Money Saving Tips From A Vet · The Wildest

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A Vet Explains How To Keep Your Pet’s Medical Bills Low This Winter

As a vet working in emergency practice, I often see cases where these bills could be reduced or avoided altogether

vet smiling at dog
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The nightmare of the poorly pet is one that plagues many an owner. Securing a vet appointment, separation from your pet during hospital stays, worrying about their well-being and finally, the crippling fear of the vet bill, especially whilst you’ve got all sorts of other expenses to worry about.

Sadly, pets do get sick, and when they do, all we want is for our mischievous and loveable furry friends to return to their roguish ways. In the UK, we are fortunate to be able to offer our pets an excellent level of veterinary care, but this can result in large, unexpected bills. As a vet working in emergency practice, I often see cases where these bills could be reduced or avoided altogether. 

Do all vets cost the same?

No! Shop around. Pricing structures vary across practices and you may find somewhere more cost effective. Be aware of who covers your practice’s out-of-hours, as this service is often via a different venue and company (which can mean much higher bills than you’re used to, on top of the extra you’ll pay for it being out-of-hours). You can actually register with multiple practices, although if you decide to do this, please inform each vet so they can request a copy of all relevant notes. Telemedicine is an emerging veterinary field, allowing you to gain remote veterinary advice at a lower cost. 

Can I save money on medications?

It is more expensive for veterinary practices to purchase and stock medications compared to online pharmacies. As a result, you can usually find better deals online. You will still need a consultation with your vet so they can prescribe the medication, but you can then request a written prescription from them and order the medication online for a small fee. It is essential that you choose a reputable pharmacy. Pharmacies registered with the Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme (AIRS) are compliant with UK regulations and sell authorised veterinary medicines, thanks to a scheme set up in 2012 in response to the public’s concerns about buying medications online. You can check if a pharmacy is registered by visiting the website. Only use pharmacies that request a prescription from your vet and expect them to ask for details of your pet, they require this information to prescribe safely.

When should I take my sick pet to the vet?

It is concerning to see your pet unwell, and a timely vet visit can prevent their condition from spiralling. If left untreated, secondary problems such as dehydration can arise, requiring hospitalisation, which is far more expensive than medicating at home. That said, rushing to see the vet for every retch or yelp will soon add up. Out-of-hours fees for veterinary care can be particularly costly. It can be helpful to avoid these time periods where possible and plan to get your pet to a vet during the next working day. Don’t be afraid to call for advice if you’re unsure though. The professionals at your local practice are trained to identify life-threatening conditions by their description and are best placed to advise whether your pet needs immediate care or can wait. In many cases, the receptionists can answer these queries but you can request to speak with a vet or nurse for advice. Below, I’ve laid out some common conditions and when they might need to be seen.

My pet is bleeding

Small, superficial cuts can be kept clean at home and will often heal without further treatment. If you can, carefully clip away the hair from around the wound and then clean the area twice daily with cooled, boiled water. Don’t apply any creams or ointments and don’t bandage unless you are trained to do so; bandages can create more problems than they solve if applied incorrectly. Large or deep wounds, wounds to the eye and wounds that are caused by dirty objects, including teeth or claws, should be seen within 24 hours as they may require stitching or antibiotics. If your pet is quiet or not eating for 24 hours after the injury, they should be seen. If a wound is bleeding heavily, apply firm pressure for at least five minutes. If the bleeding does not stop veterinary care must be sought immediately.

My pet has vomiting and diarrhoea

Vomiting and diarrhoea are very common symptoms and can be caused by many diseases, ranging from mild illnesses that will resolve without treatment, to life-threatening conditions that require rapid surgical intervention. Many pets can be managed at home with a bland diet offered little and often. Make sure your pet isn’t gorging on water as this will trigger vomiting. If your pet is quiet and reluctant to stand, has been sick several times within a few hours, has blood in their diarrhoea or vomit or has had symptoms for over 48 hours, you should consult your vet. Cats mask symptoms well and any anorexic, quiet cat should be seen within 24 hours. 

My pet is lame

Lameness can be quite marked at the time of injury but will often settle down quickly once the shock of the event has passed. If your pet refuses to bear weight a few hours after the incident or is still lame after 48 hours, then veterinary input should be sought. The same advice applies if they are lethargic, not eating, are yelping/yowling or panting heavily. You should always consult your vet immediately if your pet has been involved in major trauma, such as a road traffic accident, as internal injuries can be more serious than the obvious external ones.

How can I avoid my pet becoming unwell?

Keeping your pet up to date with vaccinations can help to prevent costly diseases. Vaccinations cost around £50 a year, whereas a puppy hospitalised with parvovirus infection will often generate a bill of at least £2,000. Whilst worming and flea treatments can be purchased from pet shops, they are often ineffective in the face of an infestation. Neutering at an appropriate time can reduce the chance of disease as your pet gets older, this is best discussed with your own vet as this is a very individual decision. 

Many presentations to the practice can be prevented, the most common being foreign body and toxic substance exposure. Avoid feeding bones to your pets as cooked bones can splinter and damage the intestine, whereas uncooked bones, swallowed in large chunks, can become lodged. Always pick toys for your pet that cannot be easily destroyed by your pet and supervise them when they have one. Cats are prone to swallowing string or thread, which can cause a life-threatening obstruction. Be aware of items that are toxic to your pet. Particularly commonly we see raisin or grape, chocolate, rat poison, anti-freeze, lilies, mushrooms, mouldy food, human medications and illicit drugs ingestion.

Is insurance worth it?  

Having pet insurance can be helpful when a large, unexpected bill comes your way. When deciding whether to purchase veterinary insurance ask yourself this question: could you quickly find multiple thousands of pounds if your pet became ill? Referral bills to see a specialist, for example in the event of a severe fracture, can exceed £6,000. Emergency bills also tend to be costly; something as innocuous as raisin ingestion can lead to a bill over £1,000, and treating a pet with an intestinal obstruction, caused by their favourite toy can cost around £4,000. Long-term medications, even when purchased online, can cost over £1,000.

Insurance policies range from £10 to several hundred pounds per month, so one serious vet visit could render the right policy worthwhile. Choosing the most appropriate policy is important. A lifetime policy is beneficial as you remain covered for a condition even after you have claimed once. Scrutinise how much is paid out per condition per year and choose a policy that offers the highest amount you can afford. Check what exclusions will be applied; particularly if your pet has been unwell before. Having your pet vet checked annually, vaccinated and maintained at a healthy weight are often prerequisites for insurance companies to pay out.

We can’t take away the pain and the worry that a sick pet brings, but armed with a bit of knowledge about exactly how your pet is poorly, you might just be able to limit the accompanying dent in your finances.

Dr Nina Blackmore, MRCVS, BVSc, PgCertSAECC

Nina Blackmore is a vet who, after leaving the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, took up two very different lives. For four long, chaotic days each fortnight she lives in a tiny house next to a small animal veterinary hospital in Boston, managing hospitalised patients and treating any emergency cases that turn up. As well as emergencies she also has a keen interest in pain management and acupuncture. The rest of her time is spent in a quirky bungalow in Rutland where she and her husband run a self sufficient small holding and a dog home boarding business. She spends her life surrounded by animals and has made it her life goal to help as many as possible. 

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