Monday, February 3, 2014

Urgh, cat vet bills purgatory

Need your thoughts on something, readers!

There are certain bills I just hate to pay every month. Some of them are things I'm just grumpy about paying for, but at least one of them is a situation where I'm not sure if I'm being ripped off, so seeing the charge every month makes me wonder. Help me think this through.

I signed up for the pet wellness plan through our local big box vet shortly after we adopted our kitty. I didn't do it on a whim; I took the literature home and read through it all carefully and decided that it seemed like a pretty good deal. And then he got a weird skin infection, and we signed up. We got free office visits and discounts on the treatments, along with regular two check-ups and one dental cleaning per year. I was happy with it for the first year, but since then it's worn at me every month - is this a good deal? If it is, okay, I shouldn't mind paying the fees, but if it's not I'm getting ripped off and I want to do something about it.

I have compared the prices to an independent veterinarian near us, and on the whole, we are paying comparative costs IF we do two annual checkups, and we're getting quite a good deal if we have any unplanned office visits.

Pros
* Monthly fees are not prohibitive ($26.95)
* Unlimited free office visits
* Discounts on medications, treatments, etc.
* Two check-ups with vaccines
* One dental cleaning per year

Cons
* Do we really need unlimited office visits?
* Do we really need two check-ups per year?
* Do we really need a dental cleaning every year?
* At both dental cleanings he's had, they have called asking for $1,200 worth of dental work that he "seriously needs" (they indicate that he is in pain even if he never shows signs of it) and he's under anesthesia so they need an immediate decision. As our circumstances over the last 18 months have been extraordinary and there is not $1,200 in the budget for MY dental work, it's not happening for the cat, but these calls were extremely stressful for me.

Other considerations
* Our cat is strictly indoor only and never comes into contact with other animals. He's almost eight years old, so is considered a senior cat. He's already neutered, up to date on vaccines, etc.
* Aside from his weird skin thing (which he probably had when we adopted him), he's had no medical issues at all.
* My cats when I was a kid were indoor/outdoor, and they went to the vet maybe once a year. More like every two or three years. They never got their teeth cleaned. They lived happy, healthy lives and died of old age. I wonder now if this was responsible pet parenting, since I've seen recommendations in many places that cats get seen twice a year. (We had an epileptic dog, too, so I know that my parents were proactive about our pets' health, but our cats certainly didn't go to the vet twice a year.)
* Canceling this policy is apparently difficult (something I did not research before signing up) and I do like the individuals at the big box vet. But I would be taking my business elsewhere because the prices at the big box vet are much higher if you aren't on their plan. I like the other vet too (we go there for nail trims) and it has the bonus of being a locally-owned shop.
* I feel like with my luck, the cat will immediately start having weird health problems and require lots of office visits as soon as I cancel this plan.
* Canceling this plan will save $323 per year, less whatever actual vet costs we incur. So we are not looking at a ton of money, but not a negligible amount either.

Okay, so questions for you:
How often do you take your pets to the vet?
Do you do extras like teeth cleaning?
Do you have a pet wellness plan?
What would you do if you were me?

Really, I just want to make a decision one way or another. If it's a valid way to save some money, I should be okay with paying the monthly fee. It's just the wondering that's bothering me!

5 comments:

  1. I can't speak for cats since we only have dogs, but we pay as we go. Those bills aren't the cheapest, but the vet occasionally gives us a break on minor stuff like follow-up visits. Our younger one goes to the vet once a year for a checkup. The 10-year-old goes twice a year for a check up and inevitably has some sort of medical issue each year that requires a third trip and some sort of medication. They've each had their teeth cleaned maybe once in their lives?

    Try calling another vet and see what kind of medical routines they'd recommend -- like, is one checkup a year enough? How often are teeth cleanings necessary? If it was me, I'd cancel it and save a couple of months' worth of the $27 as a sort of medical savings account for the cat.

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  2. 20/20 just did a report on vets trying to get people to pay for dental cleanings when dogs do not need them. I have two cats who are indoor only and they only go to the vet once a year for checkups. I have one who has bad tarter but I was told to try to clean them myself (loads of fun may I add).

    You would know if your cat was in pain because his teeth were bothering him as he probably wouldn't eat his hard food or play with toys. I would cancel also and just make it part of your yearly budget.

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  3. My cats don't go very often, but when a health issue crops up, it can be alot! Pudge developed a bladder infection that required probably 5-6 trips to the vet over a couple of months. I go to a relatively cheap vet, otherwise that plan might have come in handy!

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  4. Thanks, everyone. I think I'm going to cancel the plan for now, and switch to the independent vet. If a significant health issue comes up, it looks like I can re-join the plan, but in the meantime, I'm not sure kitty needs so many visits - and I think we can both be spared the pain of the teeth cleaning for a while!

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  5. "they indicate that he is in pain even if he never shows signs of it"

    I will say, for this part at least, the vet is correct. Cats are notorious for hiding their pain. (Very frustrating for us cat owners!) This is from the Cat Hospital of Chicago:

    "Unlike dogs and many other animals, cats may behave overall quite normally when they are in pain. Studies with hidden cameras have shown that some cats will act fine when people are around, but then show signs of pain - such as licking at a sore area or hunching over - when they are alone.

    "Why do cats hide pain? One big reason stems from their origins and their survival instincts in the wild. In the wild, a sick or injured animal is vulnerable to attack, so survival can depend on the animal’s ability to act like everything is fine even when something is terribly wrong.

    "Second, cats don’t exhibit signs of pain in the same way people or other animals do. Relatively quiet creatures, cats won't bark, whine, cry or otherwise vocalize when they're in pain. Because of this, veterinarians and cat owners alike have erroneously believed that cats don't feel pain like humans, or at least, that they don’t feel it as much."

    My vet told me that, because my cat was indoor only, it was fine to bring her in once every 2-3 years (and as needed for health crises, of course).

    My cat Libel had a teeth cleaning when I first brought him home because the vet said it was badly needed. Luckily, he didn't require any more work on his teeth, and I've declined additional teeth cleanings suggested annually. (The first made sense to me because he had been a stray.) I personally prefer saving a pet emergency fund and using that for emergency situations.

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