One overlooked area of reduced fees that is not readily publicized by veterinary staff is that there are a various number of discounts that may be applicable to your situation. These discounts are usually available at almost veterinary clinic or hospital.
Depending on the individual clinic, you may be entitled to a:
- Seniors Discount (available for clients 60 to 60 yrs of age and up) 2. Multi-Pet Discount (for families with 3 or more patients in their file) 3. Military Discount for clients who work for the Armed Forces 4. Specialty Pet Discount for owners of such pets as Guide dogs for the Blind, and Seizure Alert dogs 5. Low Income Discount for pet owners on a Disability Pension, or some form of Social assistance program
If you operate or work for an animal rescue group, or similar non-profit organization, your veterinary clinic will probably offer you some form of discount as well.
In addition, many clinics will give you a break on your fees if you have just been laid off or downsized and also if you are going through a divorce or separation, or some type of family crisis that is causing financial problems.
Discounts do not always need to come in the form of reduced fees, either. Great savings can be obtained on pet foods, medications and other veterinary-sold products with the use of Manufacturer Coupons, Loyalty Cards, Bulk purchases, Free Trials, Testing of New Equipment (Digital x-rays, Ultrasound, Dental Equipment, Laser Therapy and more) and other promotional tools used by the manufacturers to get your veterinarian to use/purchase their products. Ask your vet staff to keep you in mind when they need an animal to demo a new product, and ask what programs are running each time you go in for food or other services.
With the sheer number of clients that have pets which different promotions could apply to, the vet staff cannot remember everyone, and you probably won’t get someone pointing out a current discount that you should know about. Ask if there are any current discounts available when you go in for a medication re-fill, or some other vet visit.
Many clients miss out on substantial savings from their veterinary clinic simply because discounts are not readily offered by vet staff, and the clients themselves have never asked what is available. Just ASK!
Profit-Sharing, Bonuses and Revenue Quotas
When the real downturn in the economy hit a few years ago, pets by the thousands found their medical needs being ignored, and in many cases, the pets were euthanized. This was due to the inability of their owners to come up with the money to care for their pets as they found themselves downsized, right-sized, outsourced, cut back and outright laid off from their places of employment. It became a struggle (and for many, still is) to find the money to put food on the table, and in Rover’s bowl, much less pay for illnesses, treatments and emergencies and even the basic health that their pets’ needed.
Veterinary hospitals have set monthly costs that remain whether they are busy or not. These include steep rents or mortgages, utilities such as electricity and vast amounts of water usage, health plans, staff training, insurance and long-term payments on X-ray equipment, the instrument sterilizing equipment, dental machines and laboratory equipment such as blood analyzing machines, centrifuges, microscopes and so forth.
In order to maintain employment for their staff members (who are purchasers of goods that you manufacture, or shop where you work) profit-sharing and other revenue generating programs were put into action as a way to counter the financial crisis. This suddenly turned your thoughtful receptionists and caring vet techs, assistants and the veterinarians into pressured sales reps. As with most other businesses out there, “customer service” started to turn into “customer upselling”.
The alternatives to this financial crunch were to either not upgrade necessary medical equipment, or to cut back on employee hours/shifts. So, as you can well imagine, if you knew your income was at stake you would certainly “toe the line”. This up-selling ranged from pushing veterinary sold pet foods (which are very good foods), to increasing the “need” for more diagnostics, more elaborate tests, pushing the virtues of spaying and neutering and laying on heavy the dangers of poor quality food choices, fleas, ticks, heartworm and so forth. All of these things added up to higher expenses for those clients who could – or found a way to – pay for as much as they could. And because the economy was in a sinkhole, the companies making the pet foods, the medications, and tick and flea and heartworm protection were also increasing their prices to keep shareholders happy. What a mess this became for everyone.
Unfortunately, many pets (which, incidentally, are the entire purpose of these businesses) paid the price for this, and still are. As the financial stranglehold has begun to ease up for many clients, clinics still continue utilizing these revenue-generating tactics – many outrageously.
There are Veterinary clinics everywhere operating on monthly quotas to maintain the newly adopted revenue generating machine. Every possible fee is scrutinized and the Veterinarians that generate the highest revenue set the bar for everyone else to follow. Revenue sharing and expected quotas can turn all staff into “money-driven” sales people as they fear for their jobs with these expectations and threats of being “replaced” by someone who will meet the financial goals. No one working in any profession wishes to lose their job due to the customers’ inability to afford what they offer, but it is all the more blatant and painful when you work with animals, and lives of peoples beloved pets are literally at stake because some cannot afford the costs associated with keeping you employed.
Ask what your Veterinarian is looking for in specific tests. Are there cheaper alternatives? Will the medical treatment of your pet be the same regardless of how much testing is performed? (If intravenous fluids, antibiotics and a specialty diet are going to be the same treatment for any of the ailments that your veterinarian is looking for, you should consider avoiding more and more testing unless the treatment regimen is not getting your pet back in good health). Ask the veterinary staff why they are recommending certain foods and products from the clinic and not from elsewhere. Knowledgeable staff will have honest and appropriate reasons – sales trained staff will only be able to rhyme off what their employer and the manufacturer’s sales reps have told them.
Sometimes avoiding the extra costs being squeezed in to bulk up your invoice is as easy as asking what is really necessary.
Beware the Lean Months
Every business has its slow time of year, and the veterinary industry is no different. The colder winter months wreak havoc on the finances of veterinary clinics almost everywhere – especially in cooler climates.
Why? Most people do their yearly exams and vaccines during the spring/summer months. In addition, flea, tick & heartworm prevention and exams drop off dramatically during the colder weather. Both of these are mainstay sources of veterinary clinic income. And for the most part, puppies and kittens from winter and Christmas-time are usually getting spayed and neutered in the late summer and fall, leaving the surgery fields relatively bare during the winter. Other ailments such as wounds from dog parks, running through fields and woods, ingesting toxins and dead things and countless fair-weather related issues all subside come winter time.
