I’m getting a late start to my article writing this Saturday afternoon because we had an emergency come in after we closed. While some of us finished up the end of the day procedures, four staff members and I stayed and worked with the emergency patient for almost two hours after we closed. We worked quickly and efficiently and were able to help the patient, but I’m not sure the people were happy when they left. I think they might have spent more than they wanted. While I am quite sure that we were incredibly fair in the charges, I’m sure this happens more than anyone would like. Today I would like to explain some of the ways you can spend extra money at the vet. (I think Andy says “we can’t be doing that.”)

The first way and perhaps the best way to make things cost more is to wait. Today’s emergency was a 55 gram lizard that was pregnant. She had not been moving and was a dark color for four or five days. Seeing them on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday would have saved them $50. Because they didn’t call until 20 minutes before we closed and lived 45 minutes away, we added an additional $75 emergency fee. While that might seem steep, remember that 5 people stayed for two hours to go over husbandry, communicate, take radiographs, recommend treatments and revise treatments to fit within the owner’s constraints. While normally some of those people would have been doing other things while we were getting answers, remember we were already closed at the end of a long, COVID-hard week.

Normally we would have sent this family to the ER, but they are not really seeing lizards. The ER is probably the second best way to spend extra money with your vet. I usually volunteer at the ER one weekend shift a month. I do not do anything with the estimates and charges there, but I notice things cost more than I’m used to. Drugs cost more. Procedures cost more. Seems everything there costs more. And it should. It costs a lot more to get staff to work all night and weekends than during the day. The doctor that I relieved on a recent Sunday morning was totally wiped after an all-nighter of multiple surgeries. Honestly, you cannot pay me enough any more to be up all night and then try to work during the day.

Waiting almost always makes conditions worse. That spot on the back leg, we might clip it up and clean it with a wellness plan or annual for free. Wait until we have to do local anesthesia, drains and pain meds and it will cost more. A dog bite may be a clip and clean with topical treatment. Bite wound abscesses may require surgery and intensive care. A c-section within an hour of dystocia may not have to be hospitalized. Two days of labor (30 minutes is more normal) and the pet will be in bad shape that has to be stabilized before surgery can be done.

You need to know when it is an emergency and when it is not. It is amazing what can be done at the ER to help pets, but there are also limits. I know one patient that I saw with severe dental issues, I suggested several treatments, but none were in stock at the ER because long term dental issues are not really an emergency. If they did stock the medicine, half or more of the drugs would have gone out of date and therefore what they did sell would have to cost twice as much more.

Even weekend workups at your regular vet probably cost more. It may be a direct surcharge, but it may also be the staff that has put in a long hard week chooses to be extra special diligent about making sure all of your pet’s treatments make the final bill. I caught this happening and am more quick to reschedule workups to weekdays now. The yellow lab with a 8 month history of vomiting did not get a barium study (a six hour test) on this Saturday. We are open weekends are made for people who work all week and evenings, not for things to wait until it is the day before Sunday.

Another good way to spend more money is to vet hop. There are good reasons to change veterinarians if you are not being listened to or your animal is not being treated well. We gained a new (now happy) client after the dog had been treated elsewhere for three years. Only the vet hadn’t examined it in three years! (Evaluating the dog and changing the medicine and the dog is acting like a pup again!) But changing in the middle of a disease treatment is not ideal. The cat that is urinating outside of the litter box will start with a urinalysis here even if you had one last month. Older dog drinking too much, you will be repeating that blood work you paid for at the other vet. It is not at all that we just want to charge you. Most of us have our profiles set up to give us the answers we want. If your first vet didn’t include a potassium level (or whatever), I’m going to want new blood work. Likewise, we have a very good radiograph system (x-rays). I’ve seen what is missed and am no longer satisfied trying to read average or substandard radiographs and am going to insist on my own.

Vet hopping wastes money and time. It is enough of a problem that we do not see second opinion exotic exams. By the time that people notice there is something wrong, get them to the vet, try the treatment and seek a second opinion, so much precious time has been lost that their exotic pet’s chances are not good. Therefore, we immediately send them to a specialist. I honestly think that is then the best place for them. I am not a specialist. While I have had extra training in exotic medicine, I am still not a specialist. That means that if I recommend something that is different than your first vet, you are just confused. Therefore, if you didn’t get the answer you need, you need a specialist. And besides how do I word that the fracture that your vet said couldn’t be set, is actually a metabolic disease that was totally missed. A specialist is much better suited to that conversation. While dogs and cats are a little better at getting earlier intervention and we can often help there, exotics may not have enough reserves left for any treatment.

A great way to spend more than you could have is to not vaccinate your pet as your vet recommends. Over half of our cases of parvovirus have a history of an over the counter vaccine. Almost all of the rest will not have been vaccinated at all. Leptospirosis can cause a fatal kidney disease treated with three plus weeks of IV fluids and antibiotics and intensive care. Lyme disease can lead to years of NSAIDS. I am not saying every vaccine has to be done every year (we have not done annual vaccines for decades), but listen to why your vet thinks they are important.

Speaking of NSAIDS and chronic medications, it is best to get them filled at your veterinarian unless your veterinarian recommends otherwise. When you have a refill at your vet, they can keep track of your medications and your history. Most vets are not looking for a $600K mansion, but they do have to pay expenses and salaries. You might spend a little more on heartworm prevention, but then the exam fees and diagnostics don’t have to absorb as much of the veterinary hospital expenses. Either way the vet has the same bills to pay, so you might save a few dollars online, but you will pay more for something else.

Finally, don’t listen to your vet. Don’t get your dog fixed, but prepare to pay six times the spay cost for a c-section or a pyometria surgery. Read on the internet and decide to spay them later and then have to pay for mammary cancer surgery or chemotherapy. Don’t listen about puppy bad behavior not being cute and prepare to pay for a trainer. Don’t listen that early dental care prevents expensive dental care, heart and kidney disease and pain. Don’t listen to our information that grain free diets have been associated with cardiomyopathies and death, because to be honest, we make more on a cardiac workup than an entire month of the clinic’s food profit.

I don’t know how veterinary medicine attracts the folks that genuinely care about animals and people more than they often do themselves, but almost all vets just want to help you help your pet. Yes, we realize we have to be paid, but, I for one, truly appreciate that you trust me enough to let my help you and spend my life caring for your pets. Yes, quality vet care can add up, but there are ways to avoid extra costs. We’ll get through this. We’ll get through this together.