Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: How to not break the bank at the vet clinic

Veterinarian Ryan Llera with puppy patient, Enzo.

I remember having a very somber visit with a client a while back. I had examined his dog and given him a generally good bill of health… except for one problem. This particular pooch seemed otherwise okay and was full of spirit except that one abnormality was the cause of some discomfort & pain. This owner was very certain that he did not want his buddy to be in any pain. He had made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize his beloved dog. Why? Because he couldn’t afford to do anything for his pet. It doesn’t matter what the problem was. Broken leg, bad teeth, bladder stones…. All examples of relatively ‘simple’ problems that can be treated and pain relieved. I use the term ‘simple’ here to describe medical problems that are straightforward with the potential for very easy resolution.

Now before we go any further, I’m not here to get into an argument over the cost of veterinary care. Believe me, it ate at me to have to euthanize that dog and it probably will for a long time. In some ways, I do feel the cost may be high, but I also have to respect the other side in that I myself do not own a vet clinic and therefore do not bear the burden of all the additional costs to run a clinic. I can attest to the fact that veterinarians graduate with a high amount of student debt and that veterinary clinics have staff, utilities, and inventory to pay for.  What I am aiming to do here is maybe help others find ways to defray the costs and avoid losing their pets.

First off, I feel the need to remind everyone that a pet is like a child in that it is a responsibility. Having a pet is wonderful and can offer many benefits to a person. But in return, that pet deserves to be cared for, so keep that in mind when adopting or ‘rescuing’ an animal. There is no socialized healthcare for pets, unfortunately, as I, too, would like to claim then on my tax return. Veterinary clinics are privately owned businesses, much like an auto repair shop or a restaurant, where payment is for services rendered. So how can we help ease the strain or plan for those unexpected emergencies?

Save a little: Set up a savings account for your pet, whether it be at a bank or in a mattress. Each paycheck, put a little something away… $5, $10, $25… Whatever. Over time, this will build up for those emergencies that might happen. Surgeries & dental procedures aren’t inexpensive, so you should start saving up anytime when you get a pet. Face it, if you adopt a chihuahua, it’s going to need dental work at some time. Adding that male cat to your house? Prepare for possible urinary problems. To also help with savings, cut back on eating out, and, as your doctor would agree, start saving money buy not buying addictive things. I think this option for saving up is the best idea of what I’ll present.

Save a lot: This focuses on the idea of preventative care. Nothing hurts more than watching a puppy fade away due to parvovirus (despite our best efforts) because somebody chose not to vaccinate it – a treatment is easily four to five times more expensive than vaccines. Just because your cat will ‘never’ go outside doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be spayed – a spay surgery will save you at least $1,000 by having the procedure done when they are young and healthy rather than when already ill. Preventative care is there for a reason: to try and keep your pets healthy and give it a good quality of life. With your senior pets, it is far better to check some blood tests while they seem healthy because often the results can show an abnormality before the patient will show signs of the disease. Also, if we send your pet home with a cone of shame, it’s for good reason – if they chew out their stitches, not only will it hurt them, but it may cost you, so keep it on to avoid unnecessary vet visits.

Carry extra protection: Yes, I’m talking about insurance. Pet insurance is so much simpler than human insurance and you can even choose your pet’s doctor! Lots of insurance plans will cover for accidents and illnesses while some will even cover basic wellness care such as vaccines, dental cleanings, and heartworm prevention. It is best to research plans before you commit to one, and many of them will have a trial period. Some of my favorite plans here in Canada are PetsPlusUs, Trupanion, Petplan, and Petsecure. Your veterinary clinic may have a relationship with some insurance companies that may offer special deals, so be sure to discuss this option with your veterinarian.

Community support: There may be city or municipal programs that can help defray costs. Here in the Kingston, they have instituted the Responsible Pet Ownership Program to provide $250 vouchers to have your pet spay or neutered for people if you are experiencing financial hardship. Similarly, there are groups that help TNR (trap neuter release) feral cats in order to help decrease overpopulation and keep more animals safe. In Kingston, two such groups are the Spay Neuter Kingston Initiative (SNKI) and the Wolfe Island Friends of Ferals. There may be local rabies clinics or microchip clinics periodically advertised that you can also look at utilizing, but they are unlikely to offer the comprehensive care you would get from your family veterinarian.

Use common sense: These are things that might seem obvious, but I’ll put them here are reminders. Keep your dog on a leash and your cat indoors. This can avoid fights, bite wounds, and being hit by a car. Brush your pet’s fur if it is long. Ask your veterinary clinic to show you how to trim nails safely and properly. Brushing your pet’s teeth daily with an enzymatic pet toothpaste can help reduce the severity of dental disease, thus lowering the cost. Don’t let your pets get overweight. And lastly, don’t keep putting off a vet visit for a problem thinking it will get better – the longer you wait, the worse it can be… and subsequently cost more.

I’m not going to lie; pet health care can be expensive. NOT counting food, beds, toys, or fun outfits, the average cost for pet in their first year of life (all core vaccines, spay/neuter, de-worming, etc.) just in terms of basic care and maintenance can be approximately $600-$1400 depending on species, size, and gender, AND assuming no other problems arise. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and not get a new pet on impulse. Hopefully, some of the above advice can help your pet enjoy a happy long life with you. Lastly, one final way to save money when getting a new pet is to adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Many of these pets will already be spayed/neutered, have some vaccinations, and it tends to be less costly for an adoption fee rather than purchasing a purebred or an internet pet… Oh, and they’ll love you just as much if not more!


Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

If there’s something you’ve often wondered or have questions about, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian. Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!