This drop in monthly income requires veterinary clinics to shift into “revenue acquiring” mode, were they try to glean sufficient revenue from their current clients. While this may be a rare time for getting a discount on a routine surgery or dentistry at some clinics, most times pet owners may find themselves getting, or feeling “squeezed” for more money. Be objective. Find out what is really necessary if your pet has an ailment or illness that needs to be treated. Ask questions, and avoid jumping at whatever treatments or diagnostics are presented without understanding why. Unless you are faced with an emergency situation, research alternatives by asking about different treatment options and getting prices from other veterinary clinics of the same calibre. Decent veterinary clinics will gladly work with you, and may have off-season discounts available on vaccines and routine procedures.
Certain months of the year are dedicated to various promotions that virtually all veterinary clinics and food and drug companies participate in. These include such things as Dental Health Awareness month (where many clinics offer no-charge pre-anaesthetic bloodwork or intravenous fluids, and the veterinary food manufacturers offer free trial bags of dental diets); and Senior Pet Awareness, where the focus is on seeking out and preventing illness in your older pets. Again, the food companies usually offer some form of promotion on senior pet diets, and many clinics and laboratories offer discounts on bloodwork and urine screening. Find out what “specials” are up-coming at your – or other – veterinary clinic and plan accordingly. Prevention is much cheaper than treating most illnesses.
Veterinary clinics that offer daycare and boarding services are generally (but not always) more likely to keep their fee practices on an even keel as they have continual income from these other services year-round. This can work to your benefit in many cases as they are not as inclined to “push” so many extras on their regular clients. They will not usually be, however overly flexible on their regularly set prices for routine services and surgeries.
Choosing the time of year you take your pet in for vaccines, health exams and for routine surgeries (such as spaying or neutering) can help you avoid the “revenue generating” techniques of many veterinary clinics during their slower “lean” months.
Many people suffer from having an over-anxious sense of protection of their pets. They are on the phone to their vet every time their pet vomits or has loose stools – worried about a (usually unfounded) horrible condition. Unscrupulous veterinarians often use this to their advantage when treating these “compliant” owners.
Similarly, pet owners suddenly faced with an emergency (their pet having been hit by a vehicle, or having ingested a foreign body, etc.) suddenly lose their reasoning ability and partly by their own accord, and partly by the manipulative nature of some veterinarians and their staff, end up spending inordinate amounts of money on their pet that they cannot afford to pay, or end up being their financial near-ruin. As a pet owner, one needs to have a pre thought-out plan of “What if…”
Firstly, what exactly is an emergency?
This varies greatly by pet and pet owner. For pets that have current or previous health issues (diabetes, pancreatitis, heart problems, gastro-intestinal problems, history of ingesting foreign objects, etc.) vomiting and diarrhea can be the sign of something serious that requires attention soon. But for many otherwise healthy pets, jumping to conclusions and rushing your pet in to get “fixed up” may well be a waste of money as nothing may be “broken”. A prudent veterinarian will analyse the entire situation, and come up with two plans. One is the basic “let’s examine your pet, try this and see how it goes today/tonight”; or the other, to run as few diagnostics as needed to come up with a cause and effect and treat it. A somewhat unscrupulous vet will, however, urge a pet owner to come in immediately, push for several diagnostics, and push for elaborate treatment options. By leaning on an owner’s concern and soft spot, a veterinary clinic can quickly run up an exorbitant bill.
In cases where it truly is an emergency, unscrupulous veterinarians can push for more than is really required right off the bat. Be alert, and calm. Only agree to the necessary as things proceed. Treat for shock and pain. When stable, fully discuss with your veterinarian what the options and outcomes are. Many a grieving owner has signed an estimate for numerous tests and procedures that were wasted on a pet that has an injury or illness that is virtually beyond without the intervention of a specialist at a referral hospital, and ends up with a huge expense of hundreds, or thousands of dollars – and a deceased pet. You and your veterinarian need to have a worst-case scenario talk as soon as the vet has had time for a proper diagnosis and gets your pet stable. X-rays, bloodwork and other tests may well reveal things beyond fixing, or beyond your veterinarian’s capabilities. As hard as it may be to accept, sometimes saving a sinking ship is not going to work no matter how many people are bailing with buckets.
It is during times like these that you need to have a pre-planned approach, and have people to call on to support and assist you with your reasoning. Non-immediate family members and close friends can help you to see things in objectively. They can hear the status of the situation and help you and your veterinarian set a reasonable goal together – without the intense emotional attachment of being the actual pet owner. Their job is to support you and to make sure everything is in the best interest of your needs and the needs of your pet. It is all good to get the pet through the emergency, but what are you to do with the follow-up costs (additional X-rays, re-checks, follow-up bloodwork and so forth) if you use up all your available funds on the initial incident?
It would be a terrible disservice to your beloved pet to have it go through an invasive treatment or surgical procedure, put it through a probably uncomfortable recovery then have to find a new home for, or euthanize your now unaffordable pet.
Prescriptions – Fees and more Fees
Consider this: If your pet is on two or more medications long term, the re-fill fees alone each year are enough to pay for your pet’s annual exam and vaccine appointments!
Many clinics hold by the standard prescription refill of every 60 days (two months). Some have certain medications refilled monthly. Most medications can be filled every 6 months (180 days). And, many medications shipped to veterinary clinics come in bottles that cover at least 90 days worth and up to 180 days worth of treatment.
So, why do vet clinics have people coming in every month or so for another refill of medication?
There are three reasons for this: One: Revenue for the vet clinic. Since re-fill fees are anywhere from $9.00 to $11.00 for each prescription, imagine the money they would lose if everyone started getting refills only twice or three times per year? To give you an idea of this loss, picture just 1,000 clients not paying $10.00 every two months ($60.00/year pet) for their refills for each medication! If your pet is on two medications you are paying over $120.00 a year on the re-fill fees alone (not to mention the cost of the medications themselves). This money saved will go a long way to pay for yearly exams and follow-up bloodwork.
