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A guide to vets fees, insurance and payment support.

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Swissgreys

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Overview
I. Why do I have to take my guinea pig to a vet?
II. Ways to prepare for vet bills
III. Pet Insurance Providers
IV. What if I can’t afford vet bills?
V. Different types of vet
VI. Why are vets so expensive?




I. Why do I have to take my guinea pig to a vet?

Why do I have to take my guinea pig to a vet?
Sadly, guinea pigs are often still regarded as cheap short-lived ‘starter pets’ by many people; so finding out that your guinea pig requires a trip to the vet followed by the inevitable bill, can come as a shock to many owners.
Guinea pigs have an average lifespan of 5-8 years, so it is almost certain that at some point they will require veterinary treatment.

Who is legally responsible for vet care and payment?
As a pet owner, you are responsible to seek veterinary attention if your pet becomes unwell.
If you are legally considered a minor (the actual age will vary depending on the country you live in), your parent(s) or legal guardian have automatically assumed this responsibility when they have allowed you to get guinea pigs.

If you are an adult but still live in your parents' household, there can occasionally arise the issue of you not being allowed to see a vet even if you can fully pay for it yourself as old mentalities towards small pets still prevail widely. We strongly hope that this guide will help towards allowing you to fulfill your legal obligations towards any pet in your care.

Please remember that withholding veterinary treatment is an offence under the UK Animal Welfare Act (2006) and similar laws apply in other countries such as Australia and the USA, where they do vary slightly from state to state.

UK: Animal Welfare Act 2006


II. Ways to prepare for vet bills

How can I be prepared for vet’s bills?
There are two main ways in which you can prepare for those inevitable vets bills.

1) Open a savings account.
Put some money aside each week/month, creating a vet fund. Setting up a direct debit into an account that you don’t generally have access to is a good way to manage this. It is important that once this money is set aside it is only used to pay vets bills. Do not be fooled into thinking that you can use it for other things once you have a decent amount, as one serious illness or out of hours emergency can wipe out all but the healthiest of vet funds.

2) Pet insurance.
You can set up an insurance policy that will pay for vets bills for certain conditions, usually after you have paid a small excess. It's important to read the small print, and be clear about possible exclusions, recurring illnesses and preexisting conditions. It may be advisable to call discuss it with a customer services advisor before setting up a policy.



III. Pet Insurance Providers

UK
- Exotic Direct – www.exoticdirect.co.uk

USA
- Pet Assure - www.petassure.com
- Nationwide Pet Insurance – www.petinsurance.com

CANADA
I could not find any companies that offer guinea pig insurance in Canada.

AUSTRALIA
- Pet Plan – www.petplan.com.au
- Pet Cover – www.petcover.com.au

Remember that the above list is not exhaustive and that things are changing all the time, so please do your own research before choosing a policy.

If you come across other companies that offer pet insurance for guinea pigs please let us know, and we will update the list.
 

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IV. What if I can’t afford vet bills?

What if I can’t afford to take my guinea pig to the vet?
Please remember that it is your responsibility to see that your guinea pig receives appropriate medical treatment and does not suffer unnecessarily. However, there will be times when the thought of finding the money for a potentially large vets bill seems impossible. That is the reason that we strongly recommend setting up a vet fund or taking out insurance as soon as you get your guinea pigs.

If you are truly struggling to find the money to take your guinea pig to a vet there are several things you can try:
- If your guinea pig requires veterinary attention and you are worried you can’t afford it, be honest with the practice from the beginning. Call and outline the problem, and explain your financial situation. Ask if there is the possibility to pay a percentage up front, and then pay the rest in installments over a set time.
If you find out at the consultation that expensive treatment is required, it is important to agree in advance how you will cover these costs.
This is one advantage of using the same practice on a regular basis, as it allows you to build up a relationship with them. Understandably many practices will be reluctant to set up an instalment plan for clients that they have minimal financial history with, however they can often be more flexible with regular clients. Your vet may also be able to point you in the direction of services that can help if a payment plan is not an option. Many UK clinics offer payment plans.

