Comparison Shopping for Vets and Vet Prices Emergency Services, Second Opinions, and More

BY | January 03 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
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A trip to the vet sometimes costs a pretty penny. Emergency situations and chronic health concerns can rack up the bill quickly. Shopping around for a vet you trust whose prices you can handle is an investment for years to come.

Whether you’re seeking emergency care or a second opinion for your pet’s ailments, the wrong choices can be costly to your pet's health as well as your finances. This is why we’ve put together a quick guide to help compare veterinary care and vet prices.

1. Be Prepared for an Emergency

Determining whether or not a procedure is fairly priced during an emergency situation is difficult, which is why it’s best to be prepared.    

Set an emergency plan with your regular vet. Find out if they provide 24-hour service or are affiliated with an emergency care center. If not, see what centers they recommend.

Check out local emergency care centers. Stop by at least three emergency care centers to see what they offer.

  • Services: Care for traumatic injuries including fractures, bite wounds, burns, and lacerations. Care for life-threatening neurologic conditions, such as severe seizures.
  • Machines: From x-rays to ventilators. Inquire about prices for certain services and how you can pay; check, credit card, or cash, as well as if they accept any pet insurance you may have.

Ask questions during the emergency visit. You have every right to ask any and as many questions as you like. After all, it is your pet’s health that is at hand.

Inquire about the severity of the condition. If the condition is not severe, see if it would be possible to bring your pet back during regular hours for any additional related procedures, when fees are cheaper. Odds are the emergency vet’s original plan will have been to simply stabilize your pet and request you schedule procedures for later. Be sure to get a written diagnosis and cost estimate before you leave; this way you can use it to compare prices before the needed procedure.

Keep the emergency care number on hand. Jot down the phone number to the emergency care center you choose and place it under a magnet on your fridge or save it on your cellphone. When an emergency visit is needed be sure to ask a family member or friend to call the center so they are ready upon your arrival.

2. Make a Routine Care Plan

The best time to do comparison shopping for veterinary health care is between routine wellness visits. If you have a new pet, comparison shopping may be a little more work, since without having a health history, you won’t always know what to expect. Still, certain breeds are prone to certain health issues — check your breed’s probable needs and research the costs of those services. If you’ve had your pet for years, you already know what their health needs are and can better compare costs.

Check out, local vets. Stop by at least three vets to see what they offer and what their prices are, especially when it comes to physical exams, recommended once or twice a year, and teeth cleaning, recommended once a year. Keep in mind that vets often set their other fees as a percentage or multiple of the basic physical exam fee.

Ask about prescription medications. One of the biggest costs when visiting your vet can be the prescription medication you leave with. Instead of purchasing your pet’s medication in the office, ask for a quote along with a written script and compare it to costs via an online pharmacy.

Ask about insurance coverage. If you have a pet insurance plan, see which vets take it. And see exactly which services are covered, as well as what your copays would be.

3. Shop Around for Second Opinions

For some conditions, it’s quite beneficial — and cost-effective — to seek a second opinion.

Ask for a referral. If you feel the treatment that your vet is recommending is priced too high or is beyond what may be needed, you can ask if other cost-effective treatments are available. You can also ask your vet to refer you to another vet, who may be able to administer the treatment at a lower cost or who may suggest other treatment options more in line with what you feel is necessary.

Ask for a written diagnosis. Before you make a choice, get a written diagnosis and cost estimate of the treatment plan. This is what you’ll need to begin seeking a second opinion and comparison shop.

Ask about the treatment options. You can ask if other cost-effective treatments are available before making a choice. You can also ask what the immediate and long-term costs of each treatment are, the prognosis for recovery, and what post-treatment will include. Be sure to bring your vet’s responses when seeking a second opinion.

Ask for a copy of your pet’s health records. Depending on what state you live in, access to your pet’s health records may vary. In some instances, you may be able to request them yourself, or the new veterinarian can call and request the records from the former office on your behalf.