Two: Some medications are expensive to both the vet clinic and the client. Many clients could not afford six months worth of medications that cost three or four dollars per day, so the clinics order them in smaller quantity if possible, so they do not have excess money tied up in their excess inventory of pharmaceuticals.
Three: Some drugs, even if they are going to be long-term medications, are only prescribed in short durations until follow-up testing and bloodwork has been completed to ensure your pet is on the appropriate dosing. This includes insulin, heart drugs, steroids and medications for other ailments like kidney, liver, and thyroid issues. By only offering short term re-fills, that ensures that you will need to bring your pet back for follow-up testing.
If your pet does not need any bloodwork or testing done in the near future, and you can afford a little extra now for big savings later, ask to purchase as large as possible refill of your pet’s medications as you can at one time See if you can get your pets’ meds scripted out to a human pharmacy, or an on-line pharmacy for expensive, or long-term treatment.
Farming vs. Hunting of Clients
In the sales and service world, marketing to customers and clients is broken into two different strategies. These are farming and hunting.
Farming refers to the practice of trying to reap as much benefit (business) out of the clients or customers that a business already has. It is less expensive than trying to attract and retain new clients. The basic premise is to engage your clients on a regular basis – sometimes with free information and basic services – and then to up-sell other services and products to bump your “B” and “C” level clients up into an “A” client status. This type of client is the basis of any business. They trust your offerings, they purchase/spend on a regular basis, and they spread the good word about your business.
Hunting, on the other hand, is the process of actively seeking out new as well as former clients and customers to grow the business. This costs more financially for a business, but does have its benefits. In order to attract and retain new clientele, money needs to be spent on various marketing and advertising techniques. In addition to these costs, businesses want to offer some sort of bonus to make sure their newly acquired clients are happy and satisfied. This is usually offered in the form of longer than normal exams, sending home free information, and reductions on fees and treatments for the initial appointment.
Both of these practices have their good and bad points from the customer’s point of view. Clients that feel they are always being pressured or up-sold usually end up going elsewhere (usually to a place that is currently hunting). Many times they went to their original choice by being hunted, and are now going back through the cycle again. Ironically, the flip side of the coin is that a business needs to re-coup the initial expenses from hunting new clients by farming them in the future.
It is here that many veterinary services lose touch and try to re-coup their “losses” too soon. A happy client will stay with a good veterinary clinic often for as long as they own their pet, and often, as they get new pets in the future. But if a client feels like they are becoming just another number in the business, they start seeking alternatives.
There are many benefits to being an “A” or “B” client. Clinics will squeeze you in for an appointment when you really need it. They will work around your schedule when possible. They will be happy to provide as much information to you as you need about your pet. They will let you know when there are promotions, rebates and specials offered by their suppliers on testing, food and medications.
The Serious Difference between Less Expensive and Cheap
At first glance, one may think: what is the difference between less expensive and cheap?
In the veterinary world, the difference to your pet can be huge. Good quality veterinary care has a price. Many pet owners never need to experience this if their pet just gets its yearly exam and vaccines and out the door it goes. But what happens when an emergency or serious condition arises?
If you have been taking your pet to a clinic that seems to have lower prices on everything – BEWARE. All veterinary clinics have costs. Some clinics charge less for some services like vaccines and spaying/neutering, and then make up the difference on other services like diagnostics, treatments, specialty surgeries, digital X-rays, ultrasound, etc. These clinics generally have more educated, better-trained staff due to their expertise, and up-to-date equipment they offer more in-depth services for your pet.
Cheap clinics, however, often manage to offer cheaper prices because they do not have the large monthly payments owing on top-of-the-line diagnostic equipment. They also have lower-paid staff that are not as well trained; they use more un-certified or non-registered veterinary technicians, and are often a one-vet practice. Very little, or no, money at all is spent on upgrading the skills of staff members. All of these facts can put your pet at a serious disadvantage. Do you really want under-trained staff putting your pet under anaesthetic? What about the staff preparing your pet’s medications? Or even worse, undertrained staff giving your sick, hospitalized pet its medications? Does the technician or assistant know potential risks and side effects of the drugs they are giving? Just because the veterinarian prescribed it, many staff do not know how, or when, it should safely be given. What happens if the pet has a reaction while the veterinarian is in with another appointment? Is anyone trained watching over your hospitalized pet?
Making sure your pet will be well taken care of at any point in it’s’ life should be your main focus when choosing a clinic. Do some research and ask questions.
Saving a few dollars on your pet’s annual exam and vaccines at a lower quality vet service could very well come back to haunt you in the future when they are unprepared for your pets’ emergency.
Avoid After-Hours Emergency Hospitals if Possible
Emergency after-hours clinics are definitely a necessity. Pet injuries and ailments don’t always arise during the normal nine to five working day. These hospitals provide many animals with a new lease on life that they may not have had if their owner’s had waited till their regular veterinary clinic had opened.
With that said, many a pet owner has faced financial ruin, or had to take the option of euthanizing their beloved pet as they could not afford the high cost of the needed care. Typically, prices at an emergency after-hours clinic run about double or triple the cost of your regular veterinary hospital.
If your pet just goes in to get a wound sutured, paying $300.00 instead of $150.00 does not seem overly excessive. However, if your pet ends up having the full care (X-rays, surgery, intravenous fluids, hospitalization, pain meds, antibiotics, all night monitoring, etc.) for a broken leg after being hit by a car at ten o’clock at night, or your dog has to undergo surgery to remove a bladder stone in its urethra, or have a sock removed from its’ bowels, you will be looking at a $3,500.00 to $5,500.00 bill. That is certainly a financial crisis. Many people just don’t have access to that kind of money.
So what are you to do?
Firstly, most of the emergencies that after-hours clinics see are issues that started earlier. Aside from the hit-by-vehicle animals, or the dog attack or similar injuries, many treatments could have been avoided if the pet owner had reacted sooner rather than later.
