How to negotiate with your vet (in five simple steps)

Patty Khuly, DVM
Written by:
Published: July 13, 2009

It’s 6 PM and your favorite veterinary hospital is windng down for the day. You can see the lights go off inside just as you pull up with “the mother of all emergencies.” Your dog has just bloated and you didn’t think to call ahead. You were so wound up and near-hysterical when you found him at home, mid-bloat and retching, you didn’t even have time to register the time of day. 

As you see your dog’s chances downgraded with that one flip of a light switch from across the parking lot, you’re beginning to come to grips with a scary reality: 

Not only do you have to convince your veterinarian and her staff to stay after hours, you’ve got to pull off the near-impossible: prove that you’re good for the balance on what will certainly be a huge vet bill that extends way beyond the limits of what’s left on your credit cards. 

Here’s how you do it––and, so you know, this works for all manner of emergencies or non-emergencies, big or small, personal or financial:

#1 Put yourself in your vet’s shoes

The number one “trick” to all negotiations is to understand things from the other side’s point of view. What is it they “need”? What makes them tick? Why would they make exceptions for you and not for others? What’ll make your appeal successful? 

Here are some tips on this front:

  • Veterinarians want to make you happy,
  • we want to save your pets,
  • we respect the severity of an every-minute-counts emergency (here’s where we shine),
  • we want to feel respected for our unique ability to render this kind of care, and....
  • we don’t want to feel taken advantage of. 

Always understand that...

  • we have families we need to get home to,
  • we have employers, staff and other parties to satisfy, financially and otherwise, and that...
  • we have lives to live beyond our practices. 

#2 Acknowledge that you’re getting special treatment... 

...and that you’re grateful for anything she can do. Not that you have to grovel, just get a little personal and admit that you understand what she’s giving up to help you. 

Hearing it in words can make all the difference between feeling like we’re helping of our own free will and feeling like we’re being manipulated to do something for you because you expect us to. No one likes the latter option. It makes us feel like chumps.

#3 Don’t forget the staff

The almighty staff can make the difference between a willing veterinarian and one that knows she’ll have to beg from her own staff to get things done. A doc that doesn’t have her staff’s buy-in suffers for anything “extra” she’s willing to commit to. And she’s less willing to go the extra mile if that’s the case. 

Therefore, it’s your job to recruit the staff’s interest. Appeal to their sense of loyalty to veterinary medicine and their unique ability to get things done well. Try this: “Without you I know none of this would be happening.” I know it sounds cheesy but, come on, you know it’s true. 

#4 Convince us you can pay

Sure, we all hit hard times. Negotiating on the issue of finances is not easy for any of us. Not only do veterinarians not want to hear about your intimate financial details, we know you hate doing it, too. Still, we need just enough information to understand that you’ll pay us back.

Here are some more tips:

#1 Ask if you can apply for CareCredit (if your veterinarian offers it). It shows you’re proactive about paying your bill as soon as possible. 

#2 Leave something valuable behind. A post-dated check, a pre-signed credit card slip. Offer to do this before anyone asks. It helps. 

#3 Have something to offer by way of a barter? Do you paint houses? Draw? Pet-sit? Wash cars? Fell trees? Grow mangoes or avocadoes? I’ve bartered successfully with clients for all of these goods and services. Even if we don’t accept, we’ll value you more for taking the initiative to ask. 

#5 Nurture your relationship... in good times and bad

Brownies, cookies, thank-you cards, great questions and follow-through on at-home pet care are always valued. Maintaining a great relationship for years is unquestionably the best way to get through the rough patches and crazy emergencies we’ll all eventually have to muddle through. 

After all, we’re exactly like you. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated and everything tends to fall into place. Not a bad reminder for a Monday morning, right? 

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