Imagine your pet ingests a poison, gets hit by a car, or develops a sudden serious illness, and the projected emergency care costs thousands more than you can afford. Maybe you lost your job, are simply struggling to keep up with post-pandemic inflation, or don’t have pet insurance. What would you do? Pet owners, their family members, and the veterinary team who are forced to consider a pet’s euthanasia for financial reasons face a heart-wrenching decision. The Neighborhood Vet wants to advise pet owners on preparing for an emergency, and share how we are working to eliminate the rising practice of economic euthanasia.

Preparing for rising veterinary costs

Many first-time pet owners are unprepared for the associated life-long financial commitment. A 2022 Synchrony study revealed that the lifetime cost of care is $20,000 to $55,000 for dogs and $15,000 to $45,000 for cats. In the first year alone, dog owners can expect to spend between $1,300 to $2,800 and cat owners approximately $960 to $2,500. Unexpected expenses often catch pet owners off guard, and can sometimes lead to the difficult decision to euthanize, despite readily available treatment for treatable conditions. 

Fortunately, pet owners can prepare for these expenses by assuming that they will be faced with a large veterinary bill at some point. Strategies include:

  • Pet insurance — A plan that covers hereditary, congenital, and bilateral conditions provides the best coverage. Most do not cover wellness care, but will cover illness, surgery, and emergencies. Pet insurance will never cover any pre-existing conditions, so the sooner you buy a policy the better. While not all policies are listed, can be helpful to streamline a well fitting insurance plan based on your needs and budget. 
  • Pet-specific savings — Open a savings account, or a “bucket” in your current account, that you use exclusively for veterinary expenses. Contribute money to the fund each month that you can use for wellness expenses throughout the year or save for emergencies.

Another sad reality is that as veterinary care becomes more expensive, more animals are abandoned at shelters or released on the streets to fend for themselves. No pet owner should have to consider giving up their companion because of veterinary care costs. Additionally, a 2015 ASPCA study found that 40% of low-income pet owners who surrendered their pets indicated that low-cost veterinary care would have helped them keep their pet.

Strategies we use to make veterinary care affordable

Until more pet owners embrace pet insurance or can more easily save money for an emergency, most people have financial limitations. We want to work within those limitations to provide your pet with the best possible care with the following strategies.

#1: Veterinary care spectrum

When your pet is sick, we will always recommend what we feel is the best treatment plan, but we will work with you to tweak that plan to fit your needs. Veterinary medicine does not have to be “all or nothing”—rather, we embrace a care spectrum and involve you in the decision making, because you know your pet and your situation best. We will always be transparent about the implications of your decisions, letting you know what we can reasonably skip for now, what is absolutely necessary, what can wait, and how this impacts your pet’s expected outcome. 

Knowing that 90% of a diagnosis is in the history and physical examination, we are thorough in these areas so that when we pursue diagnostics, we are choosing them with a specific purpose and not just performing tests blindly.  We know what we are looking for and what outcomes are expected so we do not disrespect the client’s financial investment. We do not want to not spend hundreds on diagnostics if that is all the money a client has. We would rather the client spend their money on treatment that may provide a realistic positive outcome for the patient. 

#2: Veterinary care payment plans

Our hospital offers online payment options, and we partner with third-parties who can spread out care costs with minimal and low-interest options. Financial partners include:

  • Care Credit — This is a credit card designed for use in human and veterinary health care for expenses not covered by insurance. Purchases greater than $200 are eligible for promotional plans that defer interest for 6, 12, or 18 months, to allow you ample time to pay your bill without finance charges. Care Credit is widely accepted.
  • Scratch Pay — Scratch Pay grants loans under various repayment plans that depend on your creditworthiness and desired payment time frame. The loans can be used at only one specific location for one time or short-term expenses. A quick application on your mobile device uses a “soft” credit pull that won’t affect your credit score and shows all your repayment options.
  • VetBilling —This is a line of credit approved by and determined by each individual clinic. VetBilling allows clients to break a large bill into smaller payments that are regularly deducted from their account without paying interest.

#3: Cost-effective veterinary care

Our hospital offers substantially lower-cost veterinary services than those in our surrounding area, without cutting corners on the quality of care. We also do not believe in nickel and diming each individual thing we do at our office. If your cat has blood in its urine and it takes us two seconds to scan for bladder stones, we are not going to charge hundreds of dollars for an ultrasound like comparative hospitals. We are here to offer advanced medical care without advanced pricing.  Our goal is to provide the care your pet deserves at prices you deserve. 

#4: Wellness and preventive veterinary care

By focusing on wellness and preventive care, we can help you keep your pet healthy and avoid surprises. Preventive care includes vaccines, parasite control, dental care, wellness examinations, and certain annual screening tests based on exposure and species. For example, your cat who has been indoors only for 10 years likely does not need annual fecal testing or a yearly feline leukemia vaccination. An indoor cat who does not contact other cats will not be exposed to feline leukemia or internal parasites.  

By working together we do not give vaccinations and perform diagnostics only to do them, but rather determine the exposure risks and probability of such diseases. The money that would be spent on those unnecessary items can be put into savings, or used for care such as annual blood testing to screen for early diseases. Your budget can determine whether we perform these annual tests on your young, healthy pet; however, once your pet reaches their senior years, we recommend investing, at a minimum, in biannual check ups, annual full blood work screening, and possibly urine testing. By planning ahead,  you can easily budget for these annual expenses.

#5: Community support organizations

If you are in a jam, some large veterinary hospitals, veterinary organizations, or humane societies maintain funds specifically for pet owners for life-saving pet care they cannot afford. Learn if these services exist in your area, so you can be ready to apply should you ever need help, or consider using crowdfunding as an alternative community resource.

Some examples include: 

  • Waggle — Waggle is similar to Gofundme but focused only on pets. You can post your pet and receive crowdfunding to help less urgent, but expensive veterinary care.
  • Free Animal Doctor — Many people hesitate to donate to online animal-related causes  because they are concerned about fraud. Free Animal Doctor offers a verified platform that pays the veterinarian directly for a pet’s care.
  • Positive Tails — This organization provides funding for lifesaving veterinary care for people who cannot afford treatment, or for animals who are abandoned or abused. They also organize and hold veterinary clinics for people who can’t afford or don’t have access to veterinary care for their animals, and assist with follow up spay and neuter care for pets. 
  • Live Like Roo Foundation — The Live Like Roo Foundation provides funding for pet cancer treatment. There is a three- to four-week review process involved, which may not be feasible for all applicants, so the organization can determine which pets would best benefit from their help. 
  • Dogs On Deployment This organization provides assistance to military pet owners during emergency moments.  
  • Frankie’s Friends — Frankie’s Friends has grants available to help with emergency veterinary care. 
  • Friends and Vets Helping Pets — This organization works with approved veterinarians to help provide affordable veterinary expenses for life-saving pet care.
  • For the Love of Alex — This organization provides emergency funding for low-income households, similar to Positive Tails, but there is a more extensive application approval process. 

Nobody wants to be faced with the choice between caring for themselves or their pets. Working closely with us and providing honest feedback about your financial situation can help The Neighborhood Vet select the best care options for your pet and work within your budget to reduce economic euthanasia. Contact us if you have further questions regarding our payment options and the costs for care that we provide.