It’s no secret that the cost of almost everything has increased; Unfortunately, this includes the cost of veterinary care for your pet. Whether it’s food, vaccinations, surgical supplies, lab fees, anesthesia or dental cleanings, the minimum basic costs of everything your veterinarian needs to care for your pet have increased. And all of those aforementioned supplies require expensive gasoline to get to our doorsteps.
To make matters worse, the veterinary field is facing a critical shortage of veterinarians and an even more serious shortage of support staff. Before the start of the Covid pandemic, the profession was characterized by an aging workforce and hospitals often struggled to fill positions. The fourfold increase in demand for our services that has occurred as a result of stay-at-home orders, coupled with the health risks of working with the general public during a pandemic, has forced many veterinarians into retirement. Younger workers were forced to stay home with their children while schools were closed, and to this day, many still struggle to find reliable child care. The burnout and mental health issues that have always plagued our profession were exacerbated by the pandemic, prompting many good people to leave the field in an act of survival. As a result, veterinary hospitals are paying historically high salaries to attract and retain talent. Add in skyrocketing commercial rental prices in South Florida and it all amounts to rising costs for pet hospitals and ultimately pet owners. Fortunately, there are ways to manage costs without compromising the well-being of our furry family members.
Pet Wellness Plans
Many veterinary facilities offer wellness plans for pets. Generally speaking, wellness plans cover the costs associated with routine veterinary care. While the nature of such care often allows pet owners to plan ahead and budget accordingly, a wellness plan allows annual costs to be spread over the course of a year by paying a modest fee for care preventive every month. Services included in wellness plans generally include checkups, immunizations, blood tests, and parasite tests. Plans can usually be tailored to meet your pet’s needs by adding spay/neuter procedures, dental cleanings, or diagnostic panels appropriate for older pets.
Since the basic standard of care now includes annual dental x-ray cleanings, be sure to choose a wellness plan that includes these services for your pet. Since many of the conditions that shorten our pets’ lives can be traced back to dental disease (think kidney failure, liver disease, and congestive heart failure), staying on top of dental health care is critical to stopping chronic disease. It’s also important to choose a plan that includes unlimited veterinary exams. When exams are prepaid, pet owners are more likely to seek help for their pets at the first sign of trouble: prior to problems become more complicated and consequently more expensive to treat.
pet health insurance
Unlike wellness plans, pet health insurance covers the costs associated with injuries, illnesses, and any other mishaps that lead to unexpected trips to the vet. Pet insurance is a godsend for pets suffering from chronic health conditions or diagnosed with a serious illness. Pet cancer treatments, while very effective, can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. Orthopedic surgery, complex dental procedures, advanced diagnostics, and trips to the emergency clinic can quickly put pet parents in dire financial straits. While pet health insurance typically doesn’t cover wellness without a separate clause, these products are designed as a buffer against catastrophic financial loss. As a dachshund parent, I am well aware of the risks of back problems for this particular breed. Surgery to correct sudden paralysis can cost upwards of $10K and is outside the expertise of a general practitioner like myself. That’s why I insure my dogs. Our little Grendel had a Trupanion pet insurance policy for most of his life. We purchased a similar policy for Zohan when he was eight weeks old. While Grendel never needed the dreaded dachshund back surgery, he did have his fair share of health issues. Trupanion paid more than $38,000 in claims during his lifetime. Claims for Zohan recently topped $25,000, and so far he too has managed to avoid back problems.
As prices for everything continue to rise and economic forecasts become more uncertain, pet insurance can serve as a powerful tool to protect both the financial health of our homes and the physical health of our pets.
It’s an old and worn cliché that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. However, like many clichés, this one also endures because it rings so true. Keeping up to date on recommended vaccinations protects your pet against diseases that can cost thousands of dollars to treat, often with uncertain results. Routinely administering heartworm, flea, tick and intestinal parasite prevention costs a fraction of the price of treating the diseases they cause. Regular blood tests can detect hidden signs of disease before pets develop clinical signs. In these early stages, chronic disease can be reversed, or at least more easily managed. This costs much less in the future than when the conditions are first discovered. Annual dental x-ray cleanings can prevent the need for advanced and expensive dental surgeries in the future. And while preventive care comes with its own price tag, a wellness plan will help balance costs throughout the year instead of dealing with one or two large bills at a time.
It is becoming more common for pet owners to invest in both wellness plans to cover preventive and routine care, as well as insurance to cover accidents, illnesses and emergencies. While this may seem excessive at first glance, we are constantly reminded that we live in unprecedented times. As inflation continues to wreak havoc on our global economy and household incomes alike, the importance of planning and prevention cannot be underestimated. Protecting our pets from the rising costs of caring for them can give us the peace of mind we need at a time when we need it most.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead physician at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.