As I prepare to welcome a 9-week-old labradoodle named Benny into my home and become a first-time dog owner, I am well aware that my life is about to undergo some big changes. After a lifetime of being the king of my castle, I will be sharing my house, my affection, and a portion of my paycheck with him.

Now, I already know that every dollar I spend on Benny’s health and well-being will be returned tenfold by his companionship. But, like many pet owners, I am not independently wealthy, and I am interested in controlling veterinary costs so that my budget stretches further.

My recent Internet search turned up hundreds of articles discussing tips to save money on veterinary care. Unfortunately, many of the tips were borderline irresponsible because they promoted cost savings over high-quality veterinary care.

Because I work with the great people at the American Animal Hospital Association and have learned much about the highest standards of veterinary care, I decided to offer my own thoughts on how I plan to save money on veterinary care while still positioning Benny for a long and healthy life. 

Prevent pudgy pup syndrome with a proper diet
I cringe whenever I see an obese dog shuffling around because I am aware of the health problems that he has or likely will develop in the future. If Benny grows into one of these overweight dogs, he will be at much higher risk for wallet-draining issues, such as diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis. Since I don’t want a pudgy puppy, I plan on keeping Benny fit and trim through a healthy, veterinarian-recommended diet. And whenever Benny hits me with his puppy-dog eyes and asks for just one more treat, I will remind him that a good diet should keep him feeling spry for years to come.

Don’t skimp on the exercise
Getting Benny plenty of exercise goes hand in hand with optimizing his diet—they both work together to keep him at an ideal weight. I will engage him in daily exercise to ensure that he doesn’t become a canine couch potato, which will also reduce the chances of him getting restless and chewing on my furniture.

Delay decay in Benny’s teeth
Letting Benny’s teeth get caked with plaque and tartar can lead to costly dental procedures, as well as contribute to health problems such as heart failure and kidney disease. I will protect his dental health by brushing his teeth regularly and taking him to the veterinarian for regular dental examinations. With proper dental care, Benny will still enjoy chewing on his toys when he is a canine senior citizen. 

Protect my dog against parasites
Little does Benny know, there are swarms of microscopic organisms wanting to invade his body. Heartworms, ticks, fleas, and roundworms are just a few of these destructive creatures looking to hitch a ride with Benny. I will help him to avoid future infestations and infections by keeping current with his vaccinations and ensuring he never misses a dose of heartworm or flea and tick preventive. 

Take a closer look at pet insurance
If my dog ends up needing an expensive surgery or treatment for a serious illness, having a solid pet insurance plan could protect against going into debt or having to make an extremely difficult decision about his future. The decision to obtain pet insurance is different for every person, but I will certainly consider it as a potential way to help with future veterinary costs. 

Visit the veterinarian for regular health exams
If my dog develops a health issue, I want to know about it as early as possible, so I can explore treatment options and hopefully take care of the problem before it worsens (and costs more to treat). I plan on developing a trusting, long-term relationship with my new veterinarian and taking Benny in for regularly scheduled check-ups in order to stay informed about his health status. 

Ask about discounts at the veterinary hospital
Some animal hospitals have special offers, including discounts for bringing in multiple pets, discounts for senior citizens, and discounts for military members. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinary hospital if any available discounts apply to you.

Seth Davis is a first-time pet owner from Denver, Colo. He works for the American Animal Hospital Association and enjoys spending each day learning more about the ins and outs of veterinary medicine.

Comments (3) -

Johnnye Denman
Johnnye DenmanUnited States
3/28/2014 7:27:38 AM #

I agree with all you said except the pet insurance. I paid high pet insurance premiums for several years and discovered--when it was too late--that pet insurance has a very low ceiling on chronic illnesses (whether common or less common types), so it is essentially worthless unless your dog is injured (you'll notice that all their advertising features dogs that have been in accidents, NOT ill). This information was not included in the policy I received or even readily available on the website. Once they didn't pay anything on a claim (instead of the SMALL amount paid on the previous one), I phoned and a customer service rep helped me find the information which was essentially hidden without help. This was VPI, but I'd had another pet insurance when my dog was a puppy. My advice is to start a special savings account when your dog is a puppy and put all the money you would throw away on pet insurance premiums into that account.

Melodie Swan-Fisher
Melodie Swan-FisherUnited States
3/28/2014 11:17:46 AM #

Nice article, Seth. I will "second" everything you said. Having a dog, especially one large enough that it requires regular walks is insurance of exercise for you as well. I've had a succession of large dogs (a Golden Retriever, two German Shepherd Dogs and a Lab) for over 25 years. The conscientiousness I feel about getting my guys out is the catalyst for walking and hiking with them DAILY. I don't like the gym, but I know I'm doing my dogs and myself a lot of good by walking them at least 30 minutes a day.

Along with keeping your dog's weight down through proper diet and regular exercise, I SWEAR by teeth brushing. I'm on my fourth in a succession of dogs who've NEVER needed vet dental cleanings because I brush their teeth daily. Start them young (or when you first get your adult) and very gradually--with LOTS of patience and praise--and it becomes a positive time for you and your dog. Until my vet showed me years ago how to do it, I thought it was a riduculous expectation, but it's really simple. (Ask your vet.) My dogs live into their teens, and I'm sure daily teeth brushing is part of it. It's folded into their bedtime routine; they get a dental chew afterward and know it's time to settle into their beds for the night.

Thanks again for a great article.

Jennifer Skiba
Jennifer SkibaUnited States
3/30/2014 10:44:06 PM #

As a first time dog owner I recommend you do some additional research on heartworm, flea and tick prevention specific for COLORADO.  When looking at overall health of your animal pumping them full of medications that they don't need isn't the best option.  I would also recommend doing titer testing for vaccines after your puppy is a year old.  Many vaccines have lifelong immunity and again, no need to vaccinate if they are adequately covered.  Just my two cents.  I have a dog who doesn't enjoy full health due to over vaccinating as a puppy because I was a first time dog owner and just did what the vet told me to do without doing my own research.  Educate yourself and find a vet that you can to, not one who talks AT you.  Good Luck with your puppy.

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