A: Modern veterinary medicine is indeed a very expensive service to provide. As technology has advanced, new therapies have been developed, and almost every aspect of running any kind of business has gone up, pet owners often struggle to afford the quality of care they desire.

Of course, there will always be cheaper limited-service options, like vaccination vans and humane society spay-neuter clinics. However, your question indicates a broader desire to provide the best care at all stages of your pets’ lives. It is possible for your pets to benefit from a long term relationship with a quality, full-service veterinary practice while protecting your budget.

For planned preventive care, many practices offer budget wellness packages. While these vary from place to place, they all tend to offer routine care services at a fixed monthly cost. In my practice, for example, for roughly a dollar a day a pet can get all its recommended vaccinations, parasite screenings, annual laboratory tests, and more. That pet can see a veterinarian any time for any reason for just $20 – and nail trims during those visits are always free. There are options for adding on dental care, spay or neuter surgery, or additional “senior pet” screening tests.

These plans provide for the best quality vaccines available. The laboratory tests include annual monitoring of blood counts, hemoglobin, kidney tests, liver tests, blood sugar, serum proteins, and more. In dogs, we screen for tick diseases and heartworms. In cats, we watch thyroid levels or run urine testing. All pets get an annual fecal parasite screening. And again, any veterinarian examination for any reason is always $20. Ask your family veterinarian if (s)he participates in a similar plan.

Now all that budgeted care is nice for healthy pets, but what happens when your pet gets sick. My sincere advice is to consider pet health insurance. We recommend a plan that covers 90% of the cost of care after the deductible is met. The only thing they don’t cover is the examination fee (which costs only $20 for wellness plan pets in my practice). These policies allow you to seek care even at emergency centers, specialty hospitals, or veterinary schools. You can use them throughout the country if you travel. You can vary the deductible to make the monthly premiums super affordable or pay a little more to reduce or even eliminate the deductible to prevent surprise bills in case of accident or illness.

If you choose to purchase a pet insurance plan, please be very careful. There is a wide variety in level of coverage and the amount of limitations. Since pre-existing conditions are nearly always permanently excluded, it can be difficult to switch plans if you are unhappy with the one you choose. Be sure to do your research and ask your veterinarian for advice. There are very good companies out there who can help you provide excellent for your pets even in the case of accident or illness. By planning ahead and being prepared, you can prevent the difficult choices that happen when you desire a level of care that your finances cannot support. Remember, the unexpected always seems to happen at the worst possible time.

The last piece that pet owners would be wise to have in place is some amount of financing for those co-pays, deductibles, or other bills that still occur after wellness plans and insurance have paid their shares. Some people can afford to self-insure those costs or have set aside money in a pet savings account for such occasions. Some people have a credit card in reserve. Many of my clients set up a healthcare line of credit with CareCredit. That company will provide interest-free financing for an extended period to help pet owners spread out the cost of care. It’s wise to have that type of option in place before you need it.

If you have pets, it is essential to think about and prepare for both routine preventive care and the inevitable sickness or injury. Failing to prepare and budget often leads to having to choose a lower level of care than otherwise desired. Veterinary medicine remains an extreme value compared to comparable services in the human healthcare field. However, it is still a significant expense – and one that continues to increase in cost every year. Please plan ahead and be ready when your pet needs you.