Surefire Tips for Keeping Pet Medical Costs Low

Awhile back, we took my Rhodesian Ridgeback, to the veterinarian for what I call a pet “lube, oil and filter.” To put it another way, we had Major placed under a general anesthetic so the vet could clean his teeth and work on repairing a couple of malfunctioning anal glands. I know.

Then, adding insult to injury, Major got neutered too.

Poor pup.

Of course, when my faithful pooch finally awoke in the recovery room, I blamed it all on the Honeybee. Heh.

Ironically, when I got the final vet bill, I felt like it was me who had been given the full lube, oil and filter treatment; the cost of the medication and services came to $653.


Yes, Major’s breath is once again fresh and clean and he’s also stopped licking unmentionable places. Still, even though Major is the best dog ever … $653 is a lot of money!

I shouldn’t really be so amazed; $13 billion was spent on vet care in 2010 alone.

In case you’re wondering, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association notes that vet fees for dogs and cats are essentially the same. According to their most-recent survey, dog owners spent on average $248 annually on routine vet visits, as opposed to only $219 for cat owners. Surgical procedures, however, cost slightly less for dogs — $407 versus $425 for cats.

Whether you own a dog or a cat, here are a few tips to help you keep the cost of their medical services manageable:

Spay or neuter your pet. Pet experts say that “fixing” your pet helps prevent breast, uterine and testicular cancer and the corresponding future vet bills that would come with it.

Maintain good dental hygiene. Major’s breeder recommended regular vet dental cleanings every four years. That’s because, like humans, teeth full of tartar can lead to gum disease, which, believe it or not, can adversely affect your pet’s health in other ways. My vet normally charges a little over $150 as a stand-alone procedure, before discounts. To me, the price was well worth it; immediately after the procedure, Major’s breath was odor-free and his teeth were sparkling white.

Take advantage of vet specials. Yep. Veterinarians run specials. Our vet was giving a 25-percent discount to anybody who booked a dental cleaning during the month of February. Many vet hospitals also offer package deals for very young and very old animals.

Pamper those paws! It’s no secret that dogs and cats like to lick their paws. Experts recommend washing your pet’s paws after walks to prevent ingestion of potential carcinogens that they might pick up.

Shop around. Believe it or not, my experience has found that vet charges for identical services can vary by as much as 300 percent.

Give your pets plenty of exercise. Like us humans, pets that get regular exercise are naturally leaner, which helps them avoid orthopedic problems and other obesity-related disorders.

Control food intake. Pets that are allowed to graze all day long are fatter, on average, than pets that aren’t. So don’t leave their food out all day long.

Use low-cost clinics. You can save money by spaying, neutering, and vaccinating your pets at veterinary schools.

Use the Internet. You can also save money by ordering medications online rather than buying them at a veterinarian office. There are many low-cost sites including and 1-800-PetMeds.

Take advantage of free samples. It never hurts to ask your vet if she has any free samples of prescribed medicines.

Ask about alternatives. If your veterinarian suggests an expensive treatment, don’t be afraid to ask about less-costly methods that could also be effective.

By the way, unless you want to insure against catastrophic conditions that would require expensive care, pet insurance is not a financially sound option. In fact, Consumer Reports recommends that because of substantial deductibles and exclusions in pet policies, pet owners might be better off putting what they pay in monthly premiums into a savings account.

And why not? By simply following these tips you’ll not only keep your pet healthier longer, you’ll also minimize their annual vet costs too.

(This is an updated version of an article originally posted on March 12, 2009)

Photo Credit: thegoinggreenboutique


  1. 1

    Stacy K says

    Re: Pet insurance
    For our lab/mix Goldie, we have pet insurance through Trupanion, that costs us around $30 per month, but they have the option to pay up to a $1000 deductible which would make the payments lower. We have been pretty pleased with it so far and I think insurance is a good idea to look into..

  2. 2



    If the insurance buys you peace of mind, then who I am to argue? :-)

    For me, I wouldn’t do it at $30 per month. Over a 12-year period, that’s $4320 I would need to spend at the vet just to break even. That’s at least seven lube, oil, filters for Major during his lifetime.

