Pets and Vets: Reducing Your Vet Bill in Mexico
Most of us are aware that many people have come under substantial financial hardship because of medical bills. A high-quality reasonably-priced healthcare system alone might be reason enough to consider moving to Mexico. What if the medical costs were associated with a pet?
Sound silly? Pets are treasured members of the family. Just like medical care has improved for people, new surgeries for pets are keeping them alive longer than ever before.
Denise, a San Diego yoga instructor and massage therapist, was never seen without her 10-year old shepherd mix. He went everywhere with her. When Denise stood up, the dog stood up. When Denise left a room, the dog was right behind her. When the dog tore his meniscus, her San Diego vet told her it would cost $10,000 to fix.
Distraught, Denise plunked down the payment for the surgery on her credit card.
When her business dropped off and she couldn’t keep up the minimum payment on the accumulating debt, debt that started with that $10,000 vet bill, Denise had to sell her home. In San Diego’s perpetually hot rental market, she now rents a house for more than her house payment was.
If you don’t own a pet, all this may sound a bit irresponsible, but if you do have a pet, and maybe that pet is even your primary companion, you probably have a much more accurate feel for the situation.
According to a recent survey, 38% of dog-owners love their dog more than their partner. On a scale of 1-10, respondents said they’d be more devastated if their dog ran away than if their significant other broke up with them. As one put it, “I don’t know how long a [boyfriend] will stay around. I know my dog will always be there for me.”
The amount of money Americans spend on their pets rises every year. Last year we spent $30.4 billion (some sources reported as high as $60 billion). I bet a billion of that was for Halloween costumes.
The Washington Post recently reported that 46% of people said they didn’t have $400 to cover an emergency. Many people have come to think of their credit cards as an emergency fund.
Extrapolating from that statistic, combined with how pets have climbed the rung of our affection, you can more easily understand how many people would charge $10,000 on a credit card for a pet they loved.
I don’t have a dog, but even I can see how a pet would be more important to me than a leaky roof. How much would you put on your credit card for your best friend?
Charles, a long-time friend of mine living in San Diego, recounted Denise’s story to me. She’s his yoga instructor and friend. He told me the story in the context of side work he does taking friends and their pets to veterinarians he knows in Tijuana.
Having lived in the same neighborhood in San Diego for 25 years, his services grew by word-of-mouth. He has never advertised. He has traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Latin and South America and feels totally comfortable in the chaotic streets of Tijuana, apparent in the confident manner in which he ferried me to my recent dentist appointment there.
Unfortunately, Denise didn’t meet Charles until later, when he began attending her yoga class.
“Only last week another friend of mine had a dog with a subcutaneous growth which was not healing.” he told me. “So I took him down to one of three places I’d recommend there.
“The vet was very friendly and professional. He told us he could remove the growth and it would be $100, including the anesthesia. My friend would have paid at least $900 here in San Diego.
“We agreed to return in 2 hours, grabbed lunch at a bodega, and retrieved the dog and some antibiotics for the first 5 days. The doctor said we could return in a week to remove the stitches at no charge. My friend did remove the stitches himself, saving us from having to cross the border again. But the dog is happy and healthy, and my friend isn’t looking at a $1,000 vet bill.”
Anyone who has crossed the border between San Diego and Tijuana probably remembers the wait at the border as well as they do what they did in Mexico.
With so many people now going into Mexico for medical and dental services, the Tijuana border has begun recognizing special medical passes (purchased for about $10) that speed up your trip coming back over the border. You receive them at the doctors’ offices. These medical line passes also apply to those returning from veterinarian services.
I asked Charles what other type of treatments his furry clients have needed. “We have a type of grass here in southern California called foxtail which seems to get trapped in dog's’ paws frequently and often requires surgery to remove.”
He took another friend of his and her dog down there for another surgery that had been quoted to her for $1,200 in San Diego. “As a rule of thumb, the veterinary bill in Mexico is going to be 10 to 20% of the cost it would be in the U.S.
“Of course if the pet is in pain, the choice is more difficult. Another friend of mine whose dog broke his leg considered going. The dog was in too much pain so he paid almost $3,000 up here. I doubt if it would have been more than $500 in Tijuana.
He thinks the trips are a particularly good option for expensive “pre-existing conditions” that don’t get covered by pet insurance. You might need to show vaccination papers at the border, and your pet has to have received those vaccinations within a certain period of time.
In my own experience, I have a friend here in Mazatlan who spent $2,000 flying her 13 year old poodle to Mexico City for special type of cataract surgery. She’s one of the most rational people I know. If she still lived in the U.S., Marley would probably not be with her today as one can only guess what that surgery would cost in the U.S.
“I just think that’s a terrible choice to have to make,” added Charles, “Deciding between a pet you really love and the size of your credit card bill.”
If you're wondering about traveling to Mexico in general with your pet or bringing your pet with you to live, Expat Exchange offers the details.
Next up: The secret of making friends in Mexico is to first love the one you're with.
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Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico, providing insights and resources to expat wanna-bees to Mexico, including the new book, "If Only I Had a Place" on renting luxuriously in Mexico.
She is also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a resource to help you start your language journey with the best tools on the web. Learning a language has been scientifically proven as the best way to exercise your brain. If you're a potential expat, best get started soon!