Recession-Proof Pet Care

It's a beastly recession even for dogs and cats.

by Gini Sikes

Figuring out which pet expenses to cut can be tricky, but you can trim costs without compromising your pal's health.

Choose a vet before you need one. That way you can talk dollars without the worry over a sick pet weighing on you. Most veterinarian receptionists are cooperative on the phone and will answer questions on prices and how their office works. Get price quotes not only for annual exams but also for emergency big-ticket items, such as setting a broken leg, gastrostomy surgery to remove swallowed objects or anesthesia. Make sure to compare several vets, as one vet's fees can be two to three times what another charges.

Ask about discounts. "A consumer can always request a discount from a veterinarian, but particularly now in this economic climate," says Dr. Babette Gladstein, who combines traditional and holistic treatments on her house calls around the city. Dr. Gladstein has given discounts of 10 percent to some of her unemployed clients. Vets may offer a 10-percent discount to senior citizens, while many will reduce the cost of annual check-ups if you bring in three or more pets. "A consumer should expect a price break for multiple pets," Dr. Gladstein says.

"It's not unusual to offer a sliding scale, for instance a 20% discount for the second pet, 30% for third, if you bring them in together for a group appointment." Ask your veterinarian if you can work out a payment plan to spread out the costs.

Get Rex an Rx. Request a prescription, not the medicine itself. It's not uncommon for veterinarians to mark up medications 100 percent. Some drugs for animals are also approved for people and can be purchased for much less in the generic at a pharmacy. Atenolol, for instance, is used to treat high blood pressure in both humans and animals. Don't play Dr. Doolittle, however, and treat a pet with human medication without consulting your vet about appropriate dosage and safety. One of the most heartbreaking situations is when an owner gives a human drug to a beloved animal that turns out to be toxic. A dose of Tylenol causes liver damage in dogs and can kill cats.

Consider booster shots for an adult pet every three years. Some once mandatory annual vaccinations are now thought to provide protection for at least three years. Studies have even associated specific yearly shots with harmful and sometimes fatal side effects, such as autoimmune hemolytic anemia in dogs and sarcomas in cats. Before subjecting your pet—and your wallet—to a cornucopia of vaccines, discuss the pros and cons with your pet's vet. Consider lifestyle: if your cat never steps foot outside and doesn't mingle with strays, you may want to skip the vaccine for feline leukemia.

Take advantage of low-cost clinics. The ASPCA, Humane Society and Animal Care & Control all offer programs in the five boroughs that provide low-cost vaccinations and free or low-cost spay and neuter services You can also go online to www.spayusa.org for the North Shore Animal League's referrals for affordable spay/neuter. Spaying reduces females' chances of developing mammar tumors or ovarian cancer, while neutering decreases mal. risk of testicular cancer.

DIY Grooming. A haircut and nail trim for a small dog in the city can easily cost $85, more than some folks would pay for their ow haircut. Save cash by learning to do basic grooming, such as nail trims. Ask your vet or the technician to show you h to do nail trimming yourself. You can also ask your vet to recommend a good online instructional video.

Don't skimp on prevention: Something you shouldn't let your pet go without just to save a few bucks. It's flea and tick season in the city — stock u on Frontline or similar medications (you can buy online f. less) that aid in the prevention of diseases transmitted by bites. "Untreated, these can cause serious diseases such at Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or ehrlichiosi which will cause your vet bills to skyrocket," warns Dr. An Hohenhaus of the Animal Medical Center. "Potentially, pe owners may also save on the cost of an exterminator to remove these critters from your carpets."