    (Easy, Major, I’m just talking out loud…) 😉


    • 3

      Sarah says

      Just needed to reply… I do have pet insurance (and thank God I do!). My 3 year old dog has already undergone 2 surgeries, one on his wrist to fuse the bones after tearing the tendons and the second emergency one to correct a twisted stomach. Yes I had to pay my deductibles for both surgeries and not everything was covered… but insurance has covered over $10000! Even if I saved $50 per month, there’s no way I would have saved enough in his lifetime. And the peace of mind to just say “do what ever it takes” in an emergency is amazing. Pet insurance is the same as house insurance, you don’t invest thinking its a waste of money. You do it on the off chance something happens and you need it.

  3. 5


    Wow, vet discounts! I never heard of that, & will definitely look into it!

    I would also add that feeding your pet a more expensive premium food will repay itself in a healthier pet in the long run. Pets who eat high-quality food with no fillers, by-products, additives, or undesirable ingredients (i.e. corn or wheat for cats) will have much less disease as they get older!

    • 6


      I heard of vet discounts only shortly before we took Major in for his lube, oil, filter procedure. It never hurts to ask! Thanks for tips on the pet food – it makes a lot of sense.

    • 7

      BruceW says

      I would like to see any study that supports your recommendation for “high quality food”. I agree that carbs for cats is not recommended, but dogs are omnivores, and need these so called “fillers”. In fact, a dog can be fed a vegetarian diet only, and be perfectly healthy. The most important thing is to feed pets the right amount of food to prevent obesity.

  4. 9

    Penny Wise says

    Just came across this blog – Love It!

    One way I’ve found to lower pet costs is to buy discounted gift cards to Petsmart or Petco. There are a number of sites that buy and sell gift cards, and cards for these stores are usually readily available, at about 8% off.

      • 11

        pinkdragon says

        petsmart has medical services. our beagle has severe food allergies, and we go to their vet services. we pay about 35 per month for unlimited free vet visits, we have our shots taken care of, and teeth cleaning. its call banfield. we found out about it when our dog had a hematoma on his ear the discount on the surgery was worth it though, it wound up being about 700 dollars. its worth it for us because we have to go to the vet quite frequently due to his allergies and special food

  5. 12

    Againstthegrain says

    Our older cat was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure at age 9 (but was semi-sickly and increasingly obese after age 5 when he nearly died from something toxic that really messed with his liver function). I had tried every type of commercial weight control kibble at every price point (including grain-free), but our cat became more obese; more arthritic, sickly, and ungroomed; was increasingly cranky; and constantly whining for more food. But now I think the commercial kibble itself was literally killing him, as kibble fed cats are chronically dehydrated, even if they drink water. That cats that preceded the domestic felines evolved in dry regions – their natural diets are small animal prey – which is moist. They do not naturally get much of their water needs from drinking. A cat which drinks a lot of water is a dehydrated cat and prone to kidney disease.

    We shaved our vet costs to practically nothing for our two cats (one older, one younger adult cat) by ditching commercial cat foods (kibble and canned) and feeding them a homemade “reverse engineered mouse” raw food with ordinary ingredients purchased right along with the family groceries. The heavy duty Tasin meat grinder that can grind up chicken bones with ease did cost $185 online but paid for itself in less than a year, compared to the three+ cans a day of premium grain-free I had been feeding them after I realized kibble was literally killing the older cat.

    A batch of the homemade raw food takes about an hour from start to finish (including cleanup) now that it has become routine (initially a batch took about 2 hours until I streamlined and memorized the procedure). A batch lasts 1-2 weeks (depending on number, size, & age of cats being fed). The raw food is stored in durable screw top storage jars (Ziploc brand or similar generic work well) that hold about two days’ worth of food. I also supply a neighbor with food for her multiple cat household, which just about covers the cost of ingredients to feed my cat. Ingredients include whole chicken legs (or a cut up whole chicken) including the bones & joints, fresh chicken liver, chicken hearts (or taurine capsules), fresh egg yolks, salmon oil capsules, B-complex capsules, Vit E, & a few other supplements.

    Both of our cats adapted easily to the raw food, but some long-time kibble-addicts may need a slower transition with a lot of creative encouragement. Still, even a partial species appropriate raw diet is healthier for cats (& dogs) than a 100% diet of industrial food waste processed into dehydrated meat-flavored cereal fortified/enriched with synthetic vitamins, which describes nearly all the commercial and Rx cat foods.

