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Tips on how to not let emotions financially drain you at the veterinary office.

Updated on September 20, 2011

Don't let your attachment to your pet eat away your own financial well being

Let me explain right off at the start that we love animals and pets; in fact we have a dog and two cats, with one of the said cats curled up next to me as I write this very blog. We pamper and take very good care of our pets, but no pet is worth going into debt for and risking our own financial being, especially in this economy.

My husband and I grew up with pets, and my husband grew up on a farm. We can understand people becoming very close and protective of their pets as if they were their children, we also realize some people will go to great lengths spending large parts of their personal income to pamper and take care of their pets. This is their own business and not something I’m trying to debate. But the fact that you can even now buy pet health insurance should be the first clue that this has become big business.

We also respect veterinarians and their hard working staff. We also know the majority of offices are ran with the best intentions and welfare of the animal as first place, and that some routine tests may be warranted. We just have had some unusual experiences in veterinary offices that would have placed a deep financial hardship on us that others need to be aware of.

We don’t appreciate that some of the corporate owned veterinary offices, seem to have more sales motivated staff, filled with drama, trying to make people feel guilty and throwing moral judgments especially when the kids are standing next to the parent or parents.

We are realist and budget conscience. I’m amazed when I hear of people who have paid thousands of dollars, or are still paying off a vet bill on payment terms. In this economy, with people trying to struggle alone with their own personal health insurance this just doesn’t seem to compute. I do understand how people can get sucked into those types of deals and that is what this blog is about.

My husband and I often discuss, out of all the animals that we ever had as pets over the years, we can only recall a few times where we had to take a pet to the vet, except for routine shots. There was the one time a new dog we had just got, escaped from our backyard and was hit by a car and needed surgery, or most recently when our dog got into some pork bones. Our pets have always thrived and lived very long lives, now it’s like we are expected to set up routine vet office visits so that they can tell us all the things we are not doing right, or all the horrible things that could happen to them if we don’t allow them to do something right then.

We clearly understand heart worm disease, and the basics you need to know, but we did so by buying our own books and doing our own internet searches, then going to the local farm store to purchase the items to keep our pets free of fleas and other intestinal problems.

Out of the 50 some years of being around animals, and raising our children we have gained some experience and are not complete idiots when it comes to taking care of our pets.

Neither of us have had or ever knew anyone having a pet with gum disease, so the last vet assistant that tried to shame me for not brushing my dogs teeth daily, telling me I should use the special tooth brush and tooth paste they just had for sale, did not give me an easy feeling about doing business with them again. Yes I understand pet oral care is important, it is just not high on my list, especially when the dog is not having problems with her teeth.

If we do have a sick pet we will take it to the vet, but since we live in an urban setting, we will take them out to a small town country vet if at all possible. There seems to be a huge price difference between the urban corporate vet offices and the small country vets in fact, as much as three to four times the price, in our area.

A few years ago we had to have a procedure done, the vet in town wanted to charge us nearly a thousand dollars, the country vet did it for only three hundred dollars and change. So the first tip is to shop around and try to find a small country single owned or family owned vet practice. Also try to stay away from the 24 hour emergency pet clinics, unless you just have a pet in crisis.

We take advantage of the pet vaccination stations that are routinely held in our area, the last one was held at the farm store. For one low price we can have all the vaccinations due on each pet. Best of all we just drive up with the pets in the back of the car, they get their shots we pay and drive on off, completely hassle free with no sales pressure. Some of the larger pet store chains also offer this service periodically.

We are very realistic that pets live rather short life spans, and that the shelters are full of loving cats and dogs waiting for adoption. After our new dog ran out in front of a car we learned pretty quickly the financial exposure we could face. With my young son at my side the lady at the office started going down the list of test they wanted to perform, and the estimated cost, after each pause she would look at me and my son and say you would only want the very best for your dog and we need to do these things to help her now or she may die.

After about 10 minutes I called my husband on the cell to let him know what was going on, and the potential of us spending over $2,000 dollars on emergency service, and then they wanted to keep her several more days for observation. My husband asked to speak to the staff member and the first thing he told her was that we only had this dog for a week, even then it was on a trial basis and that we had not decided to keep her or become attached to it at all.

