Ask the Vet

I just spent $200 on blood tests at my vet’s office trying to figure out what is wrong with my dog. How can I avoid expensive testing in the future?

Submitted by: Broke in Baltimore

Dear Broke,  Thanks for the question. I have to confess that sometimes we need comprehensive (and expensive) laboratory testing to diagnose a difficult problem in a dog. For example, we may be suspicious of an infection from a tick bite but without testing at a reference laboratory we would not be certain and could possibly treat the wrong disease with the wrong medicine. Hypothyroidism is pretty common yet only a reference laboratory can accurately establish that diagnosis. That illness can make a dog feel slow and tired and ill yet it is easily treated once we know what is wrong. All of that being said, there is no replacement for an annual physical examination at your veterinarian’s office. They will then have a record of your dog’s weight, physical findings and notes from every year. When a problem is identified early, treatment can begin sooner which usually saves you money and your dog a prolonged problem. As the pet parent, your input is critical to accurate diagnosis and could save you money. You know your dog better than anyone and can often identify subtle changes that are meaningful to your doctor. You may have noticed a cough when your pet climbs the stairs at night or a small lump on their leg that has begun to change appearance. I had a client who identified a small lump in their dog’s groin that was no bigger than a pencil eraser. It turned out to be a skin cancer that was very treatable because it was so small. We always appreciate an owner who can provide consistent and careful background information. Veterinary medicine is still a profession that deals with financial realities on a daily basis. We present options for treating patients based on what is best and what it costs. We will present other options when they are available and be respectful of the decision that the pet parent ultimately makes. If your pet was vaguely ill, and you were not in a position to pay for testing that day, your doctor would likely offer to have the sample taken later when your checkbook was a bit healthier. There are now several options for financing medical care when you need to. We utilize Care Credit in our office, but there are certainly other options for covering expensive work. A veterinary patient may also be insured. The best time to obtain insurance, of course, is when you do not need it. Some companies cover well care, others just cover major medical problems. For some clients having a regular monthly expense is preferred to an occasional expensive blood test.

DR. Cheryl Burke, DVM, CCRP, graduated from Catonsville Senior High and UMBC before attending The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine where she received her DVM. She has been the owner of Paradise Animal Hospital for the past 25 years, practicing companion animal medicine and canine rehabilitation in her hometown community. She received her CCRP certification from The University of Tennessee.

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