Ask For Local Anesthetic (chs. 16-21)

Local AnestheticIn some cases you can save a lot of money by having surgery performed under a local anesthetic. Some lumps can be removed with a local. Also, skin biopsies can usually be done with a local.A local anesthetic is a lot less expensive than a general anesthetic. Also, your animal does not need to have his or her blood pressure, heart rate and temperature monitored if a local anesthetic is used. Additionally, we can usually forego the preanesthetic bloodwork as well.

However, if your vet feels that a local is not safe, then he or she is probably right. Some lumps need a large incision in order to be removed. Or, the lump may be in an area where the vet is not comfortable incising with a local such as near the jugular vein.

However, itʼs worth a try to ask if it can be done! In some cases what I will do is give the dog some sedation and then administer the local anesthetic. If the dog is not co-operating or if I feel that I will not do a good enough job with a local then we can always administer a full general anesthetic after that.

Ask For a Multi-Pet Discount

Some vet practices have a standard multi-pet discount if you bring three or more animals in for vaccines. However, sometimes you need to ask in order to get this discount.

Additionally, if you have several animals that need spaying/neutering or dentistry you can ask your vet if they would give you a discount if these are done all on the same day.

Ear Infections

My best advice for saving money on treating an ear infection is to spend money! This is an area where you donʼt want to skimp and try home remedies.

I commonly will see animals with chronic ear infections. In many cases these animals have chronic infections because they were not treated sufficiently the first time the infection appeared.

When I have an animal with an ear infection I will usually do a test called a cytology which will tell me whether the infection is due to yeast, bacteria or a combination of the two. This test costs around $25-$30 to do. If I see that there are an extraordinarily large number of bacteria or strange looking bacteria I will send a sample to the lab for a culture. This test costs around $60 to do.

I know it sounds like a lot of money, but here is a scenario that can happen when we cut corners:

  • A dog comes in with an ear infection. The owner says, “I know it is yeast because it smells like yeast. I donʼt need to do the tests because the medication you gave me last time worked just fine.”
  • We dispense a medication that does a great job on yeast but isnʼt quite as good for bacteria.
  • After a few days of treatment the ear infection clears up.
  • However, what we didnʼt know is that there was a good amount of bacteria as well as yeast in the ears. The medication appeared to clear up the infection but in reality a small amount of bacteria remained. These bacteria were the ones that withstood treatment with medication so they are the strongest bacteria. These bacteria slowly start to regain their numbers over the next few months.
  • A few months later the dog has an ear infection again. Once again, the owner refuses all tests and gets the same medication that worked last time.
  • The same cycle happens a few times over the year. The owner is frustrated that the vet canʼt fix the problem. So, the vet talks to the owner about the possibility of allergies and perhaps a thyroid problem and some expensive tests are run which turn out to be normal.

For this dog, if we had done a cytology and culture when the infection first started we would have known exactly what medicine would work best and this dog would potentially not ever have another ear infection.

It is also important to spend the money on a recheck exam when the medicines are completed. Your vet will do another cytology or culture to make sure the infection is totally cleared up. Often repeat ear infections are a result of us not treating for long enough.

You can also talk to your vet about ear cleansers. Often if a dog is prone to ear infections we can avoid getting ear infections by cleaning the ears with a cleanser once a week and especially after swimming or bathing.

If your dog is having repeated ear infections it is worthwhile to ask your vet if allergies are a possible underlying cause.

Pet Insurance

There are a great number of pet insurance companies to choose from. In my experience, most pet insurance plans are worth it. In the last few months I have had two cases where a pet was diagnosed with a serious illness requiring expensive lifelong therapy and their owners had recently cancelled their pet insurance. How unfortunate!

Choosing a pet insurance company can be difficult.

Here are a few tips that I can recommend:

  • Ask your vet which companies they have dealt with and which company they feel is best.
  • Read some of the reviews on
  • Call the companies that you are considering and ask the representative the following questions:
    1. does my breed of animal have any exclusions with your plan?
    2. will my premiums go up as my pet ages?
    3. do you offer lower monthly payments if I accept a higher deductible?
    4. what kind of things am I NOT covered for?
  • Take that list of things that are not covered and ask your vet about how likely your dog is to develop one of these problems.

I donʼt recommend pet insurance plans that include wellness coverage such as vaccines and dental care. These plans usually end up costing far more than you get from them.

Be judicious about reading reviews online. Many websites that are set up to review pet insurance are run by pet insurance company “affiliates”. As these affiliates will make money by referring you to a particular company the review of that company will often be quite biased!

Another thing to consider doing is to set up a bank account to help you cover pet-related expenses and then put $50 (or more) from each paycheck into this account. However, I have mentioned this to thousands of clients in my career and have only seen one or two who have had the discipline to keep up with this.

We will talk later on about a company called Pet Assure which is an interesting alternative to pet insurance.

Avoid Pet-store Imitation Products

There are very few cases where a product that is sold in the pet store is better than a prescription product that your vet recommends.

The biggest example of this is flea prevention and treatment. In my office a package of Advantage for a large dog costs around $75 for 6 months of flea treatment. The pet store sells a product that looks the same for less than 25% of this price. However, this product is nowhere near the same as Advantage.

Over the counter flea products are becoming less and less effective against fleas. They may kill 70-80% of the fleas on your animal. Additionally they can be toxic to some animals. For some of these products, if you treat your dog with the product and then your cat rubs against the dog it can actually cause a life threatening toxicity! I have treated a number of poor seizuring cats who became very ill after contact with a toxic pet store flea product. It is worth it to spend the money on a vet recommended product.

Another class of products that are sold at the pet store are arthritis medications. Why is it that a pet store can sell glucosamine at a fraction of the price of what your vet wants to charge? The reason for this is that no one regulates how much glucosamine is actually in the tablets at the pet store. A study was done to determine how much glucosamine was in some of the “cheaper” brands available and some of them that were supposed to have 500mg per capsule had less than 100mg!!!

I have seen many clients waste money on ear mite remedies. Often these medications are difficult to administer and they donʼt always work. Many times when an animal is suspected to have ear mites they actually have an infection. It is worth the money to have your vet treat any sort of ear problem.

In general, stay away from the “medicine” section of the pet store. While you may save some money, most of these products are just not good.

Understanding Your Estimate For Surgery

If your pet is undergoing surgery it can often be confusing to understand the estimate that you are given.

When your vet or technician is reviewing the estimate, ask if absolutely everything on the estimate is necessary. Ask if there is anything that could be reduced in order to help you be able to better afford the surgery.

In my practice I like to have every animal that is under anesthetic on intravenous fluids, blood pressure monitoring, and heart monitoring. This is always the best medicine. However, if a client is really trying to budget I can sometimes consider just doing the IV fluids and blood pressure and avoiding the heart monitor. I would only do this if it is a healthy and young animal.

Similarly, I may be comfortable with performing a short surgery such as a cat neuter without giving IV fluids. It will still be on the estimate because it is the best care to give IV fluids… but if financial times are tight it is something we may be able to do without.

Ask your vet how much bloodwork is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, if an animal has had a blood profile recently, it may not be necessary to repeat bloodwork. In a young animal, the chances of having a problem detected on bloodwork are small. So, even though it is best to always do bloodwork before a general anesthetic you may be able to forgo it if your vet feels comfortable about this.

Similarly, for a young animal I may do an abbreviated blood panel, so instead of doing a full set of blood work I will look at a couple of liver or kidney enzymes plus glucose and red blood cell level. Doing a smaller blood profile can save you some money.

Article by Dr. Marie

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