Many times an owner has waited too long to call their regular vet clinic because something wasn’t right with their pet. Then, by the time it presents as really serious they are left with no option but to go to the after-hours emergency clinic as the day-time clinics are closed.
Learn to recognize the signs of a potential problem as they gradually appear. Signs of something not right with your pet usually begin with lethargy and a lack of energy or interest in doing usual activities. Vomiting or diarrhea that just occurs without any change in your pets’ diet, or from it having eaten something it shouldn’t have, is often a sign that there is a medical issue brewing. Loss of appetite, trouble getting up or lying down, acting painful, uncomfortable or restless are also signs of a pet with some kind of distress that has the potential to get rapidly worse.
In almost every case of an animal going to the after-hours emergency hospital, the response is the same – “well, my pet was acting strange since last night so I thought I would wait until after work/school/etc. to see how if it got any better”
The best plan is to be pro-active. Call your vet clinic in the morning and explain the symptoms. They will probably have a solution for you to try, or possibly recommend dropping your pet off while you go to work. If you are leaving your pet home and something seemed unusual before hand, drop back home on your lunch to check on it if you are able to leave work/school, or, try to have a neighbour or friend that knows your pet stop in to check on it. Keeping an inexpensive thermometer handy for use on your pet is a good idea as well. You can learn from your veterinary staff how to check dehydration issues with a sin-tent/twist test or via the mucous membranes in the mouth. You can also perform a CRT (capillary refill test) on your pets’ gums that will immediately alert you of poor circulation of oxygenated blood in the body. Inspecting your pets’ gums is also an instant way to recognize serious health issues by the color of the tissue. Advanced liver and kidney issues can tinge the gums a yellow color. A very pale or white gum color is most commonly a sign of serious lack of circulation, anemia and/or shock. A bluish color indicates that very little oxygen is circulating in the bloodstream. Cold or tacky gums indicate dehydration and poor circulation. Watch your pets’ breathing for a moment. Fast respiration can indicate nausea, pain and an inability to get enough oxygen. Open-mouthed breathing in cats is a serious warning of dire health problems that need immediate medical attention.
Knowing what is different about your pet and acting upon it appropriately can literally make the difference between a small vet bill at your regular clinic and an enormous financial burden when it has reached the point of needing the services of an emergency only facility.
Comprehensive Exams, Brief Exams and Re-Check Exams
Examinations of your pet are broken down into four major types:
Comprehensive Exam – This is the full and complete exam. It is used in most situations – especially when vaccines are being given, or an animal is presenting with an illness. This exam is the most costly of exams due to its nature and the skills required of the veterinarian.
Brief Exam – Similar to the comprehensive exam, this multi-point exam is somewhat less inclusive and is generally reserved for treating animals where an obvious condition is presenting (ear infection, broken off toe-nail, aural hematoma, etc.) where the main object is to identify the ailment and start appropriate treatment (ear drops, pain meds, etc.). This exam is less expensive than the full, comprehensive exam. Many times, a veterinarian may perform a comprehensive exam, but only charge for a brief due to the fact that a client has already spent a fair amount on diagnostics (X-rays, bloodwork) and medications. In addition, for a chronic illness that is taking longer to heal, or is just maintaining (such as a cancer), many clinics just charge a brief exam fee since the animal is in a state of continually being followed-up with. Some clinics drop this even lower in such cases and just charge a re-check fee.
Re-Check Exam – This is a quick, cursory exam of your pet where the vet is mainly focusing on the area of your pet being treated (such as a wound, eye problem, ear infection, soft tissue injury, etc.) They are looking at how well the treated area is responding to treatment and how other areas of the body are coping, especially where pain medications and antibiotics are being used. Is the gastro-intestinal system affected (diarrhea, vomiting, etc.)? Re-check exams are often broken down into sub-groups such as a re-check for ears (includes an ear smear), re-check for eyes (includes eye staining or testing for internal pressure), and lesser re-check fees to simply monitor more obvious progress (muscle injuries, lameness, wounds, skin infections. etc.)
Puppy/Kitten Exams and Health Exams are usually a lower priced version of the brief exam just as a health-check of a newly acquired pet when vaccines are not yet due. This is generally for insurance purposes as required by the Breeder, Pet Store or Animal Shelter in case you need to return the animal to them, or they have the responsibility to assist with the financial costs.
Make sure your exam fee is accurate for your visit. If you are seeing your veterinarian (or even another veterinarian at the same clinic) for a follow-up appointment related to the original or on-going issue, make sure your fee is for a Re-check exam. Likewise, if you area having an exam performed (especially with bloodwork) as a requirement to get a medication re-filled, or change medication for your pet, this exam should also be charged at a lower rate, such as the Brief exam.
Checking Your Invoices for Errors
While good veterinary care is not inexpensive, errors in billing can often be the cause of pet owners spending more than they need to.
Always check your invoice before you leave the vet clinic. Many people miss doing this with the instructions on medications, vaccine certificates, and their pet bouncing around while they are trying to pay at the front counter. Most good clinics will make sure you understand everything on your invoice before you pay. Listen and read carefully. If there is something you do not understand, ask. If the receptionist or staff checking you out doesn’t know, they need to go ask the veterinarian. Never settle for “That is just what that fee is…”, or “I don’t really know, the technician and vet did up the bill…”
It will be harder but not impossible to get something changed after you pay and realize a potential error once you review the bill at home. Many times the excitement of picking up your pet after it has had surgery or has been hospitalized overrides your rational brain. This also works the opposite way as well. Many times clients will fly off the handle over a seemingly expensive bill because they did not clarify all the details before giving the go-ahead, or veterinary staff was not clear on other possible costs that may arise during treatment.