Then he asked how much will it cost to just put the dog down? After those two things were said the staff member started to stutter a few moments and then took on a completely different approach to the topic of a treatment plan they could do so we didn’t have to put the dog down.

We decided to clean the wounds, x-ray and splint the leg, they gave us some medicine to keep the dog out of pain, supplied us with the starter bandages to change, and we walked out with less than two hundred dollars in charges. We took the dog home watched her closely for a couple days kept her wounds from becoming infected and within a few more days she was up and around and we kept her for many years afterwords.

The next tip, at that point, we decided as a family just how much are we willing to spend for emergency pet care, in other words what dollar limit are we going to say stop, pay the $75 fee or so to have the animal put down and then go to the shelter to find us another one to adopt.

This may sound cold and harsh but to us it is just not worth the financial beating on the savings account to burn in this manner, especially if a pet is in such a serious condition to not know if they are going to live or not. The reality is if someone doesn’t adopt that dog or cat at the shelter, they will likely put that one down, so we are not going to allow our emotions or a sales quilt trip to take over when it comes to these decisions.

At that point our kids were old enough so we didn’t have to explain the evolution of life, but if they were young enough we would have also sat them down and talked about the facts and life span of a cat or dog, before they go to kitty or dog heaven and explain how much they may love their pet now they would probably have many in their lives in years to come in order to prepare them should we ever have to put one down.

My husband noticed one week that one of his department managers was acting very depressed and very emotional, he took her to lunch and asked her what was up. She shared that her older dog needed to have hip surgery and the bill that she needed to pay in advance was several thousand of dollars and she just didn’t know how she was going to pay for it.

After learning of the dog age, which was very close to the end of the average life expectancy, he simply told her, the dog was in pain and is suffering had lived a good life, and that she was being totally irrational in even contemplating trying to extend the dogs life at the sake of her own financial well being. He also told her that her vet was being totally irresponsible to even suggest such a surgery on that age of dog and that she should consider finding a different vet, or at least a second opinion.

He then went on to tell her there was another loving dog down at the shelter just waiting for her to come and adopt them. It was tough, she shed many tears and thought this was just so mean for him to say such a thing, but the next week the manager was all bubbly and came into the office with her brand new puppy.

The third tip, is to just check your emotions and attachment at the door before taking the pet into the vet office, and leave the kids at home. Most recently our current dog got into some pork bones from the trash and it became very difficult for her to go to the restroom. It was on a Saturday and our normal country vet was closed. Yes, it was an emergency so my husband took her up town. He is very close to this dog so it was hard for him to do so but he kept to our family agreement.

After waiting for about 15 minutes in the lobby the lady came out in her white lab coat with several pages of estimated charges from the entire test they felt was necessary. About half way through he stopped and asked how much? She paused and looked and he said again how much is the total estimate? She said it would be at least $1200 and if they had to do emergency surgery it could be several thousand dollars. He then asked how much to just put the dog down? Like before the conversation totally changed to what they could do and then wait to see how the dog responded. This was a totally different office in a totally different state from where we lived before.

The first step was to give the dog an enema, and then if the dog did not show pain and began regular bowl movements the chances were pretty good that a bone had not lodged inside her intestinal track. They preformed the enema, my husband brought the dog home we monitored her for a few days, to be sure she was not in pain and all of her plumbing was working and she has been fine since. Our total bill was $175.

We have learned if it is a veterinary office, a car shop or a home repairman who all at once is in your face creating drama about having to make a financial decision on the spot, unless you just smell raw gas or something is about ready to blow up, it is probably best to take your business elsewhere.

In closing, once again, we are not coarse or horrible people who only think of our pets in terms of dollar signs; we genuinely love them and try to give them the best we possibly can. But if they are suffering, or just too old to have that costly surgery-- they have lived good, long lives and it is just simply their time to go.

Every time we have bought into one these acts, we have found that we paid too much for something that was just not needed. It is not easy to break away from these people either, especially if they are drawing the kids or other family members into their net by placing moral and quilt doubts onto your decision to leave.


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