I took my little peanut to the vet the other day.
Don’t worry — nothing was wrong with her. She was just due for her annual checkup, and a couple of vaccinations.
Each year, we budget for the expense of an annual checkup for both of our dogs. Some people choose to spread this expense out over multiple appointments throughout the year, to balance out the bills.
We prefer to save up and take care of everything at once, with one large vet bill.
But overall, it’s less stressful for the dogs to only go to the vet once per year, and get everything out of the way.
So as the receptionist presents me with this super-painful piece of paper itemizing each individual charge and service that is rendered, I get to thinking.
There are two ways one can logistically approach this, in order to save on vet bills:
- Budget for the entire expense, knowing each year we will have to pay (at least) this amount for each dog.
- Find ways to reduce expenses and/or supplement what is being paid for these services, to make it a little less agonizing for all involved.
I, for one, choose to engage both of these practices. Because I do want to prepare for the worst.
And more or less have to — since who has an extra $400 just sitting around, begging to be spent?
But I also want to mitigate the amount spent, and only pay what is absolutely necessary.*
*Note: when I say “absolutely necessary”, that’s at the level of care I’m comfortable with providing for my pets. For others, this amount may be different. Neither way is right or wrong. As long as a humane level of care and love is provided, you can be as cost-conscious with your pets as you wish.
But I will say, I absolutely insist on quality dog food, treats, grooming, accessories, toys, and overall general care for my animals.
Because they are members of our family, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. And this quality does come at a price.
For example, I will not buy food or treats or a cr*ppy toy from the dollar store. It’s just not worth the risk.
Also, I am not a veterinarian. (Obvi.) So please don’t take my suggestions below as professional advice.
Like everything else I talk about on my site, these are my opinions only. Things that have worked for me, which I am glad to share with whoever wants to listen.
Because over the years, we’ve had some doozies in terms of vet bills.
- Some couldn’t be helped, and were part of regular maintenance
- Some were the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time
- And others occurred due to stupid little mistakes we allowed to happen
But regardless of the root cause, we’ve found a few ways to be smart about saving on our pet’s vet bills.
Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive compensation if you sign up or make a purchase using my referral link.
First and foremost, we do use pet insurance.
The concept of pet insurance was first introduced to the U.S. in the early 80’s by a company called Veterinary Pet Insurance (now known as Nationwide Pet Insurance.)
In 1982, they wrote an insurance policy for Lassie.
Then in 2001, they wrote an insurance policy for Snoopy.
No, not the famous beagle — but rather the infamous bulldog:
Our girl Snoop. The one who kickstarted our initial obsession with bulldogs. We obtained a VPI insurance policy for her in the very beginning, when she was a puppy. And we utilized it many, many times over the years, until she sadly and unexpectedly passed in 2013.
For us, pet insurance was the saving grace during many tenuous financial circumstances.
Back then, I think our initial policy cost maybe $15 a month, for the very basic coverage. We then upgraded to the wellness plan, which covered several maintenance items such as an annual visit, heartworm prevention, and a few common vaccinations. (In current day, our policies now cost approximately $60 per dog, per month.)
This helped us out on many occasions, since money was a bit tight back then. We didn’t have a budget. When vet bills came around, we’d use a credit card, and were extremely thankful to have that as an option. (Yes, I know…)
But at least we were able to submit the claim through VPI, and apply a reimbursement to our credit card bill.
Many people might argue if we put the monthly premium amount into savings, we’d have money to pay vet bills right then and there. And we wouldn’t even need an insurance policy at all (we’d be self-insuring.)
While I do agree with that, I will also say that’s a difficult thing to do when you’re struggling to make ends meet.
You try to save what you can. But inevitably, that money is taken over by competing priorities. Things don’t always work out the way you plan them.
Save on Quality Dog Food
Since our dogs have skin allergies and sensitive stomachs, we feed them special dog food. High quality, premium dog food that contains fresh ingredients. Of course, with better quality comes a higher price. In addition, this food brand isn’t sold in a regular grocery store.
Thankfully, I found their dog food in stock on Petflow.com. We are registered with their automated delivery service, so receive new bags of food every 7 weeks. Delivered right to our front door. Signing up for auto-ship delivery is quick and easy, and you also get an additional $30 off your first auto-ship order.
Plus, with every purchase you make, a bowl of food is donated to a pet in need. What’s not to love about that?
And how does this save money on vet bills? By having an overall healthier pet, from feeding premium dog food. Also, having less allergy problems and stomach issues.
