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6 Ways to Save on Pet Care Costs, According to a Vet

When my cat developed bladder stones, I learned just how expensive pet care can be. Pet health is worth every penny, but those pennies add up quickly. According to an analysis by the Forbes Advisor team, the average pet insurance claim for cats is $355. For dogs, regardless of breed, the average is $306. Households with several pets or animals suffering from chronic illness may see even larger bills after vet visits. We asked Dr. Preston Turano, DVM, veterinarian and AKC Pet Insurance spokesperson, how to save on pet care costs. Here’s what he had to say.

Which Breeds Have the Highest Insurance Claims?

Forbes Advisor sifted through pet insurance claims from July 2017 to June 2020 to figure out which breeds of dogs and cats were priciest for insurance companies. (Typically, between 70 and 100 percent of a vet bill is covered by insurance, but this varies depending on coverage and deductibles.)

Among dog breeds, Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs had the highest vet bills. On average, insurance companies paid $425 per claim for these pups (who appear on our list of the most expensive dog breeds). Rottweilers and Dogues de Bordeaux were close behind at $401 and $395, respectively. Siberian Forest Cats had the highest average pet insurance claims among cats at $457. Bengals and Mixed-Breed Medium-Haired Cats were next at just over $400 each.

Keep in mind these are average amounts insurance companies cover. Some plans don’t cover annual visits or are reimbursement only, which means you pay out of pocket before submitting a claim. These averages also don’t reflect emergency situations (like urinalysis tests and x-rays of your cat’s bladder stones), long-term solutions (prescription food to keep future bladder stones out of your cat) or follow-ups (more x-rays to see if those bladder stones are gone).

6 Ways to Save on Pet Care Costs

No pet is totally immune to random accidents or unplanned sickness. If you’re looking to save some pennies on pet care, take a look at Dr. Turano’s insights.

1. Ask about preventative packages

Dr. Turano advises pet parents to ask their vets if preventative packages are available at the practice. He also noted some vets may give discounts on services to loyal customers. Preventative packages could help save on annual exams. While not all insurance companies cover preventative care, finding a plan that does might save money in the long term, especially if you have a dog breed known to live a long time.

2. Get written prescriptions

If your pet has a specialty diet or medication for chronic illness, ask your vet for a written prescription instead of having them send it to a pharmacy electronically. “This will allow you to find your own pharmacy, whether in town or online,” Dr. Turano said. However, Dr. Turano doesn’t advise this for short-term treatments. “It is best to get them from your veterinarian while at the appointment. This way your pet gets treatment right away, especially for infections.”

3. Know your breed

A doggy DNA test can alert pet parents to illnesses dogs may develop thanks to their genes. For instance, The National Canine Cancer Foundation says, “Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are generally more likely to develop specific types of cancer than other breeds.” Knowing your pup is part Rottweiler could be the info you need to finally invest in pet insurance or keep a closer watch on your dog’s health. Dr. Turano said cancer treatments like surgery or chemotherapy are some of the most expensive vet services a pet owner can expect. 

4. Don’t skip annual visits

“Avoiding the annual exam will most likely cost you more in the long run” Dr. Turano told us. This is because vets who track an animal’s condition year to year - both physically and through annual lab work - will catch and treat problems sooner. This means a higher chance treatment will kick any illnesses that pop up. “Often things like healthy diet, weight, and dental care are overlooked when annual exams are missed. Overweight pets are more prone to joint issues and diabetes, which both may require chronic medications to treat,” Dr. Turano added. 

5. Brush your pet’s teeth

It’s not every dog or cat’s favorite thing but brushing teeth can avoid pricey dental surgery down the line. “In my experience, severe periodontal disease is often seen in pets that do not have regular veterinary care, resulting in pain, expensive dentistry, and loss of teeth,” Dr. Turano said. 

6. Become your dog’s groomer

This won’t work for everyone (we don’t all have the patience of an expert dog groomer), but if you can, learn how to groom your dog. Even being able to bathe them, trim their nails and brush their coat between full haircuts can save tons of money in the long term. After the initial investment into some high-quality clippers and brushes, grooming sessions will cost $0 and you won’t have to leave your bathroom.

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