Pets are big business in the United States.

Americans spend a staggering $41 billion a year on their cats, dogs, birds, lizards and any other animal you can think of, according to a 2007 report by Business Week. But, as the economy takes a downturn — are our pets suffering in the process?

“Without a doubt, finances are a huge issue for pet owners,” Dr. Neil Shaw, chief medical officer of NYC Veterinary Specialists, told FOXNews.com.

“Because there is very little pet insurance available, pet owners are paying out of their own pocket,” Shaw said. “As a result, we’re seeing in the emergency room that pets are coming in sicker and folks are not watching and bringing in their pets early enough to treat many treatable diseases.”

Shaw said it’s extremely important to make sure a minor health problem doesn’t become a major one.

Here are six signs that you should bring your pet to the veterinarian:

1. If your pet vomits for more than a day or has the dry heaves.

2. The pet has not eaten for more than 24 to 48 hours.

3. They are unable to sleep or get comfortable for any period of time.

4. Your pet isn’t drinking.

5. There is blood in their vomit or stool.

6. Finally, if your pet is unresponsive and refuses to go outside.

One of the best defenses for keeping your pet out of the animal emergency room is to make sure it gets an annual check-up.

“We all understand that times are a little tough right now, but most owners can save themselves from more costly bills if they find the root of the problem early on, and more often than not, it can save their pet’s life,” Shaw said in a news release.

“It is difficult and unfortunate to see pet owners have to put their pets to sleep because the illness has progressed to requiring costly medical treatment. With regular check-ups, pet owners could really benefit in the long run when they consult with their family veterinarian.”

There are approximately 74.8 million owned dogs in the United States and 88.3 million cats, according to the most recent statistics from the Humane Society of the United States.

On average, dog owners spend $219 on veterinary visits annually, which includes vaccines and well visits. Cat owners spend an average of $175, the Humane Society said on its Web site.

The big message Shaw wants pet owners to take home is this: “It’s important to work with your veterinarian. The reality is, because I see this every single day, is that you’ll end up saving money by working with your vet and being up front about your limited finances, rather than avoiding them all together.”

And as a result, you may just end up saving your beloved pet’s life in the process.