How to Save Money on Pet Care

by heather

My new guy, Red

So if you’ve missed the Update, I’ve adopted another dog. And, this big guy has come with a whole host of problems. He’s had heartworms for awhile, he’s got tumors (which I’m still waiting to hear back on), and he’s about 50 lbs. underweight.

As you can imagine, this sweet dog is costing me WAY more than his $120 adoption fee. I figured it would, so before I even brought him home I started researching ways I could treat him for less than the $1200 the vet quoted me. This quote included bloodwork, x-rays, tumor biopsy, and a really expensive (and dangerous) overnight fast-kill treatment for his heartworms.

What I found during my research, however, was amazing. I could treat Red for far less than what my vet was quoting me for.

Here’s what I discovered…

Low-Cost Pet Care

1. Heartworms

My dog Pep, and his favorite friend, Pinky

Every dog should be giving heartworm preventative each month. The problem is that the pills (like Heartguard and Interceptor) are REALLY expensive. At 1-800-PetMeds, Heartguard costs $40 for 6 months. With three dogs, that’s $120 per mosquito season for me. Ouch. And if you live in warmer states, your dogs should be on heartworm preventative 12 months a year. It adds up.

If you look at the Heartguard ingredient list, though, you’ll see that the main ingredient is a drug called Ivermectin. This drug controls parasites in animals.

I learned that you can purchase Ivermectin straight, in its liquid form, and treat your dogs this way. You can buy a 50 ml bottle of Ivermectin for $30 on Amazon. If you click on the link, you’ll see that this bottle (which is the exact same one I purchased for my dogs) is labeled for “Cattle and Swine”. Farmers use straight Ivermectin to treat their livestock for parasites.

But, this is the exact same drug that is in Heartguard. I know because I’ve researched the heck out of this, and I asked my vet.

Now, 50 ml is a lot of Ivermectin. This means the stuff will go bad before you use all of it to treat your dogs every month. Using straight Ivermectin as a heartworm preventative, and to treat dogs already infected with heartworms, is what most rescue organizations and shelters use. Heartguard is just too expensive for these groups. So, they use this, and it works just as well.

Gunther, taking a nap

Again, I have confirmed all of this with my vet, and I urge you to do the same. But I’m using it, and it works. Going this route will save you significantly every month on heartworm preventative.

If your dog is already infected with heartworms, you can use Ivermectin to treat the disease. It’s FAR cheapter than the “fast kill” method they do at the vets. But, it does have its risks.

For instance, monthly Ivermectin will only kill off the heartworm babies, and prevent the adults from reproducing. It won’t kill the adults already in the heart; they’ll live out their lifecycle. But, this “slow-kill” method is much safer for the dog, much cheaper, and much less traumatic. But, you should weight the pros and cons with your vet to determine what’s best for you and your dog.

DISCLAIMER: I can’t stress enough how important it is that you fully research correct dosage before giving Ivermectin to your dog. There is a wonderful thread here, at Garden Forum, of pet owners talking about correct dosage.

One person in that forum thread took a great deal of time to calculate dosages. I’ve pasted it below, because his findings are almost exactly what my own vet calculated for my dog Red, who is 72 lbs. She prescribed .2 cc of Ivermectin per month for him.

It’s also important to research your breed: herding dogs, like Collies and Sheepdogs, have a genetic trait that makes them sensitive to Ivermectin. Giving it to them straight like this can cause serious damage to these dogs, or even death.

So, here’s the forum thread pasted below…

Estimated Correct Dosage for Ivermectin

Hopefully this can settle the debate.
I wanted to figure out exactly how much has my dog been getting by taking Heartgard because I have a Border Collie and an Australian Shepherd and was a little concerned about harming them.
Here is the breakdown.
Heartgard has 272 mcg or Ivermectin for the 50-100 dog dose
157 mcg for the 25-50lb dose and 68 mcg for the up top 25 lb dose.
I figured this out myself and then verified it with another persons formula for which the web site is.

