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3 Ways To Avoid Expensive Vet Bills

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3 Ways To Avoid Expensive Vet Bills

Tips From A Holistic Vet To Keep Your Pet Healthy
Dr. Dennis Thomas
Dr. Dennis Thomas More by this author
Aug 15, 2016 at 03:30 PM

Despite the 35 years that I have been a practicing veterinarian, I have just recently been introduced to the term, “economic euthanasia.”  There have always been people who could not afford to pay for health care for their pet, of course. However, the number of people here in the United States that fall into this category have risen dramatically in recent years, we feel the need therefore, to conceptualize it and give it a name.

Economic euthanasia means that people are opting to have their pet euthanized because they cannot afford to have it treated.  Most of these pets do not have life-threatening diseases.  It becomes pretty obvious that when the overall economic situation is poor and the cost of veterinary care has risen dramatically, the outcome is not going to be pretty. 

I am reminded of a story that a client told me a while back.  She was spending time with her hospitalized cat at the veterinary hospital.  She sat by her cat’s hospital cage while the kitty was getting IV fluids for her ailing kidneys.  While she waited with her cat, she watched the going on in the treatment area of the veterinary hospital.  She couldn’t help hear the conversation that was happening between an older gentleman and the young, lady veterinarian. 

It seems that the older gentleman had brought his Labrador into the hospital because it was limping on one of its rear legs.  After a thorough examination and subsequent x-rays, the young veterinarian told the gentleman that his dog had a rupture anterior cruciate ligament that would have to be repaired surgically.  The veterinarian was overheard telling him that the surgery would cost about $3000 and that if he did not have the surgery done, the dog would suffer for the rest of its life.  

The older gentleman explained that he lived on a fixed income and could not afford the surgery and asked if there were other options.  My client said the last thing she saw was the staff loading the deceased dog into the car while the gentleman sobbed over his dog.

Now, assuming that I heard this story correctly, there are many things wrong with this situation, but I will focus primarily with the white elephant in the room; the rapidly increasing cost for veterinary care.  As a veterinarian in the “good old days” I was forced to use the only tool that I had to figure out a pet’s problem; my brain.  Sure, we had laboratory capabilities and x-rays but that was about it.  There was no ultrasound, MRIs, CT scans, laser surgery and so on.

New Technology = Rising Costs

1. Huge Advances In Treatment Options

When I first started practicing veterinary medicine, the gap between human care and veterinary care seemed very wide, however since then, the veterinary profession has done a great job in narrowing that gap.  There is very little that we can do for the human body that cant now be done for our pets as well.  We instill pacemakers in pet’s hearts, do kidney transplants and scan brains for tumors.  Not only can these sophisticated protocols be found at the state veterinary colleges, but now, most large cities have private veterinary specialists working at specialty practices in order to make it quick and convenient for caretaker’s to have them done easily.  That is, the ones who can afford it.

Dog wheelchairs have been around for almost 50 years, the modern day versions are extremely hi-tech but also costly.

2. Increased Use Of Diagnostic Testing And Specialist Referrals

Another factor is malpractice lawsuits.  Back in my day, we never heard of veterinarians being sued for malpractice.  Nowadays, it is not uncommon.  Veterinarians are paying higher prices for liability insurance and the profession has become acutely aware of the risks.  This has led to the veterinary schools teaching the veterinary students that each client they see is a potential for a liability lawsuit.  When a young veterinarian is concerned about making a mistake, he will do everything possible to make sure that he does not miss anything.  This usually means supporting his diagnosis with a barrage of ancillary testing and if he cannot make a definitive diagnosis or the case is complicated in any way, he will immediately send it off to the specialist to be taken care of. 

In a June, 2014 USA Today article dealing with economic euthanasia, it states that the cost of veterinary care is rising 10-12% per year.  With people struggling to pay their monthly bills, very few people can afford this type of additional expense.  Animal shelters are over-crowded with people turning over their pets because they can no longer afford their pet’s health care.  It doesn’t appear that there will likely be a change in this pattern. 

In my book, Whole-Pet Healing I delve into the heart-to-heart link we share with our cherished animal companions, and how we can influence their healing. Here is a general overview of how to start healing your pet yourself holistically.


1. An Ounce of Prevention

What can we do as pet caretakers to avoid the economic pain that comes with a sick pet?  The standard answer has been purchasing veterinary pet health insurance.  But, a 2011 Consumer Reports analysis reported that most pet health insurance is not worth the cost of the premiums.

