When pets become suddenly or terminally ill, their owners can find themselves in a difficult and emotionally painful situation.
Luckily, you may only incur an annual or bi-annual bill with a healthy animal. Still, vet costs aren’t cheap.
Americans spent over $136.8 billion on their pets in 2022.
But for those who own a pet with cancer and chronic diseases or who suddenly experience severe, life-threatening situations (such as being hit by a car or attacked by another animal), vet bills pile up fast.
The major reason dogs are surrendered to shelters is due to an owner’s inability to support them financially, and of that number, some form of health condition is present.
However, if you didn't plan enough and have no pet savings account, you can explore other vet care financing options to help with your veterinary bills.
5 Emergency Vet Care Financing Options
1. Request a Payment Plan
While some veterinarians are more open to payment plans than others, simply asking the front desk if it’s something they would consider could mean the difference between crumbling debt and manageable bills.
If your dog has been a patient at the vet's office for several years and you’ve never had issues making timely payments before, chances are the administrative staff may be willing to make an exception.
Typically, a vet care payment plan will request payments from you every month, and some staff may create a nonnegotiable cap, meaning you must complete the payment in full within X number of months.
A lenient plan would be based on a 12 to 24-month plan, whereas a stricter one may be a 2 to 4-month, with a majority of the cost being paid initially.
If the staff aren’t open to a payment plan, try to understand medical equipment costs and daily operations.
While a lengthy receipt is stressful, especially regarding your dog's health, there are other financing options left to explore.
2. Apply for a Credit Card or Personal Loan
If you already have a credit card and are in a situation that requires urgency, it’s in the animal’s best interest to give the veterinarian and their staff your approval immediately. Worry about the interest later.
However, if you have time, take advantage of it by shopping for credit cards with low-interest rates.
Even credit cards created specifically for pet care may cover routine necessities such as dental cleanings, annual examinations, prescribed medications, and microchipping.
If you have good credit, you may want to consider a personal loan as their interest rates are based on the applicant’s credit, and they offer a more lenient timeline, allowing you years to complete repayment.
These may be especially helpful if your dog needs an emergency procedure because personal loans can be approved in as little as 24 hours.
3. Profile Page on a Crowdfunding Website
While this option may only work if urgency isn’t an issue, crowdfunding has become a reputable resource to our internet-savvy community, and several websites allow you to make a page for free within minutes.
Include photos of your dog as well as photos of your vet’s bill statement for added transparency.
Once you set up a page, you can easily share it on Facebook, where it can be forwarded, shared, and potentially go viral.
Even without extensive shares, your page will at least be seen by your friends on Facebook, many of which probably include your close friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who are more likely to know your dog and donate.
Soon, if even just those closest to you in life gave $5-$10, you could be on your way to affording proper care for your canine companion.
4. Consider Pet Insurance
Many individuals and families utilize pet insurance. These plans can be applied for through major insurance retailers, so the likelihood that your current house or car insurance provider has a pet plan available is high. Yet organizations such as ASPCA also offer pet health insurance to qualified owners.
Here are a few plan types that may work best for your situation:
Your dog is suffering from a chronic illness or condition and needs continued care for procedures that are extremely expensive and/or frequent.
Your pet is relatively healthy and needs care only once a year at their annual check-up, but you’re not financially fit and need help paying for vaccinations, routine examinations, and preventative care.
Your pet is relatively healthy, and you’re in a good place financially, but you still want coverage just in case something happens that requires a $1,000+ vet bill to be paid.
You will be required to provide their medical history, so animals with chronic conditions may have difficulty finding coverage.
Senior dogs generally have higher premiums as well.
Generally, you can expect a plan to “grow” with the dog. This means that as they get older and more prone to illnesses and issues, their policy will adapt to be more expensive.
With higher deductibles, say $750, you’re less likely to receive coverage on a vet visit that doesn’t exceed that amount.
Additionally, breeds known for health issues, such as hip dysplasia (Great Danes, German Shepherds) or glaucoma (Greyhounds, Beagles), may experience prejudice even if they have no signs of early development.
