Our pets are more than just friends with fur. In the U.S., 95% of pet owners view their pets as part of the family — and with good reason. On top of greeting us excitedly at the door when we arrive home from work, pets provide us with numerous health benefits, from lowering our blood pressure and cholesterol levels to creating positive opportunities for socialization.
But caring for pets is expensive. According to a study by veterinary students Kelly Giffear and Brittany Scott, the average cost of owning a dog is $23,410 over the course of the dog’s lifetime. That could include things like pet food, the cost to spay/neuter, vaccinations, and more. On top of that, a visit to emergency veterinary care can cost from $800 to $1500.
No pet parents should have to say goodbye to their fur baby just because finances are too tight for life-saving procedures. Luckily, there are a number of financial tools that can help you figure out how to pay for emergency veterinary bills.
How much do emergency vets cost?
The cost of emergency medical treatment varies greatly depending on your pet’s condition, the treatment route you choose, where you’re located, and your vet’s credentials. According to an Angie’s List poll, 34% of respondents reported paying between $251 and $500 for an emergency vet visit, while 16% paid $1,000 or more.
Dogs who need cancer treatment can rack up even higher veterinary bills. CareCredit reports that average costs range from $2,500 for surgery to $15,000 for a bone-marrow transplant.
9 ways to get help with vet bills
If you’re strapped for cash and facing a pet emergency, don’t panic. There are several options for navigating emergency medical expenses when you’re out of money.
1. Discuss payment options with your vet
Some vet clinics may offer payment plans to help you cover the cost of your emergency bill over time. They may also provide financing options to assist you. Even if these aren’t standard at your vet, you can sometimes negotiate a monthly payment with a vet who knows you and your pet. Or you may be able to put down a deposit on your pet's care and not have to pay the balance until your pet is discharged, giving you time to explore other financing options.
2. Check into financial assistance programs
There are a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing needed medical care for pets when their owners are experiencing financial hardships. Some work with specific breeds, while others provide assistance for certain conditions or for those with specific financial needs.
Some breed-specific programs include:
Some general programs include:
Low-income individuals may even be able to get an urgent care grant through RedRover Relief. You can also browse local organizations with the Humane Society’s state-by-state listings.
3. Utilize CareCredit
Many veterinary clinics accept CareCredit, a credit card specifically designed for health-care costs not covered by insurance. This card includes some financing options not typically available with a regular credit card. For example, if you meet the minimum monthly payments on a purchase of $200 or more, no interest is charged for the entire term, which could be up to two years.
4. Use a credit card with 0% APR
Opening a new credit card can be a smart way to deal with an emergency expense, so long as you have a plan to pay it off. Many no-annual-fee credit cards also come with a 0% APR (annual percentage rate) for a set period. One of our favorites is the Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card, which offers 0% APR for the first 15 months. Plus, you can earn a $200 cash back bonus after spending $500 in the first 3 months, plus earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (not including target or walmart; up to $12,000 in the first year) — that’s a nice head start toward paying down your credit card balance.
The Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card comes with an even more generous sign-up bonus — new cardholders can earn 20,000 points when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months. This might be a good option for expensive veterinary care, especially since it comes with a 0% intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers.
5. Ask about Scratchpay
Scratchpay is a relatively new pay-over-time service that you may be able to use to pay for emergency vet services for your furry friend. You can apply from your own phone or computer. The length of your repayment plan and whether or not you will pay interest charges will depend on the terms you qualify for and choose. Term lengths range from 5 months to 2 years and Scratchpay only does a soft credit check so your credit score won't be negatively impacted.
6. Take out a personal loan
If you are not ready to open a new credit card or need more time to get current with payments than an introductory APR period provides, consider taking out a personal loan. Personal loans can have interest rates that are a fraction of what you’d pay with the average credit card, making them useful for expensive emergencies. For more details, check out our guide on how to get a loan.
6. Use your emergency fund
If you’ve been setting aside money in an emergency fund, you might already be well-prepared for an emergency visit to the vet. Veterinary care definitely calls for dipping into your emergency savings, and doing so can help you avoid paying interest charges on a credit card or loan. Just make sure you have a plan in place to build up your emergency fund again so you can be prepared for whatever else life throws at you.
7. Ask family or friends for financial help
Admitting you’re in need and turning to friends and family for help can be difficult. But think of it this way: If you borrow money and can’t keep up with paying interest, you may need even more help down the road. Getting a loan from a friend or family member is likely going to be the cheapest way to borrow — and the quickest means of getting out of debt. And you might be surprised at how willing people are to pitch in if they know the money will keep your pet healthy.
Crowdfunding can be a great way to ask for help without putting too much pressure on any one individual. You can create a fundraiser page for your pet on a platform such as GoFundMe or Waggle, and then utilize your social media to get the word out. You might get help from total strangers this way, but you should also share your page with your network to help reach your fundraising goal.
9. Consider pet insurance for future expenses
If this emergency vet bill was enough to scare you into being more prepared, consider getting insurance for your pet. You’ll need to pay a monthly premium, but going this route could save you a lot of money in the long run if an emergency arises. The Humane Society recommends Petplan.
FAQs about emergency vet care
What do I do if I can't afford a vet?
Since vet bills can get expensive, many vets offer payment plans so you can pay off your bills over time. In addition, certain nonprofit organizations, like The Pet Fund and Ruff Rescue, may also be able to help if you’re in a financial bind with your pet care. To cover future vet expenses, consider pet insurance to help offset your potential pet care costs.
What types of treatment does pet insurance cover?
Pet insurance can help cover the costs for your pet’s dental care, injuries, and illnesses. It can also help cover the costs of chronic conditions, like diabetes or asthma, and breed-specific conditions that your breed of pet may be prone to. In addition, exam fees and boarding fees may also be covered by pet insurance. As with human medical coverage, you’ll want to read all the fine print before purchasing pet insurance as there may be terms and conditions that won’t work for you, such as not providing coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Do emergency vets charge upfront?
Many emergency vets may charge upfront for their services. It’s possible they may accept payment by cash, credit card, or check. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask the vet if it’s possible to do a payment plan where you pay your bill in separate installments over time. This won’t always be an option, but if it is, it could help you cover necessary pet care costs without racking up lots of debt all at once or having to make tough choices about your pet’s care.
Do emergency vets take payment plans?
Some emergency vets may take payment plans, but it depends on each practice and their guidelines. Many vets will also take a deposit with the expectation that the bill will be paid when your pet is discharged. This can help provide you with the time you need to gather the necessary funds.
If you’re not sure about the payment policies at the emergency vets in your area, be sure to check with them before the unexpected happens and you have to take your pet in for an emergency. It could also help to ask your local vets what payment options are available in general so you have a better idea of what to expect if you ever need to pay for pet care. Knowing which vet to go to in advance could make a huge difference for you and your pet.
Veterinary care can be extremely costly, but it’s worth taking all necessary precautions to keep your fur baby safe. Invest in preventative care for your pet to help avoid sudden health problems. For future emergencies, consider pet insurance, set up an emergency fund or high-yield savings account, and do some budgeting to plan for your pet’s needs.
If you still need help covering the cost of an emergency vet bill, consider taking out one of the best personal loans. Here’s to many more healthy, happy years with your best friend by your side.