Wisconsin vet offers financial advice to pet owners

Whether it’s toys, food or veterinary care, pet owners are feeling the brunt of rising costs.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty, dog owners pay up to $400 for routine medical care and prevention, while cat owners pay around $300 per year.

In September, the pet food consumer price index rose nearly 14% from a year earlier. Still, retailers Petco and Chewy say pet owners are looking for premium food despite rising costs.

Dr. Julia Bates of Madison Mobile Veterinary Specialists recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” to offer money-saving tips for pet owners. She discussed what to know about vet visits, insurance, and preventative medicine.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Kate Archer Kent: How does a veterinary clinic determine and set pricing for services and procedures?

Dr Julia Bates: Much depends on what they have to pay their suppliers, where they get drugs, drugs and supplies. Many supplier costs have increased. They added fuel surcharges, so those costs went up dramatically. Salaries have increased, which is good. Paying for buildings – all of these things play a role and cost, it’s a nice uniform. Many clinics are supported by large corporations. They get better prices just like pharmacies get better prices on drugs. But many of these costs are fixed, which unfortunately you cannot circumvent.

KA: If a pet owner is having trouble paying for veterinary care or for an upcoming procedure, what would you recommend?

JB: Pet insurance is something to consider. The difficulty with pet insurance is that once you have a problem diagnosed, it’s too late. Pet insurance will not cover this. It is therefore better to think about it earlier. Another option would be to put money aside each month in a savings account to save that money for animal care.

KA: Do clinics usually give out their menu of prices for services like exams, vaccines, and blood tests if asked to do so?

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JB: If you call they will tell you what the costs are. But unlike a restaurant, it’s not posted on the door. The hardest part is knowing what you need. If it’s just vaccines, that’s easy, right? How much does a rabies vaccine cost? It’s $35 or more, you need a review, or $60 or whatever it costs. But if it’s something more advanced, or like some kind of surgery, it can be harder to predict unless it’s a routine thing like back-up sterilization.

KAK: You said that pet medications and prescriptions purchased at a veterinary clinic are generally more expensive. Why is that?

JB: It’s because of the big pharmacies. They can fetch much better prices simply because of their size and volume. But there are ways to combat this and also support your local vet. Many clinics have online pet pharmacies where the costs are similar to what you can get from other online pharmacies like Chewy.com or 1-800-PetMeds. What also goes into pricing in clinics is that the drugs have to stay on the shelf and therefore the drugs expire.

So all of those things, the cost of you buying plus having to put it on the shelves, and watch it, inventory it, and count it all – it all costs money and adds up. But I would recommend looking and asking if they have an online pharmacy and trying to support that.

KA: Why not postpone flea and tick medication for the winter months as a way to save money?

JB: When the ground is frozen, tick medication is less necessary. The tick season is getting longer and longer. Right now is peak tick season as the weather and climate are changing. We see more ticks in Wisconsin, which increases the risk of tick-borne diseases. Preventing them costs much less than treating them in some cases.

One of the diseases that we see a lot in Wisconsin is called leptospirosis. It’s a bacterium that’s everywhere. It is seen more in the fall and spring. It can be life threatening and it can be very expensive to treat while a $35 vaccine can help prevent it.

KA: The cost of keeping a dog can be very high for pet owners. Are there substitutes for taking your dog to daycare?

JB: Some people are really lucky and can take their dog to work or maybe come home for lunch. Saving money by coming home after lunch and not eating out and walking your dog, or maybe someone comes in and walks your dog all day, can also be cheaper .

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