Angie's List advice on spending money on a health specialist for your animals

Navigating expensive veterinary care for your pets

TAMPA - How much would you pay to save your pet? According to estimates by the American Pet Products Association, Americans will spend over 13 billion dollars on general and specialty veterinary care this year. It's that last category - specialty care - where costs can skyrocket.

"A primary veterinarian takes care of the regular care for your pet, such as vaccinations and checkups every year, "said Angie's List founder, Angie Hicks. "A specialty vet is going to focus on different areas of medicine. For example, dermatology or physical therapy – just like your regular doctor and their specialists." Medical specialties such as cardiology, oncology, neurology and internal medicine – once reserved for human health care - continue to expand into the realm of veterinary care. According to a nationwide Angie's List poll, nearly 47 percent of respondents say they've sought veterinary specialty care for their pet and of those, 27 percent say they have spent more than $2,500. "When going to a specialized veterinarian, you need to plan ahead for the costs. Talk to your general veterinarian about how much it's going to cost so you are not surprised," said Hicks.

Specialty care is more expensive due to additional training, equipment and facilities. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes 21 veterinary specialty organizations that oversee 40 distinct specialties. The number of specialists in each discipline varies, but some - such as oncology - have relatively few across the globe. "When hiring a specialty veterinarian you are going to do the same research you would for a regular veterinarian," Hicks said. "You want to check their board credentials, their experience – how long they have been practicing. The same type of steps you would use in hiring a specialist for yourself."
Angie's List Tips: Navigating veterinarian specialty care

  • Check credentials: From a cardiologist to a radiologist, verify the veterinarian's board certification. Board-certified veterinary specialists must complete an internship and residency in their specialized field which typically means an additional three to five years of training and required exams.
  • Do your homework: Before committing to costly care, ask the specialist detailed questions about his/her experience, training, success rate, and techniques he or she will use to treat your pet.
  • Know your limits: Think ahead before an accident or illness occurs about how much you want to spend on your pet's health. While some are willing to pay whatever it takes to keep their pet healthy, others are left with stick shock. Research pet insurance options to plan for unexpected expenses, but be sure to ask about deductibles, exclusions, co-pays and caps.
  • Manage your expectations: Some pet health conditions cannot be resolved, no matter how much money you spend on treatment. Seek a second opinion if you're not satisfied, but be prepared if nothing can be done.
  • If you run into problems: Speak with your veterinarian to resolve any issues. If a situation can't be resolved, you can file a grievance with your state's veterinary board.
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