How to Talk to Your Cat Veterinarian About Money

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Knowing how to talk to your vet about money can mean better care for your cat.

It’s not easy. Talking to anyone about money –– much less your veterinarian –– is way low on anyone’s list of favorite endeavors. In fact, if your veterinarian is anything like me, she probably isn’t too keen on talking money either –– much less with you (no offense).

Nonetheless, talking frankly about finances in a veterinary setting is an uncomfortable reality we’ll inevitably confront if we want to do right by the animals that rely on us for optimal healthcare. After all, our cats depend on a healthy working relationship between both veterinarians and cat owners for sound decision-making about their care. And for better or worse (worse, usually), finances are often at the root of these healthcare decisions.

The rising cost of pet care –– on everything from routine wellness and high-quality diets to specialized services and cutting-edge drugs –– means that most cat owners are at some point likely to find themselves confronting an uncomfortable scenario: The science and technology to help their cat is readily available … but the costs way outstrip their economic reach.

Despite this uncomfortable truth, cat owners can go a long way towards getting their cats the healthcare they need while mitigating their risk of financial exposure. The solution is simple: communication.

It’s true: Cat owners who are better able to communicate with their veterinarians offer their cats a greater chance of a good outcome. Which only makes sense. After all, everyone knows that communication is at the crux of every relationship. Trouble is, most cat owners don’t know how best to get there.

Sometimes it’s that veterinarians can be intimidating. Running in and out of exam rooms like headless chickens doesn’t help much either. These rapid-fire appointment schedules aren’t exactly conducive to healthy conversations.

Nonetheless, there are ways to get through… even to the busiest, most intimidating veterinarian. With that in mind, here are some veterinarian-approved tricks to building up a solid working relationship with your cat’s healthcare provider:

  1. Identify your goal

Finances are stressful because you’re effectively telling your veterinarian that a) your funds are limited (and that can be embarrassing, especially if you’ve just lost your job, you’re going through a healthcare crisis of your own, or your house is in foreclosure), or b) given your financial limitations, your priorities don’t necessarily include certain aspects of your cat’s healthcare. The goal in these cases is to more easily navigate otherwise stressful discussions over what pet healthcare costs and the risks associated with minimizing your expenses.

  1. Make nice with the front office staff

If you treat the reception staff with the respect they deserve, they’ll mirror your attitude and become increasingly responsive to your needs and desires. I find that getting extra-friendly with a heartfelt thank you or inexpensive little gifts of food can go a long way.

In fact, though they may be invisible to you, I promise you’ll get perks when you behave as you believe in the importance of their work and reward them for it. These perks can include anything from freebies and last-minute appointment slots to discounts you don’t see and faster callbacks from your veterinarian. You’d be surprised at the power these “gatekeepers” hold. 

  1. Leverage the vet tech’s knowledge base

Making friends with the technician not only gives you plenty of the same perks the reception staff offers, but it also helps ensure your cat gets extra-great attention. What’s more, veterinary technicians usually possess a treasure trove of some of the same information your veterinarian provides.

This means that pumping the tech for info on finances can absolutely help you out. After all, most techs have been in your shoes.

  1. Don’t be afraid to get personal

While plenty of veterinarians prefer you not go there, getting to know your veterinarian more personally paves the way for better communication. But where to start so you don’t overstep your bounds? Asking about their own cats is a great ice-breaker and typically leads to more relaxed conversations and greater mutual trust should you get into financial hot water at some point in the future.

  1. Speak up early and often

Going through a tough financial time? Speak up. Explain what your goals are to know all your options and what their risks and benefits might be. Ask your veterinarian for the “Cadillac” plan and the “used car” plan and the steps in between so you can make the best possible decision.

Moreover, letting your veterinarian know about your financial state means we’ll almost certainly find ways to cut your expenses. It’ll also make us more amenable to questions like, “Can I get this drug or product online or at my local pharmacy?”

  1. Ask your vet: “What would you do if this were your cat?”

I hate this question when my clients ask it, but it probably helps them make better decisions. After all, knowing how your veterinarian would treat her own cat in the same scenario goes a long way towards understanding the most measured and balanced approaches to the problem you face. What’s more, it gives them one more opportunity to impart personal information. And as I said in #4, getting more personal almost always makes for a better long-term relationship.

So those are my favorite ways of talking to your veterinarian (and staff) about money. What are yours?