Invoice errors can be simple data entry issues such as billing you for the wrong type of food. Then there could be misunderstandings between the veterinarian and the staff storing your bill (poor writing or misinterpretation, or the vet did not accurately mark down whether it was a brief of full exam, or parts of the bill were already stored – then you and your vet decided not to do a certain vaccine, or run a less expensive test, etc.) There are many opportunities for errors to be committed, especially in a busy veterinary clinic. In addition, many staff feel pressured to always take the “high side” when doing up an invoice if the veterinarian or technician has not been clear on what needs to be billed and why. No-one wants to be berated by the boss for making a mistake with the business (bosses) money. But they could certainly lose a customer if their errors are persistent or not entirely “true” or accidental errors.
Take the time to check your bill -even if you have to wait a moment for someone to check it out with you, or have them contact you later at home or work. Although it is easier to get any discrepancies cleared up before you leave the vet office, sometimes that does not always work out – especially if the clinic is busy, or you have just gone over a lot of medication and go-home instructions, or if your pet is coming home from a serious surgery or illness and your mind is overwhelmed. No worry. Go over your invoice when you have the time, and mark off items that you do not understand and contact the veterinary hospital in a reasonable amount of time. Note that waiting a couple weeks is not a reasonable amount of time, and any perceived errors may not be cleared up in your favor.
Know What You are Agreeing to Before Proceeding
More often than not, clients get hit with bills larger than they expected simply for the fact that they didn’t ask, or wrongly assumed, a cost in advance.
Assuming prices, or going on what you heard from someone else, can be bad news. Make sure you talk to the source (the veterinarian or vet staff) yourself. Even spouse’s get information mixed up (which has led to some interesting marital spats at the reception desk).
Common “assumptions” include nail trims (vet clinics are about three to four times the price of a groomer), “routine” surgeries (spay, neuter) that people have not had done since their last pet about 13 years ago, or an over-the-phone quote that was just for the surgery itself and did not include pain medication, or the extra surgical time because the pet is obese, or in heat, or has a retained testicle, and so forth.
Other misunderstood issues include having lumps removed, or treating an aural hematoma (blood swelling in the ear) or having a “hot spot” taken care of and other ailments that require more than it appears on the surface. Some lumps can be frozen with a local anaesthetic and removed. Others require a full anaesthetic and a more intense surgical excision. Some aural hematomas can be drained and treated with steroids to clear them up; many others need a full surgical intervention and repair along with antibiotics to resolve the issue. (Many times this surgery ends up happening after the owner just insisted on taking the lesser-priced option of draining the ear a couple times and it was not fully successful on their pet). “Hot spots” (skin infection common when moisture is trapped under fur) can sometimes be simply treated with a clip and clean approach. Sometimes sedation or a general anaesthetic and antibiotics are required depending on the demeanor of the pet and/or how far advanced the condition is. In addition, what an owner thought was a hot spot may well need to be tested for ringworm, mange or a bacterial infection.
Be prepared by asking questions when you book your appointment, and confirm during the pre-treatment or pre-surgical exam for any procedures to be done on your pet. Clarify what follow up treatments may be necessary. Many people leave their appointments disgruntled because there are going to be further costs for more testing (follow-up ear smears, or urinalysis, or bloodwork) when they just assumed their pet would just get a magical medication and all would be well.
Services That Are No-Charge at Most Veterinary Clinics
There are many services at a veterinary hospital that do not usually have a separate fee attached to them when you take your pet to the vet. These include such services as:
Removing sutures. Either stitches or staples Removing ticks. Some clinics will insist on an exam if you need to purchase a tick preventative product, or if the area looks infected Re-checking a surgical site incision or a wound. There may be a fee for antibiotics, or an ecollar if your pet is getting at the incision site or wound, but there should be no exam fee – especially if it was required by your veterinarian to ensure proper healing, or if you are very concerned due to swelling, seepage, discoloration, odour or pet discomfort A follow-up telephone call, or re-check visit. To discuss how your pet is doing after a surgical procedure of after being discharged home from an illness or hospitalization. There may be a fee to cover further testing if needed, such as a urinalysis, or bloodwork to monitor progress Nail trims done during a yearly vaccine exam Weigh-ins. For monitoring special diets, for applying a non-prescription flea preventative, or to apply a flea, tick or heartworm preventative to a growing puppy or kitten that has already had a recent exam but is still in the growing or development stage
In addition to the above items, many times food and drug manufacturers offer promotions that your veterinary clinic is to pass on. All too often a veterinarian or staff member will “neglect” to tell a client about certain offers or “deals” (promotions) and make it unscrupulously appear that the” free” item or discount is coming from their own good will.
There will always be the good vets or staff that try to genuinely help you out and provide an honest free bag of food for a special health condition, or remove the prescription fees from some of your pets multiple medications, or drop the exam fee when you have had to do X-rays and bloodwork and a host of other diagnostics.
The disease of greed has not affected everyone in the veterinary profession. But it is nice to know you are dealing with a veterinary clinic that truly has your pets’ best health interests in mind and values keeping you as a long-term client, as opposed to clinic which promotes a false sense of value.
Homecare vs. Hospitalization
If your pet is ill enough to require being put on intravenous fluids and require daily professional care (monitoring, administering medications, etc.) but you cannot afford overnight hospitalization, or, if the veterinary hospital has no overnight staff to monitor your pet, you need to discuss the option of taking your pet home. Even if your pet is connected to an IV drip, it can be disconnected from a pump and sent into your care with a device that just hooks into the fluid line and controls the fluid drip rate for you.
You will need a quiet place for your pet to rest, in an area where they will be secure and will not get the IV line tangled up. Your veterinary staff can show you how to administer your pet’s medications and other details on caring for your pet while at home.
This is a very viable option for people who are of limited funds (the money saved on overnight hospitalization can be put towards monitoring at the vet clinic during the day).
In addition, if done properly, allowing a pet to recover at home is sometimes more beneficial for the animal as there is not the stress of strange smells or noises, barking dogs, phones constantly ringing and the hustle and bustle of a busy clinic. Many pets also eat better away from the hospital environment.