    FYI, our vet, who is also a friend and neighbor, was not supportive of the raw food diet, as she felt it was not possible to “balance” the specific needs of a feline. I did my research and found a recipe template that has been lab analyzed by another user and found to be very near the nutrition and moisture content of small rodents, such as mice – which are the natural prey of the domesticated cat, after all. She also was worried that our family might contract a food-borne illness if our cat ate a raw food diet based on ground up chicken (she wasn’t worried about the cat becoming sick because cats, like all obligate carnivores, have short highly acidic GI tracts that do not allow “pathogens” to proliferate. But with some common sense making & storing the food, feeding and handling the cats, and everyday hygiene, that has never happened.

    At age 12 our older cat did eventually decline & we had him put to sleep, but he lived a much longer and healthier life than predicted after the CRF diagnosis – and without any of the usual costly and time-consuming vet treatments for CRF. Additionally, during the China-melamine pet food scandal, I had no worries, because I knew there was no melamine in our cats’ food. That kind of peace-of-mind is priceless.

    For anyone interested in good “beginner” information about raw feed for cats, check out these links (remove spaces and sub . for dot) –
    www dot catnutrition dot org
    www dot catinfo dot org
    feline-nutrition dot org

    There are also “whole prey” variations of a raw diet for cats, but older adult cats may not adapt as well as older kittens and young adult cats. My adult cats didn’t make that full transition (though they finally did figure out they could eat the mice they caught outside). So we stuck with the ground & cut up raw diet, but I’d definitely try to use the whole prey version if we ever adopt a kitten or younger adult cat.

    When I can’t make the raw food myself (like when I was in a sling with a broken collarbone), I purchase frozen raw Rad Cat food at a locally owned/independent pet nutrition store (big box pet supply center generally don’t sell this type of food) because Rad Cat is very similar to the recipe I make. It’s quite expensive compared to the homemade food, though, but I still consider it money well-spent because I know it’s a healthful food for cats that will prevent future expenses from vet visits.

    • 13

      Len Penzo says

      Great tips. Thank you for sharing them!It certainly takes lot of dedication to research and formulate a healthier pet food. You seem to have it down to a real science now.

      Did your vet change her mind after she saw your results?

  6. 14

    Spedie says

    My two cats hunt down a lot of their prey themselves, mostly mice and other rodents, and an occasional full grown rabbit. They are normal weight and have never been chunky. One is 11 years old and the other is 7 years old – sometimes they hunt together. They have no health problems and their breath is not that bad. I would classify them as extremely healthy. I let them be normal cats, the way god made ’em. They have commercial cat food but don’t eat much of it. They get their shots and visits to the vet and of course, are spayed.

  7. 16


    Of course the best way to save is to not have pets but for many that is not an option. We try to have a pet fund for issues like this and hope it has enough to cover procedures. If not it comes out of fun money.

  8. 17

    CandiO says

    Like the above poster, we raw feed our dogs. Out vet is not exactly against it, he tolerates it. His real concern is for households with kids as the poop from raw fed dogs can have quite a collection of pathogens. Since we are a DINK couple it’s not an issue and the vet is good with it. Our older dog is MUCH happier on a raw fed diet as his skin allergies are virtually gone with raw and the allergies are virtually uncontrollable on any type of kibble (even the uber expensive crud).

    • 18

      Len Penzo says

      My dog would love it if we raw fed him. Well, check that … he would love it if we only fed him table scraps. Is that the same thing?

  9. 20


    We have two older cats who are both on special meds and a special diet. Between their exams and shots, they easily take $250 per year EACH. Food and meds is probably another $600 per year EACH. Not to mention we board them to the tune of $25 per night (combined) for at least a couple of weeks per year, so all told, our vet makes out pretty good. And all those prices are me shopping the meds and foods around!

  10. 21

    debbie z says

    I want to mention that you can cut down on vet expenses by making sure your pets get enough exercise (my cats LOVE the Da Bird so much it has to be carefully locked away to prevent them destoying it) and have flea control taken care of. I use Frontline and I make sure that they romp and play at least 20 minutes every other day or until they start to pant a bit. This exercise also seems to reduce destructive behavior.

    I have found that you get more cooperation about applying the back of the neck flea control drops if you warm them up to at least your body temperature (tuck them into your clothes while you play with your pets) before applying them. Makes sense to me – I know I hate cold anything dripping onto the back of my neck and no surprize the cats feel the same way about it

  11. 22

    DAN says



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