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Budgeting for Pet Care

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Budgeting for Pet Care


We pamper them. We bring them wherever we go. We surprise them
with something new on special occasions. They even get holiday presents. They
are our pets!  (Taken from the American Pet Products Association website)

Yes, the trend is that pets are definitely members of our families.  So, just be thankful that your dog or cat doesn’t want a car to drive or a college diploma!  Such add-on expenses could be deal breakers for pet owners.  Nevertheless, it  can be expensive to keep a pet.

Everyday I counsel pet owners about the cost of veterinary care.  I give estimates, work with owners to create affordable treatment plans, and try to give the best veterinary care the family can afford.  I see families juggling to provide for pets, children, and spouses on their family income.  Families often tell me they didn’t know that pet ownership could be so costly.  Sometimes I witness senior citizens getting health care for their pets before they get health care for themselves.  That just breaks my heart!

So in this blog, let me speak to you as would one of my heroes, Suzie Orman.  I love listening to her straight forward, common sense approach to financial advising. How can your family budget for pet care?  Let me suggest a couple of options.

Option 1:  Consider purchasing a pet health insurance policy. 

Pet-health insurance is now available from a variety of insurance companies.  Pets adopted from shelters often come with a 30-day policy from 24 Pet Watch.  Home Again Microchips include coverage for emergency veterinary care should your pet become lost and injured.  Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is perhaps the oldest provider in the pet insurance industry.  There are other policies promoted by the ASPCA and the AKC (American Kennel Club).  Some employers even offer pet-health insurance as an employee benefit.

However, do your homework before purchasing a policy.  Read the fine print and be sure you understand whether there are any breed-related exclusions.  For example, you might buy a policy for your new Bulldog puppy only to find that the most common health problems of that breed (related to breathing difficulties) are not covered or that your policy doesn’t cover “wellness care” such as vaccines. It is also important to note that pet policies seldom pay the veterinarian up-front for expenses. So be ready to pay for the policy, pay for the vet care out-of-your pocket, and then apply for a reimbursement from the insurance company.  Also, it is probably in your budget’s best interest to purchase the policy when your pet is young and healthy.  If you wait until a problem develops, you might encounter more exclusions and higher premiums.

Option 2:  Open a Pet-Health Care Savings Account of your own.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates that American pet owners  will spend about $50 Billion dollars in 2011 on pet care.  That number flabbergasts me!  Most of the money ($30 Billion)  is spent on  retail pet food and pet supplies.  Only $14 Billion is spent on veterinary care.  The rest goes for grooming, boarding,  training, and purchasing of animals.  (Clink on the link to see a graphic.)   Spending on Pets

For the veterinary piece of the pie, pet owners report they spend $200 – $250 annually for each pet they keep.  And if their pet needs a surgical procedure (such as a dentistry, laceration repair, blood work etc.) they might spend another $400 to $450.  If you consider that very young ( less than a year) and very old (over 8 years) pets will need more veterinary care, then you might expect to spend the higher end ($600 to $700 annually) for younger and older pets, but only $200-$250 annually for middle-aged pets.  Let’s say your pet lives 13 years; that would amount to your needing $5000 to $6000 over the life expectancy of your pet for veterinary medical expenses.

So open a savings account and deposit your spare change each night.  Think you might be able to find a dollar or two everyday to put into that account?  If you did, you could save MORE than enough to provide excellent veterinary care for the life of your pet.  Giving up just one item from the vending machine at work each day would help you save enough.  It doesn’t sound so expensive when you think of it in those terms.

Option 3:  Limit Unnecessary Purchases

Review the pie graph in this blog one more time.  Most of the pet care dollars go toward RETAIL food and supplies.  Does your cat really need that $10 plastic mouse or would a plastic cap from an empty milk jug offer just as much entertainment?  Does your dog really need that $50 bag of organic salmon and potato diet the clerk recommends or would a premium brand (such as Science Diet, Eukanuba, Nutro, etc) fill his bowl just as well?   If you aren’t sure, ask your veterinarian for advice.  If you save some of your hard-earned dollars in the pet store, then you will have more dollars available to make sure your pet gets all its basic health care needs met.  Sadly, I have seen pet owners spend $200 or more on retail pet supplies for a new puppy, only to scrimp on not getting the puppy sterilized, filling a prescription for  flea and heartworm medication, or enrolling in puppy-training classes.  Scrimping on prevention is a bad trade-off.  The fancy collar and leash might look good today, but it won’t stop your pet from having an expensive health or behavior problem later.

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Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida   LIKE us on Facebook!