Financial Planning for Pet Care

By: Carol Hurst, LVT

Houston, TX

Published July 2014

Having a pet is one of life’s biggest pleasures. However, before adopting or purchasing a new pet, it is important to consider the financial and time commitments they will require. Below is a rough list of financial things to consider before purchasing or adopting a new pet.

Part I – The essentials

Essential items like bowls, carrier/crate/cage, collar/leash, bedding and toys can be priced at pet stores or your Texas veterinarian’s office. Before going out and buying food, give your veterinarian a call and ask what diet they’d recommend for the pet you’re adopting. We all know that diet and nutrition are key aspects to our pets’ health, so it is important to ask any questions you have about the integrity or ingredients of the diet or why a particular diet is recommended. Veterinarians and veterinary staff are your best source for all pet care questions. They are well-versed on pet nutrition specific to the breed and age of your pet. These questions offer a great opportunity to work together and develop a relationship with your veterinary team, which can be built upon for years to come.

While you are calling the veterinarian, you can also ask about bringing your new friend in to meet the veterinary team. You will need to be able to tell the veterinary staff how old the pet is and if it has already had any vaccines or parasite testing done. Then together you can plan future visits and costs and time associated with those visits. This will ensure that your new pet is off to a healthy start.

These initial visits to the veterinarian are an essential part of responsible pet ownership. Your veterinary caregivers will help you navigate the important first weeks and months of owning your new pet and establish a baseline for its health and well-being. If you adopt a pet that is not the traditional dog or cat, make sure you choose a veterinarian that has experience seeing these different kinds of species.

So you think you’ve got everything covered? You’ve got your new pet established and all is well. Not yet!

Part II – In it for the long-run

This is where a lot of owners are led astray. They have this wonderful new animal in their life, and they think they can just cruise through the rest of the pet’s life, taking things as they come. But there is still planning for the future to be done.

Some costs and financial planning that often don’t come to mind immediately when welcoming a new pet into your family include socialization and training classes, boarding or home pet care during traveling, additional financial costs associated with deposits for rental or vacation properties if a pet will be traveled with and increased deposits for apartments or house rentals, especially for large dogs or multiple animals.

While you are visiting with the veterinarian, it can be helpful to ask questions like the following:

  • How much does a typical annual visit cost?
  • How much does a year-long supply of heartworm/parasite prevention for my pet cost at their adult weight?
  • What is a price estimate for large bags of food that I feed my pet? (Note that large bags are often more economical than smaller bags.) At what age will they need to change food?
  • What is a price estimate for spay/neuter costs and costs for dental cleanings? (Note that adult dogs usually need a dental once per year or once every 18 months depending upon the breed and your level of care at home.)

It is the job of the veterinary professional to recommend the very best care. This is often why you might be presented with an financial estimate or a treatment plan that has a lot of individual pieces. Your veterinary team should be able to explain each individual line item as it pertains to your pet. These treatment plans and financial figures can look overwhelming. This is another important time to ask questions to make sure you understand what is being recommended. It is every veterinarian’s responsibility to make recommendations based on what they believe is medically necessary for the health and well-being of your pet. Therefore, it is critical to be able to have open and honest communication about what is realistic for your individual financial budget. If you are unable to afford all procedures that your veterinarian has recommended, ask for more information on the service in relation to the risk factors for your pet. Considering all of the information and the costs involved, it is then your decision on how to proceed, but an informed decision works best for everyone.

Part III – Being prepared

Now that you know approximately what your pet’s routine care will cost per year, you are ready to move on to the big “E”—“E” as in “emergency.” No one wants to think about something traumatic happening, much less the financial costs associated with major medical or surgical care. To avoid having to make financial decisions during a stressful and traumatic time, preparation is key. Here are some options to consider.

  1. Separate savings account: If you are able to set aside money into a savings account per month to help save up for an emergency, good for you! This is also a great method if you don’t have spectacular credit. With this method, you don’t have to worry about the interest rates of credit cards, the deductibles of insurance policies or the fine print of payment plans. Talk with your veterinary team to decide on a realistic amount that might be needed for emergency use. Make a financial plan/budget, and stick to it. This won’t work if you dip into it for that new pair of shoes, new game or trip to Vegas.
  2. Separate credit card: This is great for those who have a hard time saving money or don’t want to have separate savings for their pet. Credit cards come with a limit, so that means that you have a somewhat established amount. The downside is that interest rates apply if you end up having to pay it out over time. If you can’t devote yourself to monthly payments to pay it off (if the time comes), don’t get it. The point is to help you manage an emergency situation, not throw yourself into stress and uncontrollable debt if you have to use it.
  3. Care Credit: This is a credit card that works a little differently than the traditional one mentioned above. There are several different forms floating out there for other industries (think furniture purchases and engagement ring purchases with promotional terms). Care Credit is still a credit card. They have promotional monthly payment plans. Each place of business that accepts Care Credit selects their own plan, so one veterinary clinic might only accept the six-month plan and another might accept the six- or 18-month plan. Many veterinarians actually pay a percentage fee to Care Credit to allow their clients to use a no-interest plan on Care Credit. If you pay off the amount in the specified time period, there is no interest added. Sounds great, right? It is! As long as you pay it off in a timely manner. They don’t send you a bill breaking this down. You have to look at your total due and divide by how many months you have to pay it off on your own. This is still a credit card. It still is dictated by a limit and affects your personal credit.
  4. Pet insurance: This option has many benefits. There are many Texas pet owners who use it and like it. A lot of companies offer emergency-only options. Pet insurance does not work like human insurance. If there is an emergency, you will still need to come up with the money upfront to pay the veterinarian. A claim is filed, and  the insurance company will reimburse you for what they cover. Please read all of the fine print and verbally speak with someone regarding what they don’t cover and any restrictions. Have them walk you through a scenario so you can get an idea of what to expect. Ask your veterinarian if they recommend a specific company, or visit www.petinsurancereview.com for customer reviews of multiple pet insurance companies.

It is highly recommended that owners have some sort of plan in place for an emergency. Great animal owners run into emergencies too. They aren’t just for those that are irresponsible with their pet care. Cancer, for example, is a different type of pet emergency that no one can anticipate.

Only you can decide which of the above options is best for your situation, but the most important thing is simply to have a plan in place for an emergency or serious illness. Financial planning only works as far as you are willing to take it. Everyone is on a budget and being smart about your money will ensure that you are able to provide the level of care your pet deserves.

 

Carol Hurst, LVT, is a graduate of McLennan Community College who lives in Houston, Texas. She works at ABC Animal & Bird Clinic.