As a conscientious pet parent, you know one of your responsibilities is ensuring your four-legged companion receives the appropriate health care. You likely also know that veterinary care can be unexpected and expensive. So how can you keep yourself out of a situation that requires you to choose between potentially life-saving veterinary care, letting your pet suffer or surrendering your pet to a shelter? In short, what do you do if you can’t afford veterinary care?
Plan ahead to avoid stress later
One reality of pet ownership is that emergencies, illnesses and injuries will happen, even to the best-cared-for dogs and cats. And unforeseen circumstances — such as a job loss, natural disaster or loved one’s sudden death — can leave you financially strapped and facing expenses you can’t pay. Here are three ways you can deal with veterinary costs — if you plan ahead.
- Pet health insurance. Today there are far more options for pet health insurance than just 10 years ago. Insurance may be a good option because it can reimburse you for unexpected expenses. Some plans also will cover routine wellness care. Just be sure to read through the policy paperwork carefully so you understand your pet’s coverage. The website petinsurancereview.com can help you compare features of various companies and plans.
- Health care credit card. A health care credit card, such as CareCredit®, can be used to pay for routine veterinary care, such as vaccines, medications and dental cleanings, as well as unexpected expenses and emergency treatment. It offers an interest-free payback period if you pay your balance in full within the specified time frame. Other payment options are available, so check the company’s website for details. Like any credit application, you’ll want to review the terms and conditions carefully.
- Dedicated savings account. If pet health insurance or a health care credit card doesn’t appeal to you, you can set up a dedicated savings account that you use to pay for unexpected veterinary expenses.
Other resources may be able to help you afford veterinary care
Accidents and illnesses happen when you least expect them and treatment costs can quickly exceed your emergency pet care fund. What are your options then? Financial aid is out there, but you may need to search for it.
- Look online for organizations that may be able to help. Both Best Friends Animal Society and the Humane Society of the United States offer comprehensive lists of national and state resources that may be able to help pet owners in need. Some organizations may provide assistance for only those pets affected with specific health issues, such as heart disease or cancer, or for certain procedures. You’ll need to investigate each possibility to determine if you may qualify.
- Negotiate a payment plan with your regular veterinarian. If you’re a long-time client in good standing, your veterinarian may be willing to work out a payment plan. However, if you’ve never been to a particular veterinary hospital before, the veterinarian or practice owner may not agree to one.
- Contact your local animal shelter. Some shelters offer low-cost veterinary clinics or may offer loans or grants to cover veterinary care. However, they may not be able to help in an emergency situation.
- Ask for help. Some veterinary clinics have an established “angel fund” to help financially strapped clients pay for unexpected expenses. Ask if your clinic has such a fund.
Another option for raising money for your pet’s care is crowdfunding. Pet parents can create personal fundraising pages on sites like GoFundMe, GiveForward or YouCaring. The page is then shared on social media and the link emailed to friends and family who might be willing to donate or who can help spread the word.
Yes, asking for financial help can be daunting, even embarrassing. The truth is, people donate to various causes all the time because it makes them feel good too. So don’t hesitate to ask.
The value of preventive veterinary care
Regardless of what you may have heard, preventive care is the key to a long, healthy life for your four-legged family member. Good nutrition, vaccinations, parasite control, weight management, diagnostics and dental care are all important to reducing long-term medical expenses because they help prevent many health problems. Regular exams can often help detect health issues in early stages when they may be less costly to treat and treatment is more likely to be successful.
Some veterinary clinics offer wellness plans that enable pet parents to spread out the costs of preventive care. In addition, some pet health insurance policies may cover routine preventive care. Finally, there may be a low-cost clinic in your area that offers basic care for pets of low-income households or those belonging to the homeless. However, these clinics may not be able to provide advanced diagnostics or treatment and may not provide emergency care.