The Rising Cost Of Caring For Pets

Dr. Ian Kupkee, the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic, shares the challenges people are facing by the rising cost of caring for pets

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It’s no secret that the cost of just about everything has gone up - unfortunately, this includes the cost of veterinary care for your pet. Whether it’s food, vaccines, surgical supplies, lab fees, anesthesia, or dental cleanings, the minimum basic costs of everything your veterinarian needs to care for your pet have increased. And all of those aforementioned supplies require pricey gasoline to get to our doors.

To make matters worse, the veterinary field is facing a critical shortage of veterinarians, and an even more dire shortage of support staff.  Prior to the onset of the Covid pandemic, the profession was characterized by an aging workforce, and hospitals often struggled to fill positions. The fourfold spike in demand for our services that came as a result of stay-at-home orders, coupled with the health risks of working with the general public during a pandemic, forced many veterinarians into retirement. Younger workers were forced to stay home with their children while schools were closed, and to this day, many still struggle to find reliable childcare. The burnout and mental health issues that have always plagued our profession were exacerbated by the pandemic, leading many good people to leave the field in an act of self-survival. As a result, veterinary hospitals are paying historically high wages in order to attract and retain talent. Add in South Florida’s skyrocketing  commercial  rent prices, and it all equals rising costs for pet hospitals, and ultimately, for pet parents. Thankfully, there are ways to manage costs without compromising the well-being of our furry family members.

Pet Wellness Plans

Many veterinary facilities offer pet wellness plans. Generally speaking, wellness plans cover costs associated with routine veterinary care. While the nature of such care often allows pet parents to plan ahead and budget accordingly, a wellness plan allows yearly costs to be spread out over the course of a year by paying a modest fee for preventative care every month. Services included in wellness plans generally include checkups, vaccinations, bloodwork and parasite screenings. Plans can be usually be tailored to fit your pet’s needs by adding spay/neuter procedures, dental cleanings or diagnostic panels appropriate for senior pets.

As the basic standard of care now includes annual dental cleaning with X-rays, be sure to choose a wellness plan that includes these services for your pet. Since many of the conditions that shorten our pets’ lives can be traced back to dental disease (think kidney failure, liver disease and congestive heart failure), staying on  top of dental health care is critical in stopping chronic illness in its tracks. It’s also important to pick a plan that includes unlimited veterinary exams. When exams are pre-paid, pet parents are more likely to seek out help for their pets at the first sign of trouble - before problems become more complicated, and consequently, more expensive to treat.

Pet Health Insurance

Unlike wellness plans, pet health insurance covers costs associated with injuries, illness, and any other misadventure that leads to unexpected trips to the vet. Pet insurance is a godsend for pets suffering from chronic health condtions, or who are diagnosed with a serious illness. Cancer treatments for pets, whilst very effective, can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. Orthopedic surgery, complex dental procedures, advanced diagnostics, and trips to the emergency clinic can quickly place pet parents in dire financial straits. While pet health insurance does not usually cover wellness without a separate rider, these products are designed as a buffer against catastrophic financial loss. As a dachshund dad, I am well aware of the risks of back problems for this particular breed. Surgery to correct sudden onset paralysis can cost well over $10K and is outside the expertise of a general practitioner like myself. For this reason, I insure my dogs. Our little Grendel had a Trupanion Pet Insurance Policy for most of her life. We bought a similar policy for Zohan when he was eight weeks old. While Grendel never needed the dreaded dachshund back surgery, she had her fair share of health problems. Trupanion paid over $38K in claims throughout her life. Claims for Zohan recently surpassed $25K - and so far, he too has managed to avoid back problems.

As prices for everything continue to rise, and  economic forecasts grow more uncertain, pet insurance can serve as a powerful tool to protect both the financial health of our households and the physical health of our pets.

Preventative Care

It’s a tired old cliche that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure. Yet like many cliches, this one too endures because it rings so true. Staying up to date with recommended vaccinations protects your pet against diseases that can cost thousands of dollars to treat - often with uncertain results. Routinely administering heartworm, flea, tick and intestinal parasite prevention costs a fraction of the price of treating the diseases they cause. Regular bloodwork can catch hidden signs of disease before pets develop clinical signs. In these earlier stages, chronic disease can be reversed, or at least managed more easily. This costs far less down the road, than when the conditions are first discovered. Annual dental cleanings with x-rays can prevent the need for advanced - and expensive - dental surgeries down the road. And while preventative care comes with its own price tag, a wellness plan will help even out costs throughout the year as opposed to dealing with one or two large bills at a time.

It is becoming more and more common for pet parents to invest in both wellness plans to cover routine and preventative care, and insurance to cover accidents, illnesses and emergencies. While this may seem excessive at first glance, we are constantly reminded that we are living in unprecedented times. As long as inflation continues to wreak havoc on our global economy and household incomes alike, the importance of planning and prevention cannot be overstated. Protecting our pets from the rising costs of caring for them can bring some of the peace of mind we need at a time when we need it the most.

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.

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