Be prepared to pay. Costs will range from regular office fees to diagnostic tests. There is a chance the vet you are seeking a second opinion from will administer the same tests, so you’ll have to pay again. 

As always, your pet’s health comes first. The extra effort it takes to shop around may cost you some personal time, but the savings could be, well, life-saving.

How to Find the Right Vet

Many of us feel as if our pets are members of our family, so we should keep that in mind when we find a vet. Whether you have a bunny, a dog, a cat, or a horse, pets are a big responsibility. Finding the right veterinarian is just as important for your pet as finding the right doctor is for your family.

About Vets

A veterinarian is actually a doctor. Veterinarians are required to complete almost the same amount of training and education that a human doctor must have. This means that your veterinarian is a professional. He or she should be knowledgeable and up-to-date in their chosen field, and most veterinarians are required to amass some form of continuing education credits. So, you have found a person in the phone book with the initials "DVM" following their name. How do you know that this veterinarian is the right choice for your family? A few simple questions will help you to establish a life-long relationship with your new veterinarian.

Choose a Vet Knowledgeable about Your Pet

First, narrow your list of prospective veterinarians by looking at each doctor's chosen specialty. If you have dogs or cats, a small animal practice is going to be the best choice for your individual needs. If your pet is an exotic animal, like a snake or a bird, there are specialized veterinarians to suit your needs, as well. Many veterinarians have become so specialized that they only treat one specific type of animal. These specialties include equine services, cat clinics, and large breed dog clinics, just to name a few. Many veterinary clinics have several doctors working together in one facility.

Ask around for Recommendations

Getting recommendations from your friends can really help you to choose the right vet. Since your friends are most likely familiar with your pets, they will be able to tell you if their vet is a good fit for you. Asking for references at local animal shelters or the county animal control office is another way to find a veterinarian. Most of these animal services have access to many veterinarians and will be able to share their insight as to which are the best. You might also visit several veterinary clinics to get a feel for each office. Is the office neat and tidy? Is the veterinarian personable? Does he or she take the time to listen to your concerns? Making sure that you are comfortable with the new clinic is a good way to ensure that your pet will be comfortable. 

Check out the Staff

Spend a bit of time with the veterinarian's office staff. A competent staff is a very important part of any veterinary practice. Make sure that the office has reasonable office hours. A veterinary practice with a single veterinarian on staff might have limited hours of operation so you may be referred to the emergency clinic when your veterinarian's office is closed. If this is the case, make sure that you also familiarize yourself with the emergency veterinarians in your area.

Ask questions while you visit with the staff and see how they respond to your queries. A good staff will be knowledgeable. Remember, the staff will probably spend the most time with your pet at routine visits. They handle taking your pet's vital signs and preparing the pet for the veterinary exam. Question the staff about their experience and their time spent with the veterinarian. A happy and steady staff is a sign of an excellent office. In addition, you can discuss your budget and financial needs with the staff. Many veterinarians are an associate of a practice or a hospital, which means they aren't in charge of handling payments. Talk to the staff members that are, and see if they have budget plans or can recommend a pet insurance policy if you're interested in one.

Finally: Make an Appointment! 

Once you think you might have found the right veterinarian for your pet, make an appointment. Communication is the key to a happy and lasting relationship with your new veterinarian. Remember to bring your pet's medical records with you to the appointment, or even fax, mail, or email them a few days ahead of time. This saves time when treating chronic illnesses and will give your vet a chance to get caught up with a complicated medical history. See if your appointment is kept on time, or if it is not, find out why. A chronically late veterinarian is a big disappointment, especially if you are on a tight schedule, but remember that the vet may face emergencies throughout the day. Do give him or her some leeway when it comes to promptness, and judge them on the quality of the time they spend with your pet. 

Use a vet finder to find the right veterinarian for your pet.
More on Pet Care Costs

Reasonable Pet Vaccinations Costs
Understanding the Lifetime Cost of a Cat
How Much Should Spay a Pet Cost?

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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