How to get good pet care without breaking the bank
They said, Let's have a pet. They vowed, We'll take care of it. You're not alone if you fell for it: During the pandemic, millions of American families acquired new pets.
We adore our pets, and we want them to have the greatest possible health care, just like any other family member. The nonprofit consumer group Washington Consumers' Checkbook has assessed regional veterinary clinics and hospitals to assist you locate a veterinarian who provides the care and treatment your pets need without busting your treat budget. Checkbook is giving Washington Post readers free access to its ratings of local veterinarians through March 5 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/vets.
Checkbook polled its members, Consumer Reports subscribers, and other randomly selected individuals about their recent experiences with veterinarian practices. The majority of the response was positive, although some practices scored poorly on a number of survey topics.
Although you can't analyze a veterinarian's technical skills and knowledge in all areas, you can evaluate many key components of effective medical treatment, just as you would when choosing a physician. To begin, assess the practice's customer service and determine whether it has a convenient location and convenient hours. Are you able to make a short appointment? Does the veterinarian pay attention to you and communicate effectively with you? Is it possible to spend enough time with you? Give you practical guidance on disease prevention, warning indications, and self-administered treatments? Do you appear to be knowledgeable and thorough?
It's also crucial to find out how a veterinarian handles emergency care outside of business hours. Most practices aren't open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some veterinarians provide emergency services and may meet clients at their offices when they call; others will send them to 24-hour hospitals in the area.
Excessive and unexpectedly high fees are the most prevalent complaints Checkbook receives from pet owners regarding their veterinarians. Many people claimed that veterinarians not only neglected to consider and discuss less expensive options, but also pushed expensive procedures that owners thought were unnecessary.
It's time to begin prepping Fluffy and Fido for life after the pandemic.
Checkbook's undercover buyers called practices and obtained costs for six different treatments to compare what vets charge. They ensured that each clinic provided pricing for the same set of services, such as fees for pre-surgical care, hospitalization, prescriptions, lab work, X-rays, and post-surgical checkups and care. Checkbook discovered significant price disparities between Washington-area practices. Spaying a 7-month-old, 25-pound dog cost $235 to $1,404, according to undercover shoppers. They were also given estimates for cleaning the teeth of a 7-year-old, 65-pound dog that ranged from $300 to $1,080.
Fortunately, Checkbook discovered that several of the lowest-cost practices received extremely positive feedback from their consumers. In short, selecting a low-cost veterinarian can save you a lot of money without sacrificing quality of treatment. Using a low-cost facility is one approach to keep veterinary costs under control. Getting excellent advice on prevention and pet-care practices — and adopting it — can also help you save money.
The American Animal Hospital Association awards accreditation to veterinary hospitals that meet specified criteria. This includes offering complete diagnostic, pharmacy, anesthetic, surgical, nursing, dental, and emergency service facilities, as well as preserving proper medical records. Checkbook reviewed 258 Washington-area practices, and 76 of them are AAHA-accredited. Surprisingly, AAHA accreditation appears to have little bearing on the quality of services provided. For example, AAHA-accredited clinics scored nearly the same as non-accredited practices on Checkbook's customer survey question "apparent competence/thoroughness."
Because veterinarian treatment can be costly, an increasing number of people are purchasing pet health insurance. However, Checkbook recently examined pet insurance coverage and discovered that, in most cases, even the best plans cost more in premiums than they paid out throughout the life of the pet.
Affordability is a major selling point for most insurance plans. They also appear to be affordable at first glance. Because most customers enroll when their pets are young and the monthly premiums are modest, this is the case.
However, Checkbook discovered that most insurers fail to reveal that, starting around the age of 4 or 5, premiums generally begin to rise dramatically - for no other reason than the pets' age. Premiums for many plans eventually become prohibitive. (Some charge between $1,500 and $4,000 per year for senior animals.)
Checkbook concluded that pet insurance is a bad deal for most households due to the high cost of premiums, co-pays, lack of coverage for many types of care, exclusions for previous conditions, and other factors that limit benefits.
If you still want to purchase pet insurance, do so with caution. Find out how your pet's premiums will rise as he or she gets older. Using the insurer's online quote engine, you can generally figure this out. Get a monthly premium quote for your pet based on his or her present age, then get quotes for the following 10 or 12 years. To estimate how much insurance will cost over that period, multiply each age's monthly payment by 12 and add together all the resulting annual premiums.
Also, make sure you know what's not included. Preexisting conditions are not covered by any pet insurance policy, and several conditions that are covered may be considered preexisting if they emerge within a year of enrolling. Even if your pet is sick or injured, many insurance plans do not cover the diagnostic exam, even if the treatment is. In many cases, follow-up exams for the covered ailment are also not covered. Those $50 to $100 exam fees build up to a deductible that isn't disclosed.
Avoid claim denial due to a prior ailment by insuring your pet while it's a puppy or kitten, before it has a chance to develop one (though keep in mind the caveats noted earlier). When your pet is 6 to 8 weeks old, you can usually enroll them.
Add-ons for wellness, preventive, and elective treatment are unnecessary. Checkbook discovered that these options are rarely worthwhile. Consider accident-only policies, which cover injuries but not illnesses and can be significantly less expensive, to reduce out-of-pocket payments for coverage.
Premiums must be paid on a monthly basis, however deductibles and co-pays may or may not be required, depending on your pet's health. It can make sense to reduce your premium costs by raising your deductible, lowering the percentage you're reimbursed, and opting for a $5,000 or $10,000 yearly cap rather than an unlimited one.