Being a pet parent is a joy, an honor… and a financial obligation. When it comes to veterinary care, even a relatively financially stable person can find themselves facing an eye-watering unexpected vet bill and scrambling to find ways to pay it.
Here are a few frugal vet care options to keep yourself from ending up in that kind of situation and what to do if you are.
Can you afford a pet?
Ideally, the cost of vet care should be taken into account when you’re making the decision to get a new pet in the first place. Does the routine stuff fit into your budget when you’ve got time and space to plan for them? Can you afford vaccines, spay/neuter, deworming, and heartworm and flea preventatives without going through a low-cost or charity clinic?
If not, the brutal truth is that you may not really be able to afford a pet. If the planned basics are out of your reach, what will you do when you run into an unexpected illness or emergency?
But don’t lose hope! It doesn’t mean there’s no way you can responsibly have an animal.
Consider fostering for a rescue. It’s win/win! In general, the rescue covers all the vet bills and may even pay for food and other supplies. You provide the loving home for a pet who may have nowhere else to go. Yes, saying goodbye when they move on to their new homes can be tough, but it’s worth it! And, if you have patience and work closely with rescues, you may be able to find a “permanent foster” situation, where you take in a pet who is hard to adopt, has health issues, or is struggling in a shelter setting, and keep them indefinitely. It does mean you may have to consider taking on a pet who needs some extra care, but it also means you get to have the same pet long-term.
If fostering isn’t your style, check with friends and neighbors to see if they’ll let you borrow their pets occasionally. It’s another win/win- you want a hiking buddy? I would LOVE to have someone take my little goblin for an afternoon and wear him out for free and he’d probably have the time of his life hanging out with his favorite aunt or uncle.
An ounce of prevention…
All that basic checkup stuff might seem like an optional and unnecessary expense at the time it’s due, but it’s done for a reason. The diseases prevented by routine vaccinations are more common than you may think. And they’re devastating, expensive to treat, and often deadly. You might save a few bucks today by skipping that parvo shot or heartworm preventative, but you could be setting yourself up for an eye-watering emergency bill that might hit you when you least expect it. It’s not really the frugal vet care option you might think it is.
Beyond veterinary preventive care, general safe stewardship of your pet can go a long way as far as preventing emergency bills. Accidents happen, but are you doing what you can to prevent them? If, for example, your pet is regularly allowed to roam the neighborhood unsupervised, they’ll have a much higher-than-average chance of sustaining a variety of injuries. If your dog is, say, a sock eater and you still leave your socks lying around, it’s not exactly an out-of-the-blue shocker when he gets a bowel obstruction and needs a three-thousand-dollar surgery.
Consider pet insurance.
Even if you do everything perfectly, your pet could still get sick or injured and end up costing more than you can afford at a moment’s notice. So how can you keep vet care from breaking the bank another way? Pet insurance may be a big help!
Most major insurance companies now have pet plans available with a variety of coverage options. Your own veterinary office may also offer “pet plans,” which may cover anything from office visits to dentals to emergencies.
Try Care Credit
So your dog needs a $4,000 surgery and you simply do not own that much money right now. The vet’s office doesn’t offer payment plans (to be frank, I don’t know of a single vet’s office that regularly does), so what are you supposed to do? Depending on your credit, you can try CareCredit.
As with any credit card, of course, you’ll still have to pay the bill. But there’s a big difference between being blindsided by a sudden and impossible cost and being able to plan for it over the course of several months.
Having a vet expense that you struggle to pay can be heartbreaking, frustrating, and stressful. But keep in mind that it is NOT your veterinarian’s fault, nor is it the fault of their staff. It’s not their fault that your pet is sick or injured. It’s not their fault that it costs a lot. And it’s not their fault that you can’t afford it. They’re not charging you money because they’re greedy or because they don’t understand that this is hard for you. They’re charging you money because that’s what it costs to treat the problem.
Depending on the clinic and the problem, they may or may not have some leeway to work with you on the price. Just like you and everyone else, their resources are limited.
If they can, though, kindness can go a long way as far as facilitating that. If you only have enough to help one person, you’re going to be a lot more inclined to give it to the person who treats you with respect than the one who hurls abuse at you.
Also, just be kind because the staff at your vet clinic are… you know… human beings.
Ask for help
There are a number of charitable organizations that may be able to help with vet bills in a crisis. Each will have its own requirements and expectations. Even charities don’t have infinite resources or funds, so be prepared for the possibility that you may not be able to get your entire bill covered this way or that the application process may be lengthy or rigorous.
You can find a list of resources for assistance with vet bills in Missouri here. In the St. Louis area, there’s a Facebook group called Saving St. Louis Pets, where people can post their stories and connect with people who may be able to advise or help with specifics. The group leaders fundraise and pay some vet bills (they are registered nonprofit), but its greatest strength is networking and peer-to-peer education.
Directly appealing to family and friends may be socially tricky, but setting up a GoFundMe or similar personal fundraiser sometimes proves to be the most effective way of raising money, especially if you have a decent network. While the people who make decisions in vet clinics and charities care about all animals, you and your specific animal are not any more special to them than the other 700 animals who need their help that day. For your stepdad and best friend and the chick on social media whom you only met in person twice, but who knows how much you love that dog, it’s a different story. And sometimes, your loved ones are just waiting for you to ask.
We know you love your pets more than anything and guess what- so do we! For personalized care when you can’t be there, book one of our experienced pet-sitters. Check out our services page for more information!
Janie founded 4-Legged Kids, Inc in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1997 and provides education through her PetBizHIVE podcast and her PetBizMBA membership and courses. She is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator, Fear Free certified and a Certified Professional Pet Sitter. Learn more about the Founder, Janie Budnick.