A healthy dog is a happy dog.
Save on Maintenance and Grooming
Along with feeding quality food to keep your pets healthy, it’s also necessary to groom them appropriately. This will save loads of money long-term. Things like nail trimming, ear cleaning, and brushing their teeth will go a long way.
These are things you can do at home, and don’t need to pay someone else to do.
Nail trimming – Not only will your pet feel better, but you can also avoid issues with their foot pads by keeping nails nice and short.
It’s a smart idea to get started with this when they are puppies, by just using regular nail clippers. As they get older, their nails will become a lot harder and you’ll need to use actual pet nail clippers. Another option is to use a device like a Dremel to file their nails. This is something we did with my first bulldog, who didn’t like the nail clippers at all. Of course, before using a tool like this, make sure to fully vet out the safety requirements so you don’t hurt your pet. The online resource I used to follow is no longer active, however I did find this video to be very informative and helpful.
Ear cleansing wipes – to keep ear canals clean, odor-free, and to prevent wax build-up. These are the exact wipes I use for my dogs, and they don’t mind the process one bit. Previously, when we used liquid ear cleanser, I’d have to chase my dogs around the house trying to squirt liquid into their ears. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t like that either.
Tooth wipes – Just like with humans, keeping a dog’s teeth healthy is a great predictor for remaining healthy overall. We use these wipes to clean our dogs’ teeth, getting in there to scrub inside and out. They have peppermint oil in them, which keeps our dogs really interested. So while I’m scrubbing teeth, they’re trying to grab a piece of the wipe because it tastes & smells good.
Keeping their Weight Down
This one will be short and sweet. Just like their humans, pups don’t do very well when they’re out of shape. It affects their breathing, joints, heart health, and so many other things.
Keeping your pet lean and trim will help to extend their years. And more time for them means more time with you! So help them stay healthy and avoid vet visits related to osteoarthritis, mobility issues, trouble breathing, diabetes, and heart issues.
Save Money by using Product Rebates
When we think about going to the vet, there are usually two expectations —
- The vet will do whatever he or she can to care for my pet
- It will probably cost a lot of money
And while #1 is very often the case, #2 doesn’t have to be. Knowing how to make the most out of your vet-spending dollars can definitely save you money on your next appointment. One way to do this is to take advantage of any product rebates that are offered while you are there.
For example, whenever I pick up a box of heartworm preventative, my vet office also provides a rebate slip that I can fill out and send to the manufacturer. Typically, it’s a $15 or $20 refund for purchasing an annual supply of preventative. This also applies to the dental chews I buy for them. Saving the codes from three 30-count boxes can be redeemed for a $10 or $15 credit (depending on dog size.)
So make sure to check with your vet’s office — and don’t forget to fill out the forms once you get home!
Also: To Save on Vet Bills, Choose your Breed Wisely
One additional word on dog breeds. As most of you know, I am an English Bulldog enthusiast.
Some might say “fanatic”. Others might even say “obsessed”. I just love those smushy faces, wrinkly butts, and snorty noises.
But all of that wrinkly cuteness comes at a cost. Bulldogs are expensive to breed, raise, maintain, and generally keep healthy. And when things start to go south, boy does that cost some money…
So if you are contemplating a dog breed and would like to remain in the realm of frugality, an English Bulldog might not be the breed for you.
In fact, mixed breeds tend to be much healthier overall — which is one of many, many great reasons to go the adoption route.
All in all, there are several ways you can save on vet bills. Acknowledging that foregoing pet ownership altogether will probably save you the most money. Because then you wouldn’t need to see a vet at all.
But for those of us who love their animals and couldn’t imagine life without them — that would never be a viable option.
And engaging a few smart tricks to lessen the bite of a vet bill will allow you to fully enjoy the time you have with your snuggly ones.
The most important thing is to make sure they remain as healthy as possible, to prevent conditions or illnesses that will require vet care. But also knowing how to budget and save money on what pets need will help you save in the long run.
Do you know of any other ways to save on quality pet care or vet bills?
How about pet insurance — Yea or Nay?
Hit me up in the Comments — I’d love to know what you think!
Robin : )
Robin is a full-time business professional who has worked in the insurance industry for over 20 years. She is also a personal finance blogger who shares her first hand experience with the struggles of money and debt. On Mastering the Side Jam, she focuses on ways to maximize efficiencies to make & save money, pay off debt, and live your best life.
She has been been featured on The Money Mix, Rockstar Finance, The Financial Diet and Women’s Money Talk, and has been quoted in various online publications.