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Rising health care costs: It’s a pet problem, too

Galit Breen is a Minnesota writer. On any given day she can be found juggling three kids, one husband, one puggle and her laptop. Galit has had essays published in several anthologies, is the editor of Pens and Paint, a series anthology ...

Are pet owners saving money the wrong way?

Pet owners know that the per-year cost of pet ownership has risen, and a new study shows that 35 percent of pet parents are skipping vet visits to save money. What happens to pets when pet parents cut corners financially? We spoke with an expert to answer our biggest pet-care questions.

Worried woman with dog

Pet parents quickly fall in love with their furry family members but are often surprised by the cost of their care. The rise of pet health care costs has hit pet parents hard.

What's the — financial — story?

Brittney Barton, DVM, a Dallas-based veterinarian and a certified veterinary journalist, explains what's happening on the pet health-care front lines. She says, "As technological advances are made and taxes on medical equipment are applied, we do expect rises in the cost of veterinary care. Unfortunately, veterinary care is offered at the sole expense of the hospital's director and owner. There is no subsidized income and no government aid to help bear the weight of offering state-of-the-art or cutting-edge care."

Most pet parents would agree that even with all of this to consider, veterinary care is still a bargain when compared to its human counterpart. Barton says that clinics perform a lot of the same procedures, tests and surgeries that human medicine offers but at a fraction of the cost to the pet owner.

Saving money — the wrong way?

Clinics offer this care because our animals require it. But a new PetCareRx "Pet Healthonomics" study surveyed over 1,100 pet parents and found that 3 out of 4 are concerned about the costs of pet health care and their ability to afford it.

This concern is real. PetCareRx reports that over the last five years, the costs for caring for a dog have increased 15 percent to $1,649 a year, while yearly cat-care costs have jumped 28 percent to $1,271, according to the American Pet Products Association. During this same time, the median U.S. household income declined 7.5 percent.

Dr. Barton says, "As a veterinarian, we all want to help animals. We want to do the best, offer the best and have as many options available to the pet owner as possible. But to help pets, we have to stay in business." Pet owners wholeheartedly agree but are often not sure what to do with unplanned pet expenses.

Unfortunately, some pet parents are employing a variety of tactics to manage these costs — some of them dangerous — despite their absolute desire to provide the best care for their pets. The PetCareRx study showed that the most-commonly cut expense is the veterinary visit. Thirty-five percent of pet parents are skipping vet visits in order to save money. Flea and tick protection, vaccinations, prescriptions and heartworm protection are other areas pet parents are cutting back on, potentially exposing their pets to dangers — and large health care bills — down the line.

What's a pet owner to do?

Dr. Barton says that the solution lies in planning ahead. She explains, "I would hope that the rising cost of veterinary care would encourage a future pet owner to consider having a pet a privilege and plan accordingly. If you speak with your veterinarian and develop a care plan, most expenses can be planned for in advance. For the unexpected costs, Major Medical insurance coverage for pets can be lifesaving (for your pet) in the event of a medical emergency."

PetCareRx suggests a few other — safe — cost-saving solutions:

  • Learn more about preventative health and wellness
  • Buy pet medications online (33 percent of the pet owners surveyed found they saved money buying pet medicine on sites such as PetCareRx)
  • Do a Google search on pet health-related questions as the first step to finding answers and guidance online (PetCareRx offers over a thousand veterinarian- and expert-verified articles)

The bottom — dollar — line

The reality is that pet health care costs are rising, and the best way to manage these expenses is to remember that your pet is part of your family and to plan for your pet's needs accordingly. Dr. Barton says, "Pet insurance is a little-utilized and completely affordable option to help with the cost of veterinary care. There are a number of good plans available at affordable monthly rates. I would strongly encourage pet owners to educate themselves on the options before they need it."

More on pet care

Pet care dos and don'ts
Top 10 tips from the world's best dog trainers
10 Things you should know before bringing a cat home

Photo credit: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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