Gypsy, my German Shepherd, passed away several years ago. In her last 2 years, she suffered from myasthenia gravis, megaesophagus, arthritis and other medical issues.
While I don’t regret one moment of giving her the care she needed, the vet bills became astronomical. I was fortunate in that she had a fantastic veterinarian who did his best to offset costs and work with me to try and balance care and the budget, but by the time she passed away, the outstanding balance was over $10,000.
Many people are faced with the hideous dilemma: How much care can you afford to provide?
In some cases, people have to make a literal life-and-death decision for a beloved pet based on their checkbook balance. But there are ways you can get some help with those vet bills, making it easier to make medical decisions.
Don’t avoid an honest conversation with the vet because you’re afraid they won’t help. Veterinarians want to help; it’s the reason they went to vet school to begin with.
Many medical conditions are chronic (like myasthenia gravis), which means long-term care — and long-term bills. If you continually visit the office without paying your bill, they’re going to wise up pretty quickly and be much less inclined to help.
Instead, sit down with your veterinarian and have an honest conversation. Discuss:
- Your pet’s illness and what it will mean in terms of finances
- The medical aspects (signs, symptoms, etc.)
- What medications are required
- How long your pet will need to take these medications and how much they’ll cost
- Any special tests or equipment that may be needed and, again, how much they’ll cost
- How long your pet will reasonably live with a good quality of life with their illness
With these facts in hand, making a rough estimate for long-term medical bills may get a little easier.
Don’t Be Shy About the Money
Don’t be afraid to ask your vet if there are ways to save money, like, say, buying generic medications.
Also, ask about payment plans and if your vet is willing to allow you to pay bills in installments. Mine did — and I truly believe it was because I was honest from the beginning about the struggle I was having between my finances and my desire to provide good care for my dog.
Honesty goes a long way: Give your vet a chance to work with you on vet bills.
Had I known my Gypsy was going to contract a rare, degenerative nerve disease in her golden years, I would have signed her right up for pet insurance when she was still a “teenager.”
However, we’re not privy to that information about our pets, so pet insurance can be a gamble. You’d be adding another bill to the household per month — but one that can literally save your pet’s life in the event of an accident or medical issue.
ValuePenguin has information about several pet insurance companies and the costs of their policies, such as: “The average monthly cost of pet insurance is $43.14 for dogs and $26.77 for cats for pet insurance plans that cover both accidents and illnesses. After obtaining quotes from eleven of the largest pet insurance companies, we found that the monthly cost of the average pet insurance plan ranges from about $25 to $70 for dogs, and $10 to $40 for cats.”
The downside is, of course, you have to sign your pet up before they actually become ill or injured. If I had tried to sign Gypsy up after her diagnosis, I would have been laughed out of the office.
But most pets will suffer from some type of medical issue or infirmity as they age. Being prepared can only help in the long run.
Several organizations in the United States are geared toward helping people with unexpected medical costs.
One example is Paws 4 A Cure, a nonprofit that “provides financial assistance throughout the United States to those who cannot afford veterinary care for their beloved furry family members. Paws 4 A Cure helps dogs and cats with all illnesses and injuries. Paws 4 A Cure does not discriminate against breed, age or diagnosis.”
These types of organizations are almost always entirely run by volunteers and depend on fundraising to help them out, so their ability to service everyone is limited. But it never hurts to ask and even offer to help fundraise or participate in their events.
Other organizations that may help:
- The Pet Fund
- Brown Dog Foundation
- Diabetic Cats in Need
- Magic Bullet Fund (cancer only)
- The Mosby Foundation
- RedRover Relief Grants
Organizations may cater to specific needs or animals or be open to all types. The best thing you can do is contact them and ask. And remember to give back — if you can, volunteer to help out the organization that’s helped you.
Thinking (and acting) ahead can save you money in the long run when it comes to your pet’s health:
Lastly, you can do as so many others have done: Create a crowdfunding page and ask for donations to help you out.
Honestly, I don’t recommend this option; these types of pages have proliferated on social media to the point where very few people who don’t personally know the involved parties donate or even read the blurb. However, if you think you may have enough reach, then explore the option. It certainly can’t hurt.
There is help out there for those who love their pets and are caught between paying the mortgage and saving their pet’s life. And yes, many will say that people shouldn’t have pets if they can’t afford them. Well, in response to that — as someone who has been there — we all fall on hard times. Give people a little credit for trying to save their pet’s lives.
Vet bills don’t have to be the deciding factor in your pet’s medical care. Sit down, do some financial planning and budgeting, have honest conversations with your vet and ask for help. You’re not alone — and neither are your pets.