Your veterinarian will need to re-check and assess your pet daily, so you should have the option of leaving your pet with them during the day, of just coming in for scheduled re-checks and to have the intravenous line changed, etc.
In addition, there are other out-patient services you can do at home instead of paying extra for at the vet clinic. Having sub-cutaneous (SQ) fluids performed costs anywhere from $30.00 to $70.00 per treatment at most vet clinics. For the same price you can get all the necessary materials (bag of fluids, the lines and some needles) and do it yourself for a substantial cost savings. SQ fluids are administered just under the skin – you can learn to do this quite easily and quickly, eliminating the huge cost of several treatments as well as the stress caused to your pet and the inconvenience to you, especially if you or someone in the family needs to leave work or school to get to the clinic during regular hours.
Discuss with your veterinarian what options you have in effectively treating your pet outside of the vet hospital. This will be especially beneficial to both you and your pet if there is no-one at the vet hospital to monitor your pet overnight, or if you are expected to take your pet to an after-hours emergency hospital for monitoring. Another option may be a home visit from a mobile veterinary service, or treatments done in your home by a staff from your own veterinary clinic.
What to Look for when Choosing a Veterinary Clinic
If you are looking for a veterinary clinic for your new pet, or have just moved to a new town or are looking to switch from another veterinary hospital, use the following information to make sure you get exactly what you want and need.
Word of mouth referrals from your friends, neighbours and co-workers can be an excellent source of information to get you started in the right direction.
Things to look for:
Hours of operation. Are the operating hours convenient for your schedule? Are they open weekends?
What happens with after-hours emergencies? Do they offer their own after-hours services or do they refer their clients to a reputable emergency service? How far away is it?
Up-to-date equipment. Do they offer laser surgery? Do they have digital X-ray capabilities? Do they offer ultrasound services? Do they run their bloodwork in-house or does it get sent to a laboratory?
Staffing. Is the staff friendly and helpful? Are all the veterinary technicians registered (RVT) or certified (CVT)? (This means on-going yearly training and upgrading. Technicians that don’t get enough learning credits in designated areas of care each year lose their registered or certified status. Is there on-going training for the vet assistants, clinicians and general kennel staff?
Do they offer overnight boarding services for pets?
Are they a Multi-vet clinic? Having two or more veterinarians on staff has numerous advantages to the pet owner. Care usually improves due the fact that vets share their cases and diagnostics/treatments with each other. This generally allows for greater success of treatments as they can dwell on the experiences of treating previous patients. Also, if you love your veterinary clinic and most of the staff but just don’t seem to “mesh” with your veterinarian, you can always see another vet in the practice.
Do they offer tours of the facility? Any good clinic will be happy to have someone show you around, at virtually any time. Smaller practices may not have a staff available right away, so tell them you would love to wait, or come back at a different time. Any clinic that discourages you having a tour saying “We can’t because of the X-ray machine.” or “We aren’t allowed to have people back there for insurance reasons.” should be a hint of a place you do not want to take your pet. Unless there is an emergency being treated in the back and they can’t afford staff to be distracted or have someone in their way, there is no reason you can’t have a look around. Comments about X-rays and such are just fillers for someone too lazy to bother taking you around, or a cop-out for the clinic risking people seeing a possible shambles in the treatment or surgery area. X-rays are only dangerous in the split second that the button is fired to take an
If the unit is back there leaking radiation all the time, they have a more serious problem than having the odd person taking a tour!
So, what is the big deal of taking a tour you ask? Well, this is how you get to “know” your possible new clinic and how it operates. You need to see how many staff members are present while surgeries are going on. What are the pets that have already had surgery recovering on, thin blankets, the hard floor or a cushy matt and a warm blanket or heating pad? (Body temperature drops during surgery) Who is monitoring the anaesthetised patients, a technician, a kennel staff, or a high school co-op student? Where is the isolation unit for the sick animals? How close is it to the surgery patients, or hospitalized patients? Do they have a digital X-ray machine? Do they have in-house blood analyzing equipment? Do they have proper stainless steel kennels with laminate surfaces for easy cleaning and proper sanitation, or do they have rusty old crates? How does the place smell? Other than a recent accident on the floor or in a kennel, it should be clean. The surgery prep and treatment areas should also be clean; things might be cluttered with treatments happening and so forth, but the floors, counters, kennels and such should be clean enough for the next pet and not spattered with dried urine, blood, old dirty gauze, used kennel wipes, and so on. Does staff appear to be in control, or are they frazzled? Overwhelmed staff and sick animals are not a good mix. There is a difference between catching people at a busy time, and plain old having too few staff members on every day just to keep costs down.
After talking to the various staff members, and having had an in-depth look around the facility that you may be choosing, the big question should be: Do you comfortable enough to leave your pet here?
Up-sells, Extras and Hidden Fees
What are they, and why are they extras and up-sells?
As with most purchases, one will find a variance in prices if they go to a different service provider. Why are almost identical cell phone packages for different providers set at different prices? Why does the same type of car cost a different price at a different dealer? The main reason is in the options. And each service provider has a different approach to what they feel is optional as opposed to being a necessary part of the package. If one calls around for price quotes on vaccines or routine type surgeries such as spays and neuters they will get a varying degree of prices.
With surgeries, it depends on several factors including the type of equipment used (laser vs. scalpel), the cost of the monitoring equipment, the skill level /pay grade of the support staff, the follow-up care, the age and condition of the pet and so forth. Some clinics have mandatory bloodwork profiles before performing surgeries on pets over a certain age. Some clinics have higher fees for surgeries that are performed on high risk patients, or on patients that have a certain health status. Pain medications for some “routine” surgeries are optional (up to the owner to decide if they can afford) and some clinics wisely make them mandatory.