Good news for mixed breeds, though: under most plans, purebreds are more expensive to cover as mutts are less prone to inherited conditions than their full-blood counterparts.
It’s important to know these facts before applying for pet health insurance, and it’s the first step to finding coverage that works well for both your canine companion and your bank account.
As you shop for the perfect plan, remember:
- Be honest about your pet’s needs
- Request free quotes from multiple sources and compare
5. Request Help from an Organization
There are hundreds of organizations like Brown Dog Foundation and others that understand how difficult caring for a pet can be.
Often, these groups are bound by a common goal: help families save their four-legged family members from suffering, diminished quality of life, and/or, in severe cases, from death.
The staff specializes in reviewing applications, letters, e-mails and phone calls they may receive from desperate pet owners in a bind.
While it may sound cold or in bad taste, emphasizing the severity of your pet’s illness will more likely gain interest and potential funding for this monetary and emotional burden.
Many animal charities and other institutions may operate differently, but in general, you can expect the application process to run as such:
- Initial question-based survey of the situation
- Follow-up notification to fill out an application
- Supporting documentation request (proof of income, pet’s medical history, veterinary break-down of diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and costs)
- Notification of approval or denial of funds
What to Highlight When Reaching Out for Help
Your vet’s information and professional opinion
Typically, pets with a good prognosis are more likely to gain financial backing.
Documentation from your dog’s veterinarian will be requested, which will likely include an in-depth look at the diagnosis, treatment plan (including its success rate), recovery timeline, and expected quality of life for the dog post-procedure.
Your dog’s breed
If you have a particular breed, research sanctuaries and/or leagues that exclusively work with that breed.
Organizations like this exist to especially focus on and treat breeds they have a soft spot for. Just a few examples include:
A quick Google search will often reveal breed-specific institutions that may be willing to help you and your ailing pet; however, you can always contact a local shelter and ask if they work with any specific organization they’d recommend, too.
Your financial situation
Perhaps your furry friend isn’t going through a major or life-threatening issue, but you’re struggling to afford them proper care.
Non-profit organizations like PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) help low-income families give their pets the best quality of life by fitting the bill for everything from microchipping, routine vaccinations, and spaying or neutering.
With proof of income provided, you may be eligible for a $200 grant from RedRover if you request a single, already spayed/neutered dog that has not yet undergone the procedure you’re requesting financial help.
Your story (including information regarding your pet’s condition)
Many applications will request a little background story. Some good questions to answer here are:
- How long have you owned your dog?
- How did you two meet?
- What role do they play in the constructs of your home and family life?
- When did they become ill?
- How long have they been ill?
- How is your financial situation?
- Is there anything else going on in your life that’s adding to your financial burdens (job loss, supporting dependents, an illness of your own)?
If you or someone in your family unit is active military, look into Dogs on Deployment and their Pet Chit Grants, which have helped countless military families do everything from move their pets around the world when their family is assigned a new base to fund 100% of a pet’s medical care.
Additionally, your dog’s medical issues may help you qualify for help from organizations that aid specific conditions.
If your pet is suffering from a serious ailment, such as cancer, epilepsy, or a heart condition, ask if your vet knows of any condition-specific grants and research.
Please note that applying for grants or loans from multiple organizations is perfectly fine.
Unique qualities concerning your dog
This is particularly applicable if your pet is a service or working canine or any type of assistance dog.
Organizations are overtly motivated to help individuals who heavily rely on their animals, such as guide or seizure dogs or pets that emotionally support children with autism.
Dogs that are retired members of a K9 unit, search-and-rescue relief, bomb squads, or involved in military service who may now suffer from ailments due to their commitments are especially prone to receive financial aid.
If this describes your situation, look into the Washington D.C.-based Paws of Honor organization, or reach out to any vet-care assistance program and emphasize the valiant career history of the dog.
READ NEXT: Dog Costs and Budgeting Guide for Pet Owners