Here is the Formula- they base it on 2.73 which means that the Heartgard 51-100 lb dose is based on the 100 lb dog.

Ivomec Ivermectin has 10 mg or 10000 ug per cc. 6 ug per kg is 2.73 ug per pound. So multiply the dog’s weight in pounds by 2.73 to get the micrograms needed, and divide that by 10000 for the number of cc’s to give the dog.

So for a 100 lb dog.
100 x 2.73 = 273
273 divided by 10000 =.0273 ml or cc

thus your Hundred lb dog needs just about 1 quarter of a cc of ivermectin 1% solution per month.

I made a table to make it easy or you can just use the formula. I rounded the numbers.
10 lbs = .0027 cc or ml (call it .003)
20 lbs = .0055 cc or ml
30 lbs = .0082 cc or ml
40 lbs = .011 cc or ml
50 lbs = .013 cc or ml
60 lbs = .016 cc or ml
70 lbs = .19 or call it .2
80 lbs = .22 cc or ml
90 lbs = .25 cc or ml
100 lbs = .27 cc or ml

Thus the 10th (.1) of a cc or ml per 10 pounds is too much
and the 100 of a cc per 10 is (.01) is not enough.
I am sure that you can round these number up slightly without it being a problem unless you have a collie or herding dog. Which is why I wanted to have it be exact.

This is the amount equal to what your dog has safely taken when prescribed heartgard. (This took two hours and I am sure that my OCD is acting up) but hopefully this settles the debate once and for all.

2. Routine Shots

In addition to heartworm medicine, dogs and cats need routine, yearly shots. Like for rabies, distemper, Parvo virus, ect.

I shell out hundreds of dollars per year for these shots. And you probably do too.

What I learned while researching stuff for Red, though, is that you don’t have to shell out the big bucks for these necessary shots.

Option 1: Go to the Humane Society

I almost fell over when I saw that the Humane Society has monthly vet clinics. If you take advantage of these clinics you can get your pet spayed or neutered, and up to date on their shots, for FAR less than your local vet.

Take a look at some of the prices I’ve posted below, which are from my local Humane Society website:

Rabies: $15

Distemper: $12

Feline Leukemia: $10

Heartworm test: $30

Bordatella: $12

By using the clinics at your local Humane Society, you can save big time on your vet bills. I wish I’d known about this a month ago, when I dropped about $250 getting Pepper and Gunther caught up on their yearly shots. You can bet I’ll be going to the Humane Society next year.

Option 2: Find a Teaching Hospital

Know what else I learned?

Veterinary teaching hospitals often offer low-cost care for pets so that they can teach students how to properly administer treatments.

For instance, I live within 1/2 hour of MSU’s Vet Teaching Hospital. If Red turns out to have cancer on top of everything else, this is where I’ll be taking him for treatment. Why? Because it’s far more affordable than treating him at my local vet.

Do some research to see if you live close to a university vet teaching hospital. If so, call them up and see what their prices are like. You’ll probably find that they’re far more affordable than your local vet, and that they have far more advanced equipment. Your pet might even receive better care at one of these facilities.

Last Word…

I’m in no way trying to knock vets with this post. My local vet is a wonderful, caring doctor with tons of valuable knowledge that she’s always willing to share. But, dogs with expensive conditions, like cancer or heartworms, are often put to sleep simply because their owners can’t afford to treat them.

The methods I’ve laid out here are ones I researched for myself first. I’m still using and consulting with my local vet alongside the self treatment I’m doing. Again, I strongly urge all of you to talk with your vet first before trying any of these methods.

