going to charge me. Can you match his price?”
If the answer is “No”, that’s fine. Just find out why. Is there really any difference in the treatment, or is it just that you’re sitting in a really classy animal hospital where a good chunk of the price of your dog’s operation is going to go toward overhead?
The fact is that people are much more willing right now to spend a lot of money on their dog’s care, but they might not be thinking about where that money is going to go. A lot of veterinary clinics are now what you might call “McHospitals.” In other words, they’re run by huge corporations that focus on nothing more than the bottom line. This can sometimes mean that you’ll get a pretty good deal, but it can also mean that you might be stuck with a vet who just wants to “process” your dog and get the money.
The other thing to keep in mind is that prices can vary hugely depending on the type of animal hospital you’re using, and also depending on where you live. Just as an example, a “Mom and Pop” vet clinic that’s being operated out of someone’s home probably doesn’t have huge overhead. That really classy looking animal hospital with the skylights and the play area and the boutique that sells dog accessories almost certainly does.
Where you live can also be a huge factor. A vet clinic in a little Podunk town, for instance, is almost certainly going to charge you less than a clinic in an area like, say, Manhattan. This is simply because Manhattan is an area where people have a lot of money. Accordingly, the clinic can charge more than one in a little backwater town. You might find that the price in a prosperous area could be literally thousands of dollars more than you would pay in a smaller area.
What I’m saying here is simply this: don’t accept the first price that your vet quotes. You can go elsewhere. You might also be able to bargain down the price.
Don’t be afraid to bargain, even if your vet is getting ready to do a procedure. Unless you’re dealing with an emergency (in which case, from where I’m sitting, you should only be concerned about saving your dog, and damn the money), never be afraid to call around and tell your vet, “I’ve got a better deal.” Let him or her know that you have other options, especially if it’s a routine procedure like an examination or a vaccination.
Why does it cost so much here, and not nearly as much at this other clinic?
This is a question that you should never be afraid to ask your vet. You should also feel free to ask why your dog needs a specific procedure.
I’ve told you before about my friend, Neila, who breeds Rottweilers. One time, her regular veterinarian wasn’t available, and she had to go elsewhere. She had a Rott that had lost a lot of weight, was vomiting, and was nine-years-old. Neila had been down this road enough times that she knew what was going on; Rottweilers are very prone to cancer, and this dog manifested cancer in a huge way.
The new vet wanted to do x-rays, but Neila simply wanted to have the dog put to sleep.
“Why?” she asked. “Why x-rays? Isn’t it obvious that it’s cancer?”
The vet pointed out that dog x-rays can be pretty cheap.
“I don’t want cheap dog x-rays,” Neila said. “I want you to take my dog out gently!”
The point I’m trying to make here is that it looked like the vet just wanted to bill Neila for procedures – cheap dog x-rays that she didn’t need. A caring vet, from my perspective, will not try to force you into procedures that will not help your dog.
What did Neila do? She took her dog home and waited for her regular vet, who said, “You’ve got it right, Neila. There’s nothing we can do for him. I think we should let him go.”
To put it in other terms, sometimes your car doesn’t need an oil change; it’s time for the scrap yard, hard as that sounds.
Sometimes, of course, you’ll find that veterinarians in “big box” clinics will want to do all manner of tests because they worry about being held liable if the dog dies. If you think that’s the case, then you should be asking even more questions.
Sometimes, you can get discounts at your veterinary clinic and, in this case, I’m not slagging the “big players.” You might find that even a Mom and Pop operation will offer discounts to seniors or students, so be sure to ask about this possibility when you bring your dog in for treatment.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times Stephen has foregone prescribing “dog-specific” medications for Janice or Leroy or the times he’s told me, “I could keep them here overnight, but on the other hand, you could just take them home and do X, Y and Z.” I’ve used Aspirin instead of expensive veterinary medicines, Zantac instead of costly remedies for an upset stomach, and I’ve even taken dogs home with shunts in their heads and drained them myself when they’ve had abscesses, simply because I have a good relationship with my vet. I’ve avoided overnight stays more times than I can begin to tell you, and that saves a person a ton of money.
If you have to spend money on your dog’s health care, then spend it. On the other hand, there’s no need to pour out money that you could use for better purposes if you don’t have to. You can get cheap dog x-rays and other treatments if you know where to look, and when to bargain.
I think, though, that the best thing I can tell you is that you shouldn’t go for “dollar store” vet care. By all means, shop around. But once you find a vet that you can trust, who’s not going to “nickel and dime” you, stick with him or her. There’s nothing wrong with looking for the best deal, but don’t go on the cheap when it comes to your dog’s health.