Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wellness Plans, Savings Plans and Surprises. Why your vet NEEDS to be your best friend.

Me and  Loon,,
a cat brought in to be euthanized because she wasn't using the litter box.
Our resident cat for 7 pus years now, she reminds me everyday why I am here.
...and PS she has never missed the box since arriving,,

Yes, of course, love can cure everything!
Surprises are not welcomed in veterinary medicine. Surprises in veterinary medicine end up with big decisions, somewhat tenuous consequences and all too often unplanned big price tags. As a veterinarian I know the realities of these surprises all too well. I also know that many clients are not prepared for them. If your pet lives long enough it is almost inevitable that a surprise will find you because somewhere down the twists and turns of life you will be thrown a curve ball.
In the last month at Jarrettsville Vet we have seen our clients scrambling to find funds to manage the following surprises;
  1. Abdominal mass from a splenic tumor that needed emergency surgery ($1200).  
    This is Buddy. His whole belly is almost one splenic tumor.
  2. Jumping out of truck bed and breaking femur ($3000).
    Read Henry's story here.
  3.      Aute pancreatitis causing vomiting, anorexia, lethargy and painful abdomen ($1000). Required 6 days of iv fluids and hospitalization.
    Lilly gets her catheter to start her week of iv fluids
  4. Newly adopted shelter cat falls apart within one week of being at new home. Diarrhea, anorexia, respiratory infection, corresponding diagnostics and hospitalization for one week, including placing a feeding tube ($1500).

Cuddling with Minnie after placing her feeding tube.
One of the most important parts of being a veterinarian is to educate my clients. A world class veterinarian will provide their client with helpful advice so that most of the time they don’t need us. We will provide a well laid out plan for optimal health and longevity. In essence great vets are both excellent communicators, educators, and personally invested in your pets healthcare now and also a decade from now.

A worried patient awaits her knee surgery, $1500 at JVC.
Successful pet parenting is no small task. The planning for today's activities; the walking, feeding, providing exercise and mental health balance and trying to plan for the unknowns lurking somewhere down the road. Pets share almost every medical and emotional need that we pet parents do. Every possible ailment, disease, accident, injury and treatment option that the human medical options offer. It is not inconceivable for an average pet to cost over $10,000 in their lifetime. If there is cancer, organ failure, or complicated disease you can burn through that price tag in a few weeks.

The best advice that I can give you is to be prepared;
  • Get pet insurance. Hope you never need it, but being able to care for your pet when they need you most is worth the monthly payments. Know what the plans limits are, but, be prepared for those too.
  • Plan ahead. The advent of assigning typical pet visits into a yearly cost divided up into small payments was the ingenuously profitable brain child of corporate veterinary America meets budget conscious Americans who have difficulty saving for that someday rainy day. The success of these Wellness Plans has brought many private practice veterinarians into also trying to provide clients some basic wellness options broken into monthly fees and a contract.

I am a skeptic of Wellness Plans for a few reasons;
  1. Your pet is not a numbered entity cast by a cookie cutter. Every pet has individual needs. The way a typical wellness plan addresses a participant is as a “typical” case. For example, if you have a dog like my pit bull you will never need ear cytology. Never mind need it twice a year  which many plans provide. If you are however my beagle, you will need it four times a year and both knees fixed within 3 months of each other. My pit bull has cost me nothing more than food, vaccines, and preventatives. My adorable beagle, the farm.
  2. Contracts equate to consequences. You cannot get out of them easily. 
  3. Life has too many twists and turns. Sure every vet will advocate the importance of an ounce of prevention, and the incredible importance of examinations, diagnostics, preventive care, a good solid relationship built around the vet, the pet and you, BUT, disaster will not be covered by your wellness plan. Many of the heart wrenching cases revolve around a surprise disaster and most pet parents are simply not prepared financially for these. 
  4. Gimmicks. Wellness plans have gimmicks to influence and entice. What a pet parent wants is assurance that they will have options at affordable costs they can manage not a gimmick to influence a pet care decision.

Peanutty, Bella, and Pepper
all rescues and all a part of the JVC family.

If you are considering a wellness plan think about the following; 
  1. How invested is your vet in your pets care? A great vet will go to bat for your pet at every instance. You are not a cookie. Every step in your pets care has options. The best vets have you prepared for both the foreseeable and unplanned events. Sit down with your vet and draw up a plan for the year. List all foreseeable needs, goods, and services. Make a yearly budget based on these.
  2. What does the Wellness Plan entail? Break down the cost for each line item covered. For example; most plans provide preventatives (heartworm and flea & tick). But, they are calculated for the biggest size and most expensive preventative. Your chihuahuas year supply of heartworm prevention is about one quarter the cost of a St Bernard. Don’t pay for a giant when you have a portable peanut pup. Further, your peanut pup might not need both? 
  3. I know of clinics who “use up” your plans services, (for instance the two free ear cytologies), on your first two visits in the hopes you will need more down the road. The plan can set people up for being taken advantage of and you will never know it. 
  4. It is widely discussed in vet circles but not published that about 60%* of people will not take advantage of the wellness plan items they pay for. Whether it is fear of over anesthetizing your pet, inability to meet the calendar of available services, or lack of need? Wellness plans are sold to the client as a “convenience frequent-buyer program with small monthly payments, but they favor the vet practice. The game is always set up to protect the house.
Some pet insurance companies offer monthly payment plans to help offset routine care. I do not recommend these. Your money in someone else’s pocket leaves your decisions to others scrutiny. Do your best to be prepared for the routine stuff. If you think you want to purchase pet insurance look for those that just cover accidents and illness. These are the ones that will ruin you financially and lead to treatment plans that include “economic euthanasia.”