- Another option is to ask a friend or family member to help out in the short term.
Since US and Canadian clinics usually require upfront payment, this is more likely the option you may want to choose.
Whilst some conditions and illnesses are expensive to treat, there are also many that can be fixed quickly and cheaply with prompt treatment. For example, a hay poke to the eye can often be resolved with 1 appointment and eye drops for a week or two, and cost less than 50 pounds.
However, the same minor injury left untreated can result in ulceration and a serious eye infection, which can (in the worst-case scenario) only be fixed with surgery and multiple medications, which may end up costing several hundred pounds.
Seeing a vet quickly can often work out much cheaper than delaying treatment or trying ineffective home remedies, which may make the problem worse or harder to treat in the long term.

Looking for charities for help with vet bills and free veterinary care
If none of the above avenues are possible, then there are charities designed to help with funding, although they will have eligibility criteria. In many cases these charities survive on public funding, and should not be abused.

Examples of such charities include:
UK
- PDSA – Offers reduced cost or free veterinary treatment to eligible clients. www.pdsa.org.uk
- RSPCA – Offers low cost treatment at their own clinics, and also financial assistance for those who don’t live close to a dedicated clinic - www.rspca.org.uk
- Blue Cross – offers free veterinary treatment to pets whose owners are on certain means-tested benefits - www.bluecross.org.uk

USA
In the USA there are a lot of groups and charities which offer help with vets’ bills. These are often small groups and state specific. A good starting place is this fairly extensive list from the Humane Society - Are you having trouble affording your pet?

CANADA
- Vets for Pets – Offers free mobile clinics twice a month to people on low incomes in the Victoria, BC - www.vetsforpetsvictoria.com
Many charities or practices offer free or low cost treatment to approved clients, so it is best to do a search on your specific area.

AUSTRALIA
- Vet Pay – Offers you the chance to pay for vet bills over time at approved practices country wide – www.vetpay.com.au
Like America, Australia has many smaller organizations that only operate in a limited area, for example:
- Pets of the Homeless – Offers veterinary care for people facing financial hardship in the state of Victoria – www.petsofthehomeless.org.au

It is not possible to list all of these here, so the best thing to do is search for such organizations or charities in your local area or state.
If you cannot obtain veterinary treatment after exhausting all of the above avenues, you should consider signing your pet over to a reputable rescue, where they will receive the medical treatment that they require at the time, and in the future.
Please avoid taking your piggies to a shelter (UK/Australia: pound) with a euthanizing policy if at all possible.
Here is a list of good standard non-kill rescues but you may find more places of varying standard via pet finder in the USA and Canada: Guinea Lynx :: Rescue Organizations
 

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V. Differences between vet clinics
Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of several different types of vet.
These tend to be the ‘local’ general vet, who runs a small independent practice, the multi-clinic vets which are part of a larger chain (often associated with a pet store), and general specialist and exotics vets.

Local independent vets
Local vet/s tend to have smaller practices and see a wide range of animals (with the most common being cats and dogs). They often have fewer diagnostic tools on-site and may need to send samples away for analysis or seek a second opinion. They may see guinea pigs fairly infrequently.

Many independent local general vet clinics have been bought up in recent years by regional or national chains. They are still run on a similar level as before, but they have access to more testing, can afford to stock a somewhat wider range of products centrally or have online access to an exotics vet on tap for all clinics of the chain. These chains are generally mid-range in pricing.
Especially vets that have been working in vet clinics specialising on seeing all kinds of pets can have good or even extensive guinea pig experience, as will vets that are being used by a guinea pig rescue.

The advantage is that you can build a good relationship with the practice staff, they will often be flexible in scheduling appointments, they may be willing to consider your ideas and opinions, and they are close by in the event of an emergency.

Multi-clinic or chain practices
Multi-clinic vets usually have several vets working there, some of who have more experience with small animals than others. They may offer more onsite facilities, but these are often geared towards more common pets (cats and dogs). They can be noisy and busy, can have a high staff turnover, and you may not see the same vet every time you visit.

The advantage is that they often offer long consulting hours, it is easy to get an appointment, and they may be cheaper than other vets. Cost of running are also kept small by only stocking a limited amount of licensed medication, so you will be prescribed standard antibiotics and painkillers but not necessarily the best or most effective medication.
This is especially the case with no-profit charity chains or no-frills chains associated with pet shops.

Exotic vets and general vets specialising in guinea pigs
Guinea pigs, like all small pet rodents, are classed as exotic animals because they are neither used as farm help nor used for meat production outside South America. This means that they do not usually feature large on a general vet's curriculum.
While general vets specialising in small animal clinics that deal with common pets will usually study up on rodents if they see them regularly, you can never count on this unless you are familiar with a clinic and the vets working there.
Exotics vets will generally know more about rodent treatment and be trained in operating on small animals, even if they are not necessarily all that familiar with guinea pigs as a species.