I’d love to hear back from you guys on this. Are you using any of these treatments on your pets? Do you have any strategies you use yourself that I missed? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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heidi May 28, 2010 at 11:05 am

I’ve never had a cat or dog* (I married into the puppy, who has a set routine medically)… but if you do have an exotic pet, make sure you can get it to the appropriate vet. Exotics are pretty much anything that isn’t cat/dog or livestock. This said, when I lived in the middle of nowhere, I did have a certified avian vet for my bird, but when the bird became seriously ill, I should have taken it to a certified vet who wasn’t trying to retire – he didn’t stay up to date with avian medicine because it was such a small part of his practice. So instead of driving 3 hrs to a vet to was current, the local fellow treated the bird. Unsuccessfully. And it later died of vet error*

* If your critter does die and you feel that there might have been vet error, a teaching school is still a good option for necropsy. You will likely be charged ($100+ depending on the type of animal) but their findings may give you grounds to challenge vet bills, if the vet was indeed in error. It was a horrible experience to drive 3 hrs for a necropsy when I should have driven 3 hrs for a second opinion.

Gene J. May 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Your new doggy is very cute! I bet he has a personality to match. Thanks for the advice for saving with pet healthcare. With a dog and two cats, those vet bills can add up quick!

Beth @ Smart Family Tips May 29, 2010 at 5:59 am

Thanks, Heather! This is a huge help. We just adopted a second dog and I dropped $400 at the vet to get her caught up on shots and for some antibiotics and heartworm pills and frontline, etc., etc.

I’ll definitely be looking into some of these options for the next round.

heather May 29, 2010 at 7:51 am

@Heidi, I’m really sorry you had such a bad experience with your bird. You bring up some great points when it comes to finding a specialist vet for exotic pets, so thanks for sending that in. Hopefully that will help someone else avoid a tragic situation.

@Beth- I know, I’ve already had Red in there twice in the past week. They do add up! The Ivermectin is working fantastic so far, and as soon as my other two have used up their Heartguard I’m definitely switching them over to that. It’s so much cheaper, and works just as effectively.

AJ in AZ May 30, 2010 at 2:16 am

You can also buy vaccines for dogs and cats at feed stores, sometimes at hardware stores, and even at WalMart, and give them yourself. Much much less expensive, and less trauma for the animal (I’m thinking of a cat) than hauling them to the vet.

Rhonda Barclay May 30, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Thank you for this, I have an Elderly dog 120 lbs 11yrs old, he still gets around fairly well, not perfect but not so bad that I feel he needs put down, taking him to the vet is crazy, he is ok with shots but he can’t stand and never has liked his blood being drawn, he has been on heartgaurd his whole life never had heart worms and was thinking about switching to this formula so I can avoid the blood test, he been getting the others medicine at the right rate, but i cant keep doing than and its too stressful on him plus he has to be sedated. They will not give you heartgaurd with out a blood test which is understandable, I do feel confident that he doesn’t have heartworms… And Im pretty sure he would probably die of old age before the heartworms would get to him enough to cause problems but I would really just like to keep him on the prevention. I just want to make sure i do this right. Where can you get the correct needles from (for withdrawing the correct dosage?) I just want to make sure i get the correct syringe to. would it be one with CC measurements and would 1% ivermectin be correct for my size dog. 120 lbs..? he has been weighed recently. Thank you

Alice June 7, 2010 at 8:04 pm

You’ll want to make sure you also get a dewormer for roundworms and hookworms if you are going to give Ivermectin instead of Heartgard.

Heather June 8, 2010 at 1:29 am

Great tip on the Ivermectin. Alas, my two dogs are corgis – herding breeds – so I don’t think I’ll be trying that. For vaccines, I go to our local pet supply store, which every Saturday has low-cost clinics. It’s GREAT and a total money saver!

I would also recommend pet insurance to anyone who can swing it. I use VPI, which covers my dog’s heartworm and flea meds, plus twice-yearly exams and a bunch of other things. It’s been a huge peace of mind to know that if something were to happen to them, they’re covered and getting them treated won’t be a financial hardship (at least, most conditions). To me, it’s been well worth the monthly payout.

Kimberly June 8, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Tri-Heart is a heart worm med made by a smaller company that my vet offers much cheaper. Just an FYI.

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