To me, the answer is very simple; focus on prevention.  It is a lot less expensive to prevent illness than it is to pay for it once it happens.  In many other countries in the world, health care focuses on prevention and here in the U.S. there is a movement in human health care as well.  Insurance companies have admitted that it cost less to keep a person healthy than to pay the medical bills once he has become ill. 

It makes sense to start the shift towards prevention by looking at what are the biggest causes of illness.  If we can avoid these causes, we might be able to keep our pet healthy.  It is the opinion of most holistic veterinarians that the primary cause of poor health in our pets is feeding the wrong diet. Research has indicated that feeding heat-processed pet food is not healthy for our pets.  Imagine what your health would be like if all you ate was processed food.  The same holds true for our pets.  Heat-processed pet food has been linked to inflammatory cytokine production that is the precursor for most chronic diseases in the pet including:

  • allergies
  • arthritis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • heart disease
  • cancer

In order to prevent these problems, we need to be feeding a balanced diet using wholesome, non-processed food.

A Healthy Gut Means a Healthy Immune System

If we want to prevent illness, it is widely known that we must keep the immune system healthy.  Research has again demonstrated that the best way to do this is to keep the gut healthy.  As much as 85% of the immune function is directly linked to the health of the individual’s gut.  How then, does the gut get unhealthy for our pet?  It starts with improper diet.  Feeding heat-processed pet food contributes to gut inflammation often leading to leaky-gut syndrome and imbalanced immune system.  Recent reports in both human and veterinary medicine indicate that feeding poor diets has led to unhealthy gut problems for so long that people’s genetics are changing.  The defective genetics caused by poor diet is now being found in the offspring of these individuals.  

Children, puppies and kittens are being born with unhealthy guts due to the genetics alterations that were passed along from their parents.

Many veterinary nutritionists are now recommending that all pets be placed on digestive enzymes for gut support.  Some clients tell me that it is more expensive to feed a wholesome diet than feeding a heat-processed kibble to their pet.  My standard response is, “You can either pay for the healthy food or give your money to the veterinarian.”

2. Over-vaccinating

Another factor that affects the pet’s immune system is the immunization protocol.  Historically, puppies and kittens begin getting immunized at 6-8 weeks of age and are vaccinated every 3 weeks until they reach 15 or 16 weeks of age.  Then, they get boosters a year later and then started on a maintenance program.  Until recently, dogs and cats were given their core vaccinations (DHPP for dogs and FVRCP for cats) once a year.  Rabies vaccination is determined by the state law in which the pet lives.  Several years ago, the American Veterinary Medical Association and other national veterinary associations developed new guidelines for immunizations that called for core vaccines to be given at three year intervals.  Statistics suggest that around 41% of all veterinarians still give the core vaccines once a year.

Over-vaccinating has been linked to immune imbalance in the pet and illness.  This is referred to as vaccinosis.  In order to prevent against over-vaccinating your pet, I would recommend doing vaccination titers to determine if your pet is still protected against these viruses.  This is a simple laboratory test that will let the veterinarian know if the pet does need to be immunized.  Many people are finding that their pets are still protected years after they were vaccinated. 

3. Stress

Another factor that I think is overlooked when it comes to protecting our pet’s immune system is stress.  Research has proven that in humans, stress over long periods of time will hamper the immune system’s function.  The same goes for our pets.  Although stress might come from different sources, it is still a negative energy that influences their physical body.  

  • Pets that don’t get enough exercise
  • Too much time spent alone
  • Changes in the pet’s routines
  • Emotional stress in the surrounding environment. As your pet’s primary caretaker, your energy will affect your pet’s energy.  If stress is a factor in your life, it will be a factor in your pet’s life.

These are just a few of the ways that our pets get exposed to long-term stress.  

Committing to a pro-active perspective for your pet’s health by focusing on prevention is a lifestyle change that can not only extend your pet’s life expectancy and quality of life, but will also save you a lot of unnecessary veterinary bills down the road.

For more in-depth examination of holistic versus conventional pet health treatment please see my book, Whole-Pet Healing.




About Author
Dr. Dennis Thomas
Dr. Dennis Thomas has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. After two decades of practicing Western allopathic veterinary medicine, he learned Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Continue reading