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

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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, 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 is, 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 the 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.

More on Pet Care Costs

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