10 Ways to Save Money on Vet Care

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VET SMARTS

There's nothing you won't do for your pet -- but wait until you see the vet bill. A national survey by the American Pet Products Association found that pet owners spend an average of $235 annually on routine vet visits for dogs and $196 for cats. That doesn't include non-routine expenses such as surgical vet visits: $551 and $398 a year on average for dogs and cats, respectively. Although pet insurance is an option, most pet owners pay for everything, from screenings to major surgery, out of their own pockets. If veterinary expenses have left you feeling a bit ill yourself, try these money-saving tips.

Related: Don't Buy Your Pet These 19 Things

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SHOP AROUND BEFORE CHOOSING A VET

Veterinarians charge a surprisingly broad array of prices for the same services, even in the same location. The fee for spaying or neutering a pet, for example, might range from less than $100 through a low-cost program to nearly $1,000 at a private clinic. Before settling on a vet, make calls and ask plenty of questions regarding prices for a variety of services.

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LOOK INTO WELLNESS CARE PACKAGES

Keeping pets healthy is the easiest way to avoid costly problems and save money in the long run. Annual checkups and yearly vaccines are a must, but look into money-saving options first. Pet insurance may cover some preventive care, and some vets offer wellness packages that save a good chunk of change compared with paying separately for each vaccine or exam. Some wellness plans, such as those from PetSmart's Banfield Pet Hospital, include discounts on products and services not covered by the plan.

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LOOK INTO VETERINARY DISCOUNT PROGRAMS

Depending on the age and stage of your pet (in particular, very young or elderly), visits to the vet may pile up. With a discount program, pet owners pay a monthly or flat fee to get reduced prices on services and visits at participating providers. For example, Pet Assure, one of the better-known discount programs, offers savings of about 25 percent on many services. Beware, though -- such programs may not apply for major medical problems, and not all veterinarians participate.

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GIVE PETS PLENTY OF EXERCISE

Aside from preventing problems such as obesity, regular exercise can keep pets from becoming bored, a state that can lead to destructive behavior, such as eating things they shouldn't. (Seems we all know a pup that's downed a sock or devoured a piece of furniture.) This can prompt exorbitant emergency medical bills and surgery that could have been prevented.

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KEEP UP ON HEARTWORM, FLEA, AND TICK TREATMENTS

Regular doses of preventive treatments can help avoid the cost of actually treating problems such as heartworm disease, Lyme disease, or fleas (which can spread throughout the home). These medicines are available at the vet's office, but places like Amazon and Costco and pet sites such as Chewy also sell them, so compare prices before stocking up.

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FEED YOUR PET WELL

In the interest of your pet's long-term health, don't just pick up the cheapest bag of food at the grocery store. Like humans, pets need a balanced diet. The Merck Veterinary Manual maintains lists of recommended nutrients for dogs and cats of various ages.

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LOOK FOR VETS WITH EMERGENCY HOURS

Should an after-hours pet emergency arise, an owner may get stuck at the local animal ER, which can cost a small fortune. To avoid these types of bills, do some advance research to find out if any vets in the area have emergency, weekend, or late hours. A visit there may end up costing much less than the ER.

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QUESTION RECOMMENDED TREATMENTS

In addition to the basics (e.g., vaccines), there are a host of other treatments that may or may not be necessary for optimum health. Question any recommendations thoroughly before jumping in. For example, a canine influenza vaccine is available, but the American Veterinary Medical Foundation advises it is not necessary for every dog.

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DON'T BE SHY ABOUT SAYING 'NO'

X-rays, ultrasounds, and the like can be extremely expensive, and your pet may not always need them. Some vets may recommend the most expensive course of action first, so always ask about alternative, less costly treatment options.

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REQUEST AN ITEMIZED BILL

Ask the vet for an itemized quote at every appointment and take a close look at the charges. Even if you can't dispute the bill this time, you'll have a better idea of services or fees that seem to be "extras" you can refuse next time.