Vaccine appointments are quite similar in that their cost also depends on the individual clinic. All vaccines are required to be administered after an examination of an animal. Countless people call vet clinics saying “I don’t want/need an exam, I just need the vaccines done”. The exam is the most integral part of the whole appointment. It needs to be determined that the pet is healthy enough for the vaccines, and what exact vaccines are the most effective for his/her lifestyle. Do they need boosters for Kennel Cough? Leptospirosis? Leukemia? The bulk of the cost being paid is for the comprehensive exam. However, some clinics lure clients in with low priced exams with the individual vaccine costs added on top. Many times, this lower priced approach actually costs the owner more than going with the clinic where their package was more complete for the same or lower cost. A pro-active owner needs to know what vaccines their pet should have for their lifestyle. Getting the right vaccines done with the annual exam is a lot cheaper than having to come back in a couple months to get upgrades, or coming in with a costly ailment or sickness that could have been prevented with a cheap vaccine when you were already there.
Other “extras” can include e-collars (the inexpensive plastic collars that keep your pet from licking their incisions and wounds), microchips (they can also be implanted for half the price during micro-chip clinics offered by local animal shelters and humane societies). Intravenous fluids are often presented as a less costly alternative to doing bloodwork prior to a surgery. The intravenous helps the body flush out the anaesthetic (which will be definitely recommended anyway if the bloodwork shows areas of concern), maintain blood-pressure and provide access ports for emergency injections, or for pain medications and antibiotics.
Hidden Fees include a vast array of sometimes deceitful costs that get added to treatments, surgeries, hospitalization and diagnostics. These fees include new revenue-generating ideas such as:
Surgery Suite Rental Fees. This fee is added to invoices for pets that come in for routine surgeries (such as a pre-planned neutering or spay), and more commonly, it can be a fee added to an invoice for a pet that comes in for an emergency surgery that obviously was not pre-planned, or for a surgical procedure required after an examination, such as repairing an aural haematoma, removing porcupine quill, or a dental procedure. Blood Draw/Processing Fees. Usually already included in the price of doing the bloodwork itself – of course they have to take blood to run it! In addition, beware of the clinics that have a blood draw fee built into every individual blood profile; you may end up paying for more than one blood draw fee even though they only have to take it once and divide it up into the appropriate containers for processing.
Hospitalization and Daily Professional Care (DPC) fees billed for periods of time that your animal is not technically there. An example of this would be bringing in your pet on a Monday afternoon for an illness that ends up requiring hospitalization, then picking that animal up on Wednesday morning only to find your invoice listing 3 days of Hospitalization, plus 3 days of DPC and 2 overnight fees. In reality, the pet was only under the care of the veterinary clinic for 2 days of hospitalization and DPC since it arrived Monday afternoon and left Wednesday morning. This little “technicality” ends up squeezing an extra $75.00 – $125.00 out of that one client (based on the average fees of $35.00 – $65.00 per day for hospitalization and $30.00 – $75.00 per day for DPC). This also means they paid the same amount as someone who brought their pet in on Monday morning and it stayed until the end of the day on Wednesday. If there are fees on your invoice listed for each day, make sure they are billed accordingly as either a full or part day.
Other “hidden” charges can include additional Pain Medication, Mature/Obese Animal Fees, and Mandatory Bloodwork or Intravenous Fluids for older animals that were not disclosed over the telephone when you called to get a price on, or book, a surgery. In some cases, it is just simply better to put off certain surgeries for a month or two, in order to save up for a so called “extras”.
Does my pet really need vaccines every year?
Over the past few years, vaccine manufactures have changed many of their vaccines to have a longer efficacy period (the longer time in the body that they remain active). Most clinics now use a three year Rabies vaccine, and more are beginning to opt for two and three year Distemper/Parvoinfluenza/Hepatitis vaccines as well.
One of the main reasons that a lot of clinics have not yet done away with the regular one year vaccine is a matter of “cents” and “sense”. In addition, vaccines for Bordetella (kennel cough), Leptospirosis, Leukemia (cats) and Lyme disease, are only rated for one year of protection. Imagine the yearly revenue drop at veterinary hospitals if all their patients only came once every three years for a vaccine appointment. That is the equivalent of losing almost two thirds of your vaccination/exam revenue during the two years between boosters. That is the “cents” part.
Also, there is the fact that if people don’t see the importance in annual exams, they won’t bring their pets in for three years till the next vaccine. Thus the “sense”. Since one of our calendar years is the equivalent of five to seven years in a pet’s life, one can see that all sorts of problems could occur during that time, which would have probably been detected at an earlier examination, and had a quicker resolution or more favorable outcome.
It is also a fact that some animals can have bad reactions to certain vaccines, as well as rare cases of liver and kidney problems from over-vaccinating. Certain cancers and arthritis problems have been linked to vaccines. Your veterinarian is your best source of information regarding the health of your pet, so it is in your pet’s best interest to discuss with them how your individual vaccine protocol should be based on the age and health of your pet, and the lifestyle it leads that may have higher, or lower, risks of contracting certain diseases.
As your pet ages, the need for certain yearly vaccines becomes lower, and just having a health exam done every year instead may be a better approach to take. Professional studies have shown that core vaccines need not to be re-boosted on a yearly basis, only those vaccines that have a short effective life-span (such as Bordetella, Leptospirosis, Leukemia and Lyme) need regular re-vaccination for pets at risk.
There is Money in them Drugs!
As explained earlier in the chapter on refill fees, medications are a constant line of revenue for veterinary clinics.
Almost every pet is going to need some type of medication in their lifetime, whether it be for a one time issue (pain medications after a surgery, or antibiotics to treat an infection), or for a long term issue such as insulin, thyroid medication, heart drugs, etc.
Many veterinarians will charge a prescription fee if you are sending a prescription into an online service to fill. A fair clinic will often provide you with a prescription at no charge if you are going to use the services of a human pharmacy for medications that are sold for both human and animal use, or if your pet requires a lower or higher dose pill, tablet or liquid that the veterinary clinic does not have in stock for you to purchase from them. Your veterinarian must offer you the option of getting your prescription filled elsewhere. Human pharmacies and on-line pet pharmacies fulfill countless prescription requests for pets every day.
