Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Pet Health Care Crisis: Are Rover and Fluffy Driving You Off the Financial Cliff?

Owning a pet is seen as an essential part of living by most of us in the U.S.  The latest statistics estimate that over 60%  of households have at least one.  That works out to over 75 million dogs and 85 million cats...not to mention birds, hamsters, and other species. Our reasons for owning a pet vary, but most would rate their unconditional love and companionship high on that list.  Yet most new or would-be owners have no idea of the real price tag for those wagging tails and purrs. 

If you're lucky, your pet will live a healthy life, consuming relatively inexpensive grocery brand food and submitting to an annual check up with vaccinations.  Most will not be that fortunate.  Each species comes with its own requirements, but it wasn't until my own dog fell through the rabbit hole that I discovered how expensive it can be.  And we've just begun our journey on the path of chronic, on-going care.  I adopted then-five-year-old Bullet through a shelter and have cruised for about four years without much outlay other than food and the recommended shots.  My biggest gripe was the cost of kennel boarding during my frequent visits to family in other states.  His tab for a week's stay exceeded my roundtrip airfare.

But then he fell ill with liver problems and a week of boarding, CAT scans, blood work, IV hydration and prescription meds left me with a $1300 bill.  I took him home and even after the number of medications decreased from four to two daily, he needed a prescription dog food in addition.  I knew I needed to do some research on how to manage these ongoing costs, and thought I would share the results with you.

There aren't a lot of companies on the market that make prescription dog food.  The two main producers are Hill's and Royal Canin.  They don't go "on sale" and coupons are few and far between.  Even with the relative ease of internet price-checking, I found little difference when shipping costs were figured in.  About the best I could do was to check the manufacturers' websites for occasional promotions and email them for a few coupons.  Sometimes, I could shave a few percent off the price by going through Ebates (a popular shopping portal that I've been using for years) or sign up for a Frequent Buyer/Scheduled Shipping discount where the retailer gives repeat customers a small price break.  So, I went from the bargain price of $20 for a 40 lb. bag of Purina Dog Chow to $55 for Hill's Prescription Diet L/D Canine Dry Food for a 17.6 bag that my 80 lb. dog devours in 3 weeks.  If you're really pinched, you can find a few recipes for homemade dog food for different health conditions, but I personally found this too tedious.

The biggest money-saver was obtained through researching the medications.  Let me say up front that I love my vet and the great care that the employees give Bullet.  But in the real world they are a business, not a charity.  They need to make a profit to stay afloat, but if I can find a way to save without compromising my pet's care, then that's the way of the free market.  I was shocked to find a popular OTC liver protective medication that was costing $164 per month through my vet, available on Amazon.com for $98 including shipping.  And after reading through online discussion forums where people with similar situations offered the benefit of their research, I discovered Diamondback Drugs (diamondbackdrugs.com), a compounding veterinary pharmacy in Arizona.  They responded to my inquiry with the news that they can ship the liquid form of the drug for under $55 for a month's supply.  That's a savings of about 65% on a medication that he will likely have to take for the rest of his life.

The prescription drug he takes....it's an off-label use for dogs...runs about $54 for a month's supply.  I went through the same process, but the best I could find so far is also from Diamondback Drugs.  If I buy 100 capsules, they can save me nearly $30. 

There are other ways to save too.  If you are willing to change veterinary providers, there is a program called PetAssure that can save you money.  There's the option of pet insurance too, but most of us don't think about it until there is a crisis which then becomes a pre-existing condition. 

Your local ASPCA or Humane Society may offer periodic rabies and other shot clinics as well as reduced spay/neuter programs at greatly reduced prices.  Sign up on their webistes to be notified for the event dates.

Even though there are some ways to save, don't adopt any pet unless you are willing to care for them properly.  Food, medical care, grooming, flea/tick preventatives and a myriad of other possibilities can strain or even destroy a household's budget. 

It was surprising to find that only 21% of dogs and cats are adopted from a shelter, with the remainer acquired from friends, family, pet stores and breeders. Between five and seven million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide each year and of that number, three to four million are euthanized.  That breaks down to five out of every ten dogs and seven out of every ten cats in shelters being destroyed ANNUALLY - simply because there is no one to adopt them.

So think long and hard before you decide to get a pet.  And if you do make that decision, browse sites like petfinder.com and visit your local shelter and rescue organizations.  Did you know that 25% of the dogs that enter shelters are actually purebreds?  Chances are, you'll find your next best friend at one of them.

***Bella, the beautiful 12-month-old Labrador/Great Pyrenees mix female dog in the picture above is currently looking for her forever home.  If you'd like to see if you and Bella could be a match, please contact Jessica, her foster care mom, at jessica@dogsxlrescue.org.  Dogs XL Rescue is a local, Baltimore organization that can be reached at info@dogsxlrescue.org or http://www.dogsxlrescue.org


jenny milchman said...

Boy, as if it weren't hard enough with humans...

Johanna Garth said...

Yikes, we have been going back and forth about adopting a dog. Maybe we should just opt for a couple of guinea pigs instead and funnel the extra money into the kid's college fund ;)

Kathleen Barker said...

Johanna, if it helps, I've had dogs my entire life and this is the first with big med crisis/bills. Most people tell me that it's the run-of-the-mill mixed-breed pups who seem to live the healthiest lives. Guess their genetic mix makes for a stronger immune system vs. the purebreds!

for pets said...

Never feel your pet as an burden on you, just treat them as a your family member and you should also take care for them as you you care for your children.

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Kathleen Barker said...

Thanks, Carl. I'm glad you are following and enjoying.