THE BLOG
01/30/2013 10:14 am ET | Updated Apr 01, 2013

Should You Price Shop for Veterinary Care?

It's interesting to note the vast majority of pet owners who responded to a Consumer Reports survey -- more than 80 percent -- said they have not cut back on the amount of money spent on their companion animals. And this was the case even during the height of the recession.

If you've found it necessary to cut back on pet care expenses in recent years, I recommend you read my blog "Caring for Pets in a Tough Economy" for tips on how to keep your pet healthy and happy even when money is tight.

Is It Smart to Shop Around for Veterinary Care?

From my perspective as a DVM and pet owner, finding the right veterinarian for your dog, cat, bird or other companion is rarely simply a matter of cost. And that's not to say price shouldn't be a consideration when you're looking for a vet -- just that it shouldn't be the only consideration. Only you can decide how much of your income you can afford to part with toward the care of furry family members.

If you're budget-conscious, I think it's a great idea to plan for, say, two yearly wellness exams and a teeth cleaning for your dog or cat. Knowing the cost of these services ahead of time means you can include them in your budget planning.

What About Urgent and Emergency Care Costs?

It's much more difficult to prepare in advance for expenses for a pet that becomes ill or injured, or has a life-threatening situation requiring treatment at an emergency clinic. I recommend you familiarize yourself ahead of time with the emergency facility you'll use if you need one. Part of this planning should include finding out what forms of payment the clinic will accept -- cash or check only, or do they take credit cards? Some pet owners set a credit card aside to use only for pet care emergencies.

Others purchase pet health insurance coverage for their animals. The plans run in the neighborhood of $30 to $40 a month for a dog, and a bit less for a cat. You still must plan to pay upfront for the care your pet receives, but you can then request reimbursement from the insurer.

I also recommend you familiarize yourself with the difference between urgent care situations and true life-threatening emergencies. Some pet conditions actually look or sound or smell worse than they are. Conversely, some truly life-threatening situations might not appear initially very serious. Knowing when to incur expensive emergency services and when it's safe to wait for an appointment with your regular vet can help control pet care costs.

Another Consideration: What Type of Medicine Does the Vet Practice?

When deciding on veterinary care for your precious pet, in addition to finding out about fees, I recommend you also look at the DVM's practice philosophy. Ideally, your vet's approach to keeping your pet healthy will mirror your own.

There are traditionally-oriented vets, holistically-oriented vets, and integrative vets like me who combine the best of both worlds of medicine in our care of animals. As a general rule, a traditionally-trained DVM will focus on treating your pet when she's ill or injured, using drugs and/or surgery. A holistically-trained DVM will usually be more interested in promoting wellness and preventing illness.

Proactive, integrative vets like me bring the philosophies of both Western and alternative medicine to the treatment of patients. Both approaches have practical application in the care of companion animals.

Questions to ask prospective veterinarians might include:

• What is her position on vaccinations? Does she do titering to test pets for immunity before vaccinating?
• How quick is he to dispense drugs like antibiotics and steroids to his patients?
• How often does she employ alternative methods of healing in her practice like herbs, nutritional supplements, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy or physical/movement therapy?
• How does he feel about raw feeding, if that's how you feed your pet? It's important that you and your vet have similar philosophies when it comes to nourishing your pet.

Other Things to Check Out

If possible, it's always a good idea to "preview" a prospective vet's practice to check your comfort level with the facility and staff. A few things to look for:

• What are office hours? Are they available evenings or weekends?
• Is the facility clean and organized, with a calm atmosphere?
• Does the staff seem caring, professional and communicative?
• How many doctors are in the practice? Are any of them specialists?
• Are they equipped to handle emergencies? If not, to whom do they refer those cases?
• It's also good to find out what kind of diagnostic equipment is available. Many small or new practices don't have X-ray or scanning equipment, for example, which means you'll need to go elsewhere for those types of services.

Dr. Karen Becker is a proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian. You can visit her site at: MercolaHealthyPets.com.

Her goal is to help you create wellness in order to prevent illness in the lives of your pets. This proactive approach seeks to save you and your pet from unnecessary stress and suffering by identifying and removing health obstacles even before disease occurs. Unfortunately, most veterinarians in the United States are trained to be reactive. They wait for symptoms to occur, and often treat those symptoms without addressing the root cause.

By reading Dr. Becker's information, you'll learn how to make impactful, consistent lifestyle choices to improve your pet's quality of life.

For more by Dr. Karen Becker, click here.

For more on pet health, click here.

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