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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vaccination Clinics for Pets -- Save Vet Fees!

The dog's shots were set to expire on August 4, but I'll be boarding him from August 6-11.  So he needed more shots.  I took him to the vet in the town I was visiting at the time, told the receptionist the situation, and requested that the shots all be updated so that I could send the updated shot records to the kennel where he will be staying.  When I picked him up, I was assured that his shots were updated.  I guess I was a bit groggy, because I didn't check until a day or two later when I prepared to fax the updated shot records to the kennel.  At that point, I noticed that his bordetella shot and his distemper shot would expire on August 4.  I called the vet and asked what had happened, and they explained that they only updated the shots that had actually expired (i.e., the rabies shot).

I called a local vet and explained the situation.  They would be happy to give me the two shots -- at about $20 and $30 respectively -- and of course, I would also have to pay $50 for an office visit.  There was no getting around the office visit charge; the vet must be paid for his time, no matter how little he does.

I first looked on line and found a pet supply place that sells vaccines, and provides a video showing you how to administer them to your dog.  The vaccines themselves sell for less than $5.00 apiece (so the vet's markup is literally 500% or more, not even including the office visit), although they recommend that you ship by air, which would cost an additional $20 or $25.  I considered doing this, but wasn't sure how I would document that I had effectively administered the vaccine to the dog; not sure that the kennel would take my word for that.  I.e. even if I could prove that I purchased the vaccine, there's no way I could prove that the dog didn't jump or whatever while I was trying to administer it.  I called the pet supply place and they didn't have any bright ideas; in the end, it probably depends on the kennel.

I then googled around and found that the local Humane Society, as well as another local animal shelter, provide "vaccination clinics" on a weekly basis.  On those days, for a 2 or 3 hour period, you bring the dog in and get the shots.  The shots are $10 each, and there is no fee for the office visit.  There is no income restriction or anything like that.  In fact, they are still making a profit, given that the vaccines themselves only cost half of that.  The Humane Society doesn't offer bordetella any more -- they say it's just not needed (another scam, see below) -- so I went to the shelter's clinic.

I don't know if the person who gave the shots was a vet or not, but she was extremely competent.  I only had $25 with me, so I gave it all to them.  But the donation of $5 seems paltry given the service that they provide and given that they saved me a full $80.  If they are on my CFC form, I'll contribute more to them next year.

In the course of my research, I also found that an outfit called luvmypet holds regular vaccination clinics at local PetCos, but they don't seem to be held on a weekly basis (the next one at my local PetCo was more than 10 days off).  They charge about $20 per vaccine, which is less than the vet charges (but still a big markup), and there's no office visit fee.  So for many people (who don't have access to the animal shelter that  used), the PetCo clinics might well be the best bet.  Anything to save the pointless $50 vet fee.

So if you need to get your pet vaccinated, but don't feel like he needs a whole physical examination, then find the nearest vaccine clinic, check their schedule, and go there!  You don't need to see your vet every time something needs to be done with your dog.

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And now on the bordetella scam.  Bottom line is that any responsible vet will tell you the shot lasts a year.  And any responsible vet will probably also tell you that a dog with a cough is a rare thing indeed, and it's not all that dangerous a condition anyway.  But the drug companies have clearly been at work persuading vets -- especially boarding vets -- that the vaccine needs to be given every 6 months.  And of course they are easy to persuade, since it means more profits -- often in the form of office visit charges -- for them.  If you drop your pet off for boarding at one of these places watch out -- they will insist on vaccinating the dog, and because they had to vaccinate the dog, you'll be charged another $30, $40, or $50 for the office visit (some kennels offer $10 discounts on physicals if you board your dog there).  All for nothing, except the vet.

What's interesting is that the original patent on the bordetella vaccine has almost certainly expired.  Here it is, I think.  Issued in 1989, so unless it received extensions, it expired in 2006 (and 6 years of extension seems highly unlikely for a pet medicine). That's doubtless why I can get the vaccine so cheap on-line (and at the clinics).  So it seems quite possible that the vets (all of them acting together, but without actual collusion) have just kept their vaccine prices at the same levels even as the prices of the vaccines have plummeted.  And the ones that see kennel cough vaccine as a profit center will keep telling you to get it every six months, and will keep charging you for those office visits.  Can't blame them (everybody in business wants to get the highest possible price for their product, and is entitled to try to get it), but it's something the rest of us should be aware of.

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