One day I noticed 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 4 cups of food in her half-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.
Here are some 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.
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 list of accredited veterinary colleges 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.
So, check around. Price often depends on the clinic's location, its equipment costs and the student loan debt of the vet staff.
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 the situation 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.
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:
Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has some red flags that should make you suspicious about the quality of medications.
You may be able to get generic pet meds for $4 at stores like Target and Kroger. Finally, ask your vet if he or she will match the best price you find.
7. Keep an eye out for specials
Just like human-centered businesses, vets offer specials. My vet has offered a 20 percent discount for new patients and $25 off dental cleanings.
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 or neutering. The American Humane Association says:
"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. Keep up with the vaccination schedule, and make sure you discuss heartworm prevention with your vet.
- Pet-proofing your home. Keep dangerous foods out of the reach of pets and avoid bringing toxic plants into the house. Check out the ASPCA's list of people foods your pets shouldn't have and its toxic and nontoxic plants database.
9. Compare treatments
If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course of action. Consumer Reports recommends you ask your vet about treatment options and cost, as well as the likely prognosis for your pet.