Food – The First Frontier
All pets need to eat. And what they eat every day governs how healthy they are going to be in the near and distant future.
There is a lot of hype surrounding the multitude of pet foods available to consumers. Obviously, each company likes to extol the virtues of their own foods, and many do so with incredibly large advertising budgets supported by crafty marketing departments. It is up to the consumer to look beyond the fancy packages, puppy-eyed magazine and internet ads and the movie quality commercials.
Pet foods from veterinary clinics may not be the absolute best food in the world for some pets but they have been proven to maintain the health of millions of pets everywhere and in many cases, have turned many a pet’s health around after years of improper diets from elsewhere. Pets with gastro-intestinal issues, conditions of the heart, kidneys, liver and pancreas as well as developing puppies and aging seniors have reaped the greatest benefit of veterinary supplied diets. This of course, is not to say that other diets from other retailers will not be as beneficial. The benefit, however, of veterinary sold diets is the knowledge and support that come with them. Your veterinarian has five years of medical training. They understand how the entire animal body operates and why. Do you really believe the dietary knowledge you are getting from a seventeen year old high school student at the pet store? The profit margins on both foods are virtually the same; however, the profits from veterinary offered diets go into research and development as well as marketing to the veterinarians. Your pet store food profits go into financial compensation (kick-backs) to the kids selling the foods and the stores they work for along with being poured into more fancy marketing to sell more food.
Pet foods purchased through your veterinary clinic (namely Royal Canin/Medi-Cal, Hills Prescription Diets, Iams and Eukanuba and some Purina foods) are guaranteed by the manufacturers to support their individual claims. Every day veterinarians treat pets who are suffering various ills due to a poor diet, or suffering the effects of a diet that was “supposed” to aid in the recovery or prevention of an ailment that it was apparently designed for (allergies, urinary crystals and stones, kidney and liver issues as well as diabetes and gastro-intestinal problems are common targets for “knock-off” diets.) These are lower cost foods made to mimic diets produced for the veterinary sector. And like most “knock-offs” of more expensive items (electronics, cell phones, computers, clothing) these products don’t always live up to the quality of the originals.
The manufacturers of the specialty diets also manufacture lower priced lines off food that you can get in a pet store. Hills Prescription Diets makes Science Diet; Royal Canin/Medi-Cal has entire lines of quality versions in the stores; Eukanuba, Purina and Iams also offer lower priced diets in pet stores. Many of these diets are made with the same ingredients and processed in much the same way as their veterinary counterparts.
If you truly cannot or will not purchase your pet food from a veterinary clinic, ask your vet team for a recommendation of an equivalent food that they feel would be of benefit to your pet. In addition, you can find out what type of supplements you can give your pet to help them where they may be lacking in their diet.
Food is something your pet needs every day anyways. Most times, a quality food only costs a minimal amount more than a cheaper diet because your pet will need less of a good food (less filler) and you can shop around at other veterinary clinics. Some clinics that do not stock a huge inventory of food offer at least a 10% discount if you order it as you need it. On more expensive, specialty diets, this discount makes it close to the same price as a cheaper, lower quality food elsewhere.
Spending a few dollars more each week on a better diet for your pet will undoubtedly save you back that amount several times over in reduced vet bills down the road.
Do Bloodwork with Vaccines in the Spring
During the spring is when most laboratories offer reduced rates to veterinary clinics for various blood profiles in conjunction with Lyme and Heartworm disease screening. The testing fees drop dramatically as a promotion from the laboratory facilities, thus you can take advantage of this and screen your pet for the above diseases included in a profile for geriatric pets, pets with thyroid issues, kidney and liver issues, etc. For usually less than the normal cost of one regular blood profile during the rest of the year, you can get the benefit of a full profile for your pet including Lyme disease and Heartworm tests.
This is a great bonus as well if your pet is on medication that the vet clinic won’t give extended refills on unless proper follow-up testing is done. Since many veterinary clinics require followup bloodwork or urine testing yearly to maintain prescription refills, this works out in your favour by setting up your annual testing and required re-fill tests each spring.
As discussed earlier in the chapter on refill fees, the money you save on multiple refills throughout the year will cover the cost of your bloodwork. Your pet will be healthier for it and so will your wallet!
Early spring is not the best time for most vaccine and bloodwork exams as many clinics are still trying to garner revenue lost during the winter months. However, by June or July, clinics are busy enough to hold their own and the laboratories and many pharmaceutical and food companies are running promotions. Find out what is available to help you save money on food and services your pet needs anyways!
Even if you absolutely love your vet and vet staff, it never hurts to shop around if you truly need or want to save some money.
Price shopping has many benefits such as: Knowing if your veterinarian’s prices are in-line with comparable clinics for comparable services. Do other clinics that have similarly skilled staff and equal services and new technology charge the same as your vet? Do they charge more? Do they charge less? Why? You can see what other discounts that new or competitive clinics are offering. You can see what new technology is available at other clinics, and ask your own veterinary clinic if they, too, will be upgrading. This includes equipment and services such as digital X-ray, dental radiographs, laser surgery, laser therapy, ultrasound, physical therapy and rehabilitation, stem cell therapy, laparoscopic surgery, eye tonometry, and other leading services. You want to know that your veterinary staff are continuing to add to their knowledge and training, and are keeping up with modern medical advances
You don’t necessarily need to take your pet elsewhere if you feel your needs are being fulfilled at your current clinic. But, if you feel cost-wise a better deal can be made elsewhere at a comparably staffed and equipped clinic you can see if your present veterinarian can match what the others have to offer. Many clinics will be happy to make you happy to keep a good client.
Price shopping doesn’t mean you are sneaking around on your vet – it just lets them be aware that you want to ensure that your pet is getting the best care for the amount of money you are spending on it and that you are taking an educated stance in your pets’ wellbeing.