Exotics vets are usually the most expensive option and may require you to travel further than your local vet.
The reason for the difference in cost is usually directly proportional to the facilities offered and the experience of the staff who will be dealing with your guinea pig. In addition, a specialist vet will often diagnose a problem and prescribe the correct treatment immediately, as opposed to a less experienced vet who may not have come across the problem before.
Specialist clinics usually have better facilities for small pets, including things like a quiet recovery room (away from barking dogs) to keep stress to a minimum after procedures.
They are also more likely to offer on-site testing, x-rays, ultra sounds, and they stock a much larger range of medications, supplements and support foods available to dispense immediately, which is also adding considerably to the overheads.
As specialists, the staff are more experienced with small animals, and may have additional training in things like small animal anesthesia and aftercare.

Out of hours clinics
In the UK, round the clock emergency vet access has to be available in all areas of the country. Every vet clinic is obliged to leave a contact number on their phone message while they are closed. In rural areas the closest service may be a distance away but in urban areas you usually have one within comparatively easy reach, and may also have the option for 24 hour chain clinic.

Because running these out-of-hours services requiring several shift working staff is costly, there is usually a much higher consultation fee; during the small hours of the night, this is usually in the area of £100 plus medical cost.
If you are qualified for charity support, this will also cover any justified emergency care. The same goes for insurances unless specified otherwise in the policy.

However, it can make the difference between life and death and you do not have leave guinea pig suffering/dying in agony.
If you have not been accepted by a charity and are not covered by an inurance policy, we would recommend to our UK mambers to always have at least £150-200 accessible in your vet fund (stand 2020) in order to be able to cover an out-of-hours emergency or be able to pay make any necessary initial contribution towards a payment plan in case of a rather expensive life saving emergency operation or procedure.
For other countries we would recommend to save up at least for a basic consultation with standard antibiotic and painkiller and to cover the cost of an emergency euthanasia at your closest vet clinic.


How do I choose a good vet for my guinea pigs?
The easiest place to start is with our guinea pig vet locator.
- Recommended vets UK: Guinea Pig Vet Locator
- Recommended vets in other countries (courtesy of Guinea Lynx): Veterinarians - The GLX-Files

If you don’t live near any of the recommended guinea pig vets, then the real key is to find a vet BEFORE you actually need one. Emergencies tend to happen at the worst possible times, so finding a vet that you trust and have an established relationship with before you actually need them is always a good idea.
This gives you the chance to meet your vet, discuss their experience with guinea pigs, talk about topics such as payment (do they require upfront payments?), and work out if they will be able to offer the care your pets need.
It is important that any vet you choose is comfortable treating guinea pigs, and is aware of their own limitations if they are not a specialist. My own local vet (not a specialist) has actually said to me in a consultation that she isn’t certain what the problem is, and will need to talk to a colleague first. She has also referred me directly to a specialist for a more complex issue, however she is nearby, and perfect for basic problems like mites, hay pokes and fungal infections.

If you have adopted from a rescue they will provide the details of the vet they use, so this means they will certainly be experienced with guinea pigs!

You can read more tips on preparing for vet visits here:
Tips For Vet Visits


VI. Why are vets so expensive?

There is an excellent article (UK based, 2017) that shows you are not alone in feeling that vets charge too much. It also offers a good explanation as to why vets fees appear so expensive.
Pet costs - why do vets charge so much?

Many people are often unaware of the ‘hidden’ costs of running a veterinary practice.
A breakdown of costs involved showed that only around 20% of your total bill goes towards the vet’s salary. The other 80% pays for staff, facilities, medication, stock items, and tax.
Specialist diagnostic machinery is expensive, as is paying qualified staff to be available 24 hours a day.
Health care in general is expensive (for humans and animals), but for those of us with access to free healthcare (NHS), or with good medical insurance, we rarely see this side of things. So, when we do see how much a few basic tests cost for our guinea pig it can come as quite a shock.

When you take on a guinea pig you assume responsibility for its health and well-being, and providing appropriate medical care is simply one small but important part of that.

Choose a good vet, save for emergencies and enjoy many (hopefully) trouble-free years of guinea pig ownership!
 
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