Our pets are often full of surprises! Some dogs might beg for blueberries and pass up peanut butter, while others might love to swim but refuse to walk in the rain. Then there are those cats who prefer to spend hours napping in a cardboard box while ignoring their expensive bed. But the biggest surprise of pet ownership might not be your pet’s quirky behaviors—it might be the vet bills.
Pet parents surveyed reported spending upward of $1,000 in one year on their cat or dog. Of the pet owners surveyed, 45 percent of dog owners and 38 percent of cat owners underestimate the lifetime cost of care.1
“Veterinarians often see pet parents struggling to balance the care their pet needs with what they can afford,” says Don LeHoullier, DVM, owner of Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Jefferson, Oregon, and a veterinary expert for CareCredit Pet.
Wondering how to pay for vet bills? Pet parents want to provide the best care for their furry family members and will seek out solutions like grants, crowdfunding, and CareCredit, a health and pet care credit card that can be used for veterinary expenses.*
How much does a vet visit cost?
All pets need routine vet care. Puppies and kittens require wellness checks, vaccines, and spay or neuter surgeries; in adulthood, dogs and cats need annual exams and preventive care to maintain their health. Senior pets often need more specialized care, including semi-annual wellness checks to monitor for age-related diseases and treat chronic health conditions.
“As pets age, veterinarians may recommend more frequent examinations or even more diagnostic tests to determine if there are any underlying health concerns,” says Tom Dock, BSc, CVJ, public information officer for Noah’s Animal Hospitals in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Average annual veterinary costs are $1,391 for dogs and $1,149 for cats. The average cost of a routine vet checkup varies by region but starts at around $50. Vaccinations, bloodwork, urinalysis, or other tests will add to this cost.
What is the average cost of emergency pet care?
The adage “accidents happen” applies to pets too, and the cost of emergency vet care can add up. Four out of five pets have a medical emergency during their lifetime.2 Here are the average costs for common pet emergencies and illnesses (according to the Pets Best Data Guide 2022):
|Condition||Average Cost for Dogs||Average Cost for Cats|
How to Pay for Vet Bills: 7 Options to Consider
Unexpected expenses can cause serious stress for pet parents. The Pet Lifetime of Care report found that, for 1 out of 4 pet owners, an unexpected expense of $250 or less caused stress.1
“Pet parents should always have a game plan ready for handling finances with their pets,” Dock says. “The fact that many people don’t have pet insurance and that pet parents are budgeting for their pet’s care after paying other bills means that the cost of that care is scrutinized very closely.”
The good news: Whether you are looking for ways to cover routine pet care or wondering how to pay for emergency pet care, these seven options can help with the cost crunch.
Opening a savings account and making deposits on a regular basis will help ensure you have some funds available to cover vet care. You can open an account with your bank, or Dr. LeHoullier notes that some vet practices also offer dedicated savings accounts.
“This can be a great solve,” he says. “It enables pet owners to earmark funds that aren’t attached to specific services and can be used toward anything, including preventative care, medical services, and medications.”
But there is a downfall, according to Dock. You may not have saved enough money to cover emergencies. Using savings combined with other payment options can help cover the gaps.
Pet insurance offers help with vet bills. Pet parents purchase policies, pay monthly or annual premiums, and submit claims to receive reimbursement for covered conditions.
Dock believes that pet insurance can be a “life saver” for pets but warns that pet parents need to read the fine print because certain hereditary conditions may not be covered and, in some cases, there are lifetime limits to reimbursement payments. It’s also important to remember that pet insurance policies are often reimbursable.
“You’ll still need to pay the veterinarian and then you submit the claim for reimbursement,” he adds.
You can also look for pet insurance that pays the vet directly.
The CareCredit credit card offers flexible financing options. Pet parents can use CareCredit to cover routine vet care, from annual wellness exams and dental cleanings to emergency services and surgical procedures.
The CareCredit card is accepted at more than 25,000 veterinary hospital locations nationwide. Dock suggests pairing it with pet insurance: You can pay for vet care with the CareCredit card, submit the receipts to the insurance company for reimbursement, and use the funds to pay the balance on your CareCredit account.
When your pet needs vet care and you don’t have the funds to cover it, some veterinary clinics may allow you to make multiple smaller payments to pay down the balance over time.
“This can be helpful, as many clinics don’t charge a high interest rate or they might be willing to hold onto a payment for a period of time,” Dock says. “But it’s all based on the relationship that the pet parent has with their veterinarian.”
In other words, your longtime provider may allow you to carry a balance and make payments, but it may not be an option if you’re a new client or seeing a vet for the first time.
Friends and family
In an urgent situation, friends and family may be able to help cover the cost of care for your four-legged friend. Dock calls it an “often forgotten method for getting help” and cites the lack of an application and formal approval process as the biggest advantages to asking loved ones for a loan.
Of course, this method of paying for pet care only works if your friends and family have cash to spare.
Platforms like GoFundMe, Waggle, CoFund my Pet, and other crowdsourcing sites are filled with fundraising campaigns started by pet parents and can provide financial help for vet bills.
“Most pet parents tend to resort to crowdfunding for more extreme circumstances or illnesses, not routine care,” Dr. LeHoullier says. “Crowdfunding…can’t be overlooked as a way to pay for veterinary expenses that are outside the pet parent’s budget.”
You can ask your network to contribute and share, and you may receive donations from kind strangers who want to help, which Dock explains, “shifts the cost burden away from the pet parent.”
Charities and rescue organizations
There are some charities that help pay vet bills by providing grants to pet parents in need of financial assistance.
“When a pet parent qualifies for a grant from a pet-related charity or rescue group, the biggest advantage is that there is no expectation of repayment,” Dock says.
Contact local rescue groups and shelters to ask about grants to help with vet bills; the grant process often requires a short application. You could receive a grant to cover a portion (or all) of the treatment.
The myriad options pet parents have when it comes to covering the cost of vet care makes it easier to prioritize routine care and seek treatment for unexpected illnesses and injuries. Rather than picking one option, Dock suggests mixing and matching a few different payment plans.
“It’s always good to be prepared,” he says. “Each family needs to look at their own budgeting situation as well as their credit history to make these kinds of decisions.”
1 Pet – Lifetime of Care Study, August 2021
2 Pets Best Data Guide 2022
*Subject to credit approval.
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