Owning a pet can get expensive fast, whether it’s a cat or a dog or even a more exotic pet. Yet the benefits pets provide us — both in improving our quality of life and providing us with unconditional love and companionship — outweigh the potential financial hurdles they may cause.
Unfortunately, even an extremely young and healthy dog or cat can have an accident or injury, and finding affordable emergency veterinary care when that happens can be difficult. This is especially true if you were unable to afford (or neglected to purchase) pet insurance for your companion prior to the accident.
When your pet is in need of immediate medical attention, and the life-saving procedures they need cost thousands of dollars, what can you do as a pet owner to both save your pet and your wallet? Here are some avenues to explore for discounted or free veterinary care for your pet.
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Compare Clinic Costs
One affordable option for pet parents is to shop around and compare clinic and medication costs at the various veterinary offices in your city. Besides veterinary colleges (as discussed below), there are multiple types of clinics that may be available, including:
Emergency Vet Hospitals: These clinics typically offer regular veterinary services, as well as emergency services for pets. Emergency visits will traditionally have a higher clinic fee than scheduled visits, but many of the veterinarians working at these facilities have valuable experience that may help your pet in an emergency situation.
Private Veterinary Clinics: These clinics can vary in prices dramatically, so it is always worthwhile to search for the best prices for the best service in your area. Additionally, many private clinics have the ability to create payment plans for patients they see regularly and that have a history of paying past vet bills on time. Just like a family doctor, private clinics can offer exceptional customer service to those that frequent the clinic.
Low-Cost or Nonprofit Veterinary Clinics and Shelters: These clinics and shelters are often the most affordable, as many of the clientele may be low-income or those in need of financial assistance for vet bills. However, the tradeoff is many low-cost clinics have long waiting lists, and it may take some time before your pet is able to be seen by a veterinarian.
As for purchasing medications for your pets, there are online alternatives that may be more affordable than picking up a prescription at a veterinary clinic. Additionally, many traditional pharmacies (such as Krogers or Walmart) will also fulfill animal prescriptions with written approval from a veterinarian.
Ask Your Vet for Help
Veterinarians are often very empathetic to the needs of pet owners, and are understanding of how intimidating large vet bills can become. Speaking with your veterinarian or the billing specialist with your preferred vet clinic might provide you with some options for repayment.
As the Humane Society notes, pet owners in good standing with their veterinarian may have more luck with repayment plans than new patients. Additionally, some vet clinics may allow pet owners to work within the facility for a short time in order to help pay for the vet bills: this may include anything from cleaning kennels, to walking dogs, to answering phones.
Some vet clinics may also offer partnerships through a credit card service, such as Care Credit (Synchrony Bank). Additionally, they may have a partnership with a rescue or charitable service that can assist owners in tough financial situations.
The best way to find out your options is to simply speak with the veterinarian and be honest about your concerns. It may be best to be upfront with your concerns prior to agreeing to any procedures, as some clinics require you to pay before you can bring the pet home. Furthermore, many veterinary offices require you to agree to price quotes prior to actually taking the animal into the back for a procedure, which can help you prepare for the overall cost of your pet’s stay.
Look for Financial Assistance
Depending on where you live, there may be a host of nonprofits and charitable organizations in your area that are able to help assist you in a time of financial need. This can include anything from assistance with pet supplies, to veterinary care, or discounted spay or neuter clinics.
Animal Welfare Groups
Animal welfare groups can include anything from specialized rescue facilities (such as breed-specific dog rescues or cat rescues) to incorporated nonprofits that provide medical or financial services to those in need. To explore what animal welfare groups exist near you, use the Petfinder Animal Shelters and Rescue Search. Once you find a group that may be able to assist you, you can contact them to discuss your concerns or issues.
Foundations, Funds, and Other Organizations
The Humane Society offers a resource for finding financial aid foundations and funds available to pet owners across the nation, as well as in specific states. Check this resource to find anything from pet food banks, to discount veterinary services, or discount spay/neuter clinