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Pets and Vets: Reducing Your Vet Bill in Mexico


Updated 2019

The cost of having a pet, Mexico versus the U.S.

The escalating cost of healthcare in the U.S. is one of the major reasons people move to Mexico, where the cost of drugs and are might be a fraction of their U.S. cost. What if the high medical costs a person sought to avoid were associated with a pet?,jpg

Sound silly? Denise, a San Diego yoga instructor and physical therapist, was never seen without her 10-year old shepherd mix. When she 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.

The Washington Post reported recently that four in 10 adults say they do not have $400 to cover an emergency. The survey went on to say that many people have come to think of their credit cards as an emergency fund. Using a credit card as a saving account, combined with how pets have climbed the rung of our affection and it becomes easy to extrapolate how an average citizen might charge $10,000 on a credit card for a vet bill.

Distraught, that is what Denise did. When work dropped off and she couldn’t keep up the minimum payment on the accumulating debt, debt that started with the $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 irresponsible, but if you do have a pet, and maybe that pet is even your primary companion, this account may not be so far-fetched. 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, “I don’t know how long a [boyfriend] will stay around. I know my dog will always be there for me,” said one survey respondent. Americans are projected to spend $72 billions dollars on pets in 2019 (according to estimates 440 million was spent on pet costumes alone).

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. Innovation has caused vet costs to skyrocket along a parallel path with human healthcare. The average cost per year to own a pet is around $1,200 for a dog and a little less for a cat. Undoubtedly, that does not take in special situations like Denise's’.

photo dogs in Mexico

Marley (center) and friends in Mexico

I have never owned a dog and even I can see how a pet would be more important to me than a leaky roof. It’s a terrible choice to have to make, deciding between a pet you really, really love and the size of your credit card bill.

Like human healthcare, vet care in Mexico is a fraction its cost in the U.S. When my friend business partner, The Intrepid Elise, spent $2,000 flying her 13 year old poodle to Mexico City for special type of cataract surgery. If she still lived in U.S., she might have been in the same position as Denise.

People are probably not yet moving to Mexico for less expensive veterinarian services. Yet with the cost of vet care shooting upwards, having a pet becomes one more “luxury” that has the potential to break you at home. Just like people may cross the border for cheaper dental care in Mexico, people near the border also crossover for vet care.

Charles, a long-time friend of mine living in San Diego, takes friends and their pets to veterinarians he knows in Tijuana. “Recently a friend of mine had a dog with a subcutaneous growth which was not healing.” he told me. “I took him down to one of three places I recommend in Tijuana.

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 trips coming back over the border. Patients receive them at the doctors’ offices. These medical line passes also apply to those returning from veterinarian services.

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. “The vet was very friendly and professional.” said Charles. He told us he could remove the growth and it would cost $100, including the anesthesia. My friend would have paid at least $1,000 here in San Diego with the antibiotics. The dog is happy and healthy, and my friend isn’t looking at a $1,000 vet bill.”

Charles thinks the taking a pet to Mexico is 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 as we’ll talk about later.

Attitudes towards pets in Mexico

You will find that the attitude towards pets in Mexico is still a long way from what you are used to at home. (I often tell people that when I die, I want to come back as a dog in Colorado). Animal abuse happens everywhere, yet personally, I find it more on public display in Mexico, where I have seen dogs kept unguarded on roofs of expensive homes and chained in dark, small back porches, probably for days at a time even in wealthier homes.

In some cities, like Mexico City, feral dogs run the risk of rabies and public health concerns. If you are a dog owner with a hyper, social breed, you will need to be aware of greater likelihood of unleashed dogs. Many dogs are abandoned, like Easter chicks, once they grow out of the cute puppy stage. Mexico has both more pets (70% of households claim to have a pet) and more abandoned animals on the streets than almost any other Latin American Country. A number of expats have opened shelters and adoption services in response to what they’ve seen.

As younger generations of Mexicans become more mobile, usually because of job availability, and less geographically-tied to their families, the desire for the companionship of a pet is on the rise in Mexico. Fortunately, Canadian, American and European influences are beginning to have an impact on pet care.

puppy in Mexico

Puppies and kittens under three months are exempt from rabies vaccination requirements

The past few years have seen a significant increase in owners’ preoccupation for their pets’ health in Mexico. In recognition of that, Bayer de Mexico, a pharmaceutical company, in partnership Ocetif, a food certification organization, has begun issuing a certification for veterinarians called TUVET, the first in Latin America for veterinary clinics and hospitals for smaller animals.

The principal objective in issuing the certification is to ensure quality service in veterinary establishments. To receive a certification veterinary practices must demonstrate consistency in veterinary training, engage in preventive medicine, ensure quality care and show attentive customer service.

To enter Mexico with a dog or cat (only dogs and cats are considered pets by Mexico, other animals have their own rules), you have to supply proof of vaccination against rabies at least 15 days before arriving and indicate the date of vaccination and the date through which the vaccination is valid.

Pets need to be treated for internal and external parasites within six months of entering Mexico, as well as hepatitis and distemper. Treatment for ticks must be recent. Mexico accepts the three year vaccine. The all-in-one vaccination is DHLPP for dogs. For cats, you should have both FVRCP-P as well as feline leukemia shots.

The documentation has to indicate how they were treated, the manufacturer or name of the vaccine, as well as the vaccine’s serial number. The requirements are specific so make sure your vet on the U.S. side understands the requirements.

There are two options for documentation. With the first, each pet has the APHIS Form 7001 health certificate (HC) that has been issued and signed by a USDA accredited veterinarian within 10 days prior to entry into Mexico. Certification of good health should be attached or part of the document. Mexico will reject VS Form 7001 health certificates if they are not signed by an accredited veterinarian and endorsed by a Veterinary Services veterinarian.

The alternative (and it certainly sounds easier) is that your veterinarian uses a template for a certificate of good health which is then printed on their letterhead that includes the accreditation number or photo of the license of the signing USDA-certified veterinarian. The certificate must be issued within 10 days of export.

This certificate does not need to be endorsed by the USDA. No changes should be made to the wording in this document. The health certificate cannot be handwritten. You also cannot use abbreviations for states, dates or ages. You have to have the dogs name, age, sex and breed as well as all the other testimonies of good health.

Now that you are totally confused, remember that these kind of instructions, like putting together a child’s toy from the instructions in the box, sound worse than they are, especially when different online sources tell you different things.

These are steps all sources agree on, and if you understand the general spirit of what you need, you very likely will be fine. If you don’t, there isn’t much that airports have not seen and are not prepared for. Factor extra time and a few hundred dollars, in case of a snafu where a health inspector or official has to be called. Carry extra copies of all documents as people run off with them.

In summary, logically your pet needs documentation from a licensed vet that it is healthy and up on all vaccinations, needs to be treated for internal and external vermine close to the time of departure, and expect the health inspector to want to know how your pet was vaccinated and with what. Logically the official wants to be able to muddle through the documents in spite of language barriers so make it easy for him. If your pet is being treated for something, it is also logical that you will need to prepare to explain it, perhaps with a little Spanish.

Coming across the border by land, you likely will not be asked for any documentation, but you should have it, should you get that one official who didn’t get his coffee that morning. By air, you are likely to need to have everything in order. If something is amiss, the airport calls its own inspectors to issue a certificate at a cost. As long is your dog is healthy, one of the beauties of Mexico is that even mistakes cost less to fix.

If you travel by air, make sure you check your airline's rules and charges for carrying pets. Some do not transport them. If they do, you will need to put them in an airline certified travel crate of acceptable dimensions.

Mexican airlines may be different from American. For example, AeroMexico's regulations for transporting a pet are that the flight be less than six hours and must fit under the seat in front of you. The carrier has to be well-ventilated with and interior base made of absorbent material. The carrier has to be large enough to allow the pet to stand, turn, and lie down. The pet must remain inside the carrier for the entirety of the flight and it is prohibited to provide food or drink to the pet during the flight. Given the possible stringency, check the regulations before booking the flight.

If you fly into Mexico often, you might want to consider Mexico’s Frequent Traveler Program for Pets (Programa Mascota Viajero Frecuente) that streamlines the process of importing a dogs and cats for frequent travelers.

On the first visit, all of the pet medical information required for import are entered into the computer.The pet will be permitted to enter the country without the need to show all this information again provided that the pet appears healthy and the rabies shots and anti-parasite treatment are up to date.

The registration is active for six months and can be renewed by providing updated medical records. If your pet does not have a registered microchip (recommended), make sure your pets are wearing tags that identify them and have contact information for the owner,

The government agency tasked with overseeing the importation of pets is el Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad, Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASICA) and you can also register for the program at their offices or at Agricultural Sanitation Inspection offices located at airports in Cancún, Guadalajara, Querétaro, Zihuatanejo, Toluca and Mazatlán. Applications can also be made in both terminals of the Mexico City International Airport and at the Senasica central offices, also in Mexico City. The program is free.

Pets returning to Mexico are subject to the same passport requirements as those entering for the first time. This means that pet owners returning to Mexico should have a new health certificate completed by a vet in the country you are visiting if you stay for more than 30 days.

As a part-time expat staying for months at a time rather than a vacationer, you may want to get a health certificate (Certificado Zoosanitario) from a licensed Mexican veterinarian, to present when you come back to the U.S. Technically this is required if you have been in Mexico over 30 days. Make sure your dog's rabies vaccination is still up to date when you go back through.

Many expats bring their pets with them to Mexico. I know several snowbirds who bring their lap dogs with them each season. There is no reason for a pet to prevent you from having a part-time expat lifestyle once you get accustomed to the process.

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About the author:

Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico, providing insights and resources to expat wanna-bees to Mexico. "If Only I Had a Place" tells you how to rent luxuriously in Mexico. The "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," provides aa 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 considering Mexico, the time to learn is now.  The Guide is completely interactive, linking you to the best free features via links. Study from home or abroad from your laptop, e-reader or  Kindle Fire reader.

The “Mexico Solution” is the ultimate guide to living the best of both worlds through part-time life in Mexico. Both a “how to” and cultural insights.