Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

In case of Emergency, don't break

by User Not Found | Aug 05, 2014

Very recently I had to say goodbye to my sweet Shaggy.  He was up and about and normal one minute and collapsed and having trouble breathing the next.  I checked his gums and they were white as a ghost, his face and feet were cold to the touch.  Without a second thought, I put him in the back of my car and drove straight to the emergency vet.  Shaggy had a procedure that night that saved his life and prolonged his life (even if only for a short time).  This was a blessing and also a time to think through my options for moving forward with his care.  I could not wrap my head around rushing to the emergency clinic with him and then walking out alone.  As sad as it is to say, the difference in those two situations is often financial.  Fortunately in a time of shock and disbelief, I didn’t have to worry about money.  I had already set aside an emergency fund for my dogs.  I specifically set aside money every month to put in an emergency fund, for the humans in our pack and for the dogs too.  I wanted to be able to “do everything I could” for my dogs in an emergency situation.  That included if it was for more than one dog, because isn’t that just Murphy’s Law? 

Recently on Facebook, an emergency clinic in Michigan came under fire, even receiving angry calls and death threats after declining to perform emergency exploratory surgery on a young German Shepherd who developed complications after surgery.  The issue was, and almost always is, the owner’s inability to provide upfront payment.  Vet care and especially emergency care is expensive and there is no Obamacare for dogs.  I was recently asked about this exact situation, hence the reason for this blog.  Let’s take a look at a few things that may help you make sure you can provide for your dog.

Pet Insurance

Pet Insurance has been around for many, many years.  The good news is, it’s evolved in to a much more user friendly benefit for pet owners….well as user friendly as insurance can be.  Remember that this is similar to human insurance, aka read the fine print!  Be aware of exclusions that fall under breed related conditions.  Typically they do not cover hereditary conditions, ongoing chronic conditions (may be initially covered but then not covered when you renew), pre-exisiting conditions and some don’t even cover wellness care.  Just read carefully.  Here are a list of things you should be aware of and that you should research if you decide to go with Pet Insurance.

  1. Find out how the company pays its claims.  Some companies require you to pay the bill up front, fill out paperwork and then get a reimbursement, so you’ll still need to have a stash of cash to take care of the bill, or a credit card.
  2. What do they base the payout on?  Is there a benefit schedule? Do they pay what the vet office actually charges or is it based on UCR charges (usual, customary and reasonable)?
  3. What are the premiums and deductibles and how do they change over time?  Do they increase with age? Does the coverage reduce over time?
  4. How financially sound is the company?  Since pet insurance has been around for 10+ years, make sure you use a reputable company.  As around!  What are other people using and what is their experience? Look for non-biased reviews, but remember that these can be falsified by people who are paid to do so.  Focus more on the negative comments and their commonalities.

Payment Plans

Payment plans are a bit like magical fairies, they are elusive and practically extinct.  Basically they are an unsecured loan to a stranger.  Unfortunately for vet offices who offer them, they have been burned too many times to allow them to continue, ruining it for the rest of us.  Too often, folks renege on their promises to pay and the vet office ends up eating the charges themselves and say, well we’re never doing that again!  If you find one out there, good for you, but don’t rely on it because they are an endangered species.

Wellness/Preventative Programs

These programs are designed to break up the cost of yearly preventative care for your pet.  You pay a monthly fee and they cover services like, bloodwork, vaccines, exams, stool checks, dentals, and sometimes things like x-rays and EKG’s.  Again, make sure you read the fine print and do some calculating to see if it actually saves YOU money based on your pet’s lifestyle.  Also remember that this is preventative medicine so if something is diagnosed or found, further testing and treatment will cost you out of pocket and those are the big ticket items.  On the other hand, this kind of program can be more helpful at detecting problems early, which may save you money in the long-run.

Another way to accomplish this goal is to make your own preventative plan.  Work out a schedule with your dogs and your veterinarian that break up the routine care in to smaller pieces.  For example, some vaccines are given every three years, some every year and maybe you have multiple pets.  Fluffy gets her Rabies and Leptospirosis vaccine this year.  Next year, she gets her distemper/parvo and Lepto vaccine and the following year, she gets her Lepto vaccine only, so I’ll run some bloodwork too.  This way you pay smaller amounts each time you go, but your dog still gets all the care they need.  Also stagger purchase of Heartworm and Flea and Tick medications.  Check out the price online (using a VIPPS accredited pharmacy) and then take that info with you to the vet.  Often times, they will match the price and if not, then ask for a prescription for Heartworm pills and get them online.  Don’t just accept the preventative they offer you, ask what your options are and determine the cost of each one.  Trifexis is the most convenient, but the cost of one of those pills is three times something like Heartgard and you still have to purchase flea/tick meds no matter which one you use.  I doubt they mentioned that.  You do have to have a prescription for heartworm medication but you don’t for flea/tick medications, so check the stores!  Petsmart, Petco, and even Costco and Sam’s Club sell some of these products for much lower cost.  Look for flea/tick medications and heartworm medications in the spring time.  There are loads of sales and coupons around that time of year where you can buy one get one free.  Ask your vet!  They offer these types of deals too at certain times of the year.   Same goes for prescriptions folks!  Check around at different pharmacies and find a good deal and take advantage of offers at other places besides your vet, especially if your dog needs to be on a medication long-term.  I once got a prescription for an antibiotic (two week course) for free from a grocery store pharmacy.  It takes a little legwork but you’ll come out on top in the end.

Be Prepared

Sit down, take a look at your personal situation and come up with a plan.  It takes a little bit of your time but will save you so much, both financially and emotionally in the long-run.  Check your credit card limits, open a saving’s account, ask around to see how other folks handle emergencies and financial responsibilities of being a pet owner.  Know your limits and understand that they may restrict you in helping your dog.  “I can’t” DOES NOT mean “I don’t care” and saying no is hard, but remember that we can only do our best.  Consider several options, perhaps start a saving’s account but purchase a high deductible pet insurance policy to help cover you in times of emergency or catastrophic illness.  Take a friend with you to the emergency room.  Know how far you are willing and able to go to treat your pet.  In an emergency you are emotional and not thinking clearly and having a friend to help you through can make all the difference.  Emergency rooms want to find out the problem and then fix it, but since they have no history on your dog and because they generally have no idea what’s wrong with your dog, this can include a long list of ruling things out.  Imaging diagnostics, blood tests, medications and all sorts of other things will provide information, but if you are on a fixed budget, then you need to discuss with the vet immediately, What’s the plan? Which tests will give you the biggest bang for your buck?  Don’t run up a $3,000 bill when a few cheaper tests would have told you the same thing.  ASK QUESTIONS.  Don’t run every test under the moon before you get answers from the initial exam.    Yes it’s an emergency but once your dog is stabilized, the vet should come and talk to you before pursuing further care.  Make that clear up front and make it a team effort with your vet.

It’s cliché but the best way to save money at the vet is to spend more time at the vet.  Emergencies can’t be prevented 100% of the time, but detecting problems before they are serious will come much easier with regular check-ups.  Know that you will need a good chunk of change up front and find some way to set that aside so you don’t have to worry about it.  Or take some time and check in to Pet insurance policies, they hold their greatest value in emergency treatment and catastrophic illness.  You’ll be prepared and you can focus on more important things, like your furry kid.



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