By Dr. Charles Eastin

We all love our pets! Today cats and dogs are members of our families and we want the best of everything for them. Yet how do we manage the costs of having a pet, particularly health care cost?

As a practicing veterinarian in a busy small animal veterinary practice, I frequently hear the question, “Dr. Eastin, should I get health insurance for my pet?” The question they are really asking is, “How can I keep my pet healthy for as long as possible?” Let’s face it, nobody likes to make a budget or think about insurance, but it is critical to thoughtfully consider all available options to pay for your pet’s care.

Research advances and advances in technology have translated into practical solutions for pet health problems, but these diagnostics and treatments can be expensive. Here are a few tips that I give my clients to help ensure their pets receive the best care without “breaking the bank.”

Consider costs early
Consider the costs of pet ownership as early in your pet’s life as possible, ideally before you adopt your pet. This process doesn’t need to be unpleasant.
• Routine medical care. Being able to pay for routine care is critical for pet ownership. Think about a creating a specific savings account that you contribute to monthly. Some plans offer a wellness component, but you’re generally better off paying for these out of pocket and saving the “administration fee.”
• Unexpected injury or illness – Unexpected injury or illness and the associated medical bills commonly results in emotional and financial distress. When you are already worried about your pet, the cost of care is the last thing on your mind. The goal should be to remove or minimize the financial component from the decision to accept the care that your pet needs.

Insurance is an excellent way to prepare for the, almost inevitable, but unanticipated, injury, or illness. Then, your decision becomes more about what is best for your pet, not whether you can afford it. Even if you decline hospitalization or surgery, eliminating ability to pay from the decision pays emotional dividends for the rest of  your life. Policy prices can be as low as $25 per month, but every company and policy is different, so you really need to spend time reading and understanding your options. I recommend talking to the representatives of at least three insurance companies. Just like any insurance, the average pet owner will pay a little more into the system than they receive in reimbursements. You pay a set monthly fee and in return have the right to receive partial reimbursement of the amounts paid for veterinary services and products. Remember that with pet healthcare insurance, you generally will pay your veterinarian for services and then the insurance company will reimburse you.

If you, for whatever reason, do not have insurance on your pet’s health when an expensive medical problem occurs, then there is still hope. You can still minimize the one-time draw on your bank account through lending programs like CareCredit, which has no interest plans for new applicants.

Tips to keep your pet healthy:
• Safety and quality – Take good care of your pet’s health on a day-to-day basis. Think about safety in and around your home and feed high-quality food.
• Regular checkups – Remember, the best way to insure you aren’t confronted with an illness is to have your pet examined regularly by your veterinarian. Problems can be detected and treated early, before they progress to the point of needing expensive hospitalization or surgery. As mentioned above, a specific health savings account is good for this routine care.
• Take care of the teeth at home – Some of my clients take excellent care of their pet’s teeth by using dental treats, water additive, and, sometimes, tooth brushing. These won’t prevent dental tartar, but can prolong the interval between professional dental cleanings. Also, budget for the occasional professional teeth cleaning to avoid possible secondary illnesses and costly extractions.

Dr. Charles Eastin is the Veterinarian-in-Charge at the Dulles Executive Pet Center and Sterling Park Animal Hospital, where his 5-year old Siberian Husky, Ecko, is also the company mascot. He sees his role as fostering a community of like-minded individuals who see pets as an essential component of a fulfilled life!