Stories have been popping up all over the country about how the economic downturn is dooming pets. How so? More and more struggling pet owners are feeling forced to put their pets to sleep because they can't afford to pay costly vet bills. This phenomenon has been dubbed "economic euthanasia." • Are you or is someone you know feeling pressure to make a painful decision along these lines? Or are you simply having a hard time keeping up with routine vet bills? If so, consider these tips.
1Talk to your veterinarian. Especially if you're about to be hit with a really big bill that you can't afford right now, be open and honest about your situation. It's okay to ask for help. Your vet might be able to: help you set up a payment plan, suggest a less costly alternative treatment, point out care that can wait awhile, connect you with resources that could assist you, or offer a discount for this particular visit because you're going through a hard time. (Don't ask for special breaks every time, though; that's not fair to the vet.)
2Check with breed-specific organizations. The national clubs for some breeds of animals offer veterinary-assistance funds for pet owners who need help.
3Apply for assistance. The American Animal Hospital Association's AAHA Helping Pets Fund (www.aahahelpingpets.org) is under pressure right now because so many pet owners have been seeking assistance, but it's still worthwhile to know about this fund. Basically, if you're in a real pinch and your pet needs medical help, you can ask your vet to submit an assistance request to the fund.
4Charities are out there. The Pet Fund (www.thepetfund.com) is a nonprofit organization that helps people in need with their vet bills. IMOM (In Memory of Magic; www.imom.org) is another organization that works to prevent pets from being euthanized because their owners are in a financial bind. A New Jersey family plans to start the "Prince Chunk Foundation" by this summer to provide temporary help to pet owners in need.
5Don't spend more than necessary for routine care. When your pet must visit the vet for routine matters, such as vaccinations or simple blood draws, ask to see a nurse only if possible. You might avoid an "exam fee" in the $30 to $55 range if you see the vet.
6Save on shots in other ways. Local animal-control offices sometimes offer free or low-cost rabies shots and other vaccinations. You also could ask your vet about the feasibility of giving your pet booster shots every three years instead of once a year.
7Remember the Humane Society, the SPCA and other rescue groups. It never hurts to check with these offices to see what sorts of services they provide for pet owners. Some services will be free or reduced in price for low-income individuals and for seniors.
8Are you eligible for special discounts? Veterinarians sometimes offer discounts to senior citizens and people with three or more pets.
9Look into financing if necessary. If you've been slammed with a large and unexpected vet bill and you can't work out a payment plan with your vet or get help from a charitable organization, CareCredit (www.carecredit.com) could be an answer. CareCredit lets you apply for payment plans with no interest if you pay your bill in full within 18 months, and with 13.9 percent interest if you pay it off within 24, 36, 48 or 60 months.
10Remember rescue organizations. If you're really in a tough spot and you're thinking about having your pet put to sleep, consider giving your pet to a rescue organization instead. Even if you're not entirely sure of the mix of your pet, but you at least know a certain breed is represented, a rescue organization for that breed could save the day.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); msnbc.com's Pet Health section (www.msnbc.com)