What’s the reality? Sadly, Americans are very bad at saving, planning, and preparedness for disaster. A monthly plan is a way to help defray some of the big financial hits at the vet, BUT, it will not help when surprises arise or disaster picks your number.

Have your own emergency fund
In my neck of the woods I recommend having three things;
  1. $2500 in your own pets savings account. I know it sounds like a huge amount. But at least have $1,000. Almost every savable emergency can be started on $1,000. 
  2. Have a credit card with room on it. Or, have available credit so you will be approved for CareCredit if needed. 
  3. Have a vet and their cell phone number in your back pocket. I cannot over emphasize how much heartbreak, money, and guilt ridden consequences this can cost you.
Me and my shadow, Wren
If you aren’t good at saving and don’t have a vet to go to bat for you, get an insurance plan for surprises and disasters AND start looking for a vet you trust at some point your chips will fall and you need to be prepared for that.

What’s my solution? Jarrettsville Veterinary Center now offers a Pet Savings Plan through Vet Billing Solutions. We will tailor a monthly savings plan for your pet and provide an affordable easy way to do this. What’s the catch? Nothing. Not one single thing! It’s your money to use for your pet whenever and wherever you need it! No catch. No gimmicks. No contracts. Just more happy endings!

Call us today and ask about it. Or find me trying to save the pet world anytime at

* Data from lectures at Idexx Management 2015 lectures on Wellness Plans.
In the end my veterinary practice is here to serve one purpose,,, help my community take better care of their companions. So, I am all ears. What can we do to help you do this? Please leave me a comment, or suggestion.

Related blogs;

If you have a veterinary, or pet, related question you can find me anytime on Pawbly is open to anyone who has a pet in need or experience that they would like to share.

Appointments for your pet assistance can be made by visiting me at Jarrettsville Veterinary Center in beautiful Harford County Maryland.

Or try me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.


  1. Thank you for all your recent posts on this (and similar topics). Thank you for upholding my faith that the profession still has those who care and who believe that each life has value.

    We recently lost our vet of 20+ years. He retired and he is sorely missed. He was our “neighbor” and he knew us and our ever changing cast of resident and foster dogs. He knew I often let my heart overrule my bank account and that many of my fosters were shelter pulls that made zero financial sense… that I pulled those most in need rather than those who I could spay/neuter, vaccinate and re-home quickly. He also knew that no matter how large the bill was I’d get it paid off quickly even if I couldn’t do in full the same day service was provided. He also knew I had the experience to handle a number of things at my home (such as sub-Q fluids) and that we could work together to provide good care while trying to make those rescue funds stretch as far as possible.

    He knew I drove over an hour (one way) to get to his clinic and that I passed multiple other clinics on the way but that we went to him because his philosophies were in line with our own and we felt he provided high quality care at a reasonable price while never forgetting it was about the furry lives turned around and saved first and the dollars involved second. He knew us by first name and he invested as much heart in all those fosters as we did. In short he was in the business because he had a passion for what he did.

    Sadly his children have now taken over the practice. The feel and nature of the clinic has changed greatly and while the pricing has remained mostly competitive (and I still feel the quality of care is good) the heart seems to have gone out of the practice. I feel like both I and the patients are just numbers now. I don’t feel like anyone there is really interested in anything other than providing care by “the book” and collecting my payment. Any discussion of doing anything less than a full work up on each animal is met with an attitude that

    A post with your best advice for how to “interview” other practices would be much appreciated. I really don’t want to wait until there is a need to test drive a new clinic. I can certainly narrow down the search by doing some price comparisons and some quick questions about treatment protocols but what I can’t do is find out if a clinic is one with a heart or one where it’s just a machine to generate income. I get there are economic concerns for any business but I also want a practice where clients are more than just a number. How does one go about digging a little deeper to find that perfect match? How do I find my local version of you!

  2. Wellness plans, like everything else I suppose, have not be created equal. Jasmine's vet offers awesome plans. When we still lived down South, we were getting both his plan and insurance. Our insurance is awesome but doesn't cover routine stuff. Plans don't cover unexpected stuff. Together those two things covered everything beautifully.

    His plans had some thing we were never going to use but included a lot of things we use all the time. There were up to 24 visits in the plan, visits for any reason; whether preventive care, follow up care, or sick pet visits. There were various levels of discounts on dental care, with the highest plan having free dental cleaning and x-rays. There were free blood work and urinalyses.

    We always used up our plan to the last drop, in fact, often we ran out. That is not as common but in our case it was great savings.

    1. Hello!
      I think that you are the very extreme case of excellence in parenting..I hope that more people follow your lead and advice.. In the end I am happy to see any kind of pre-planning and preparedness
      hugs to all!


  3. Thank you for sharing such great information. It has help me in finding out more detail about Savings Plan!

  4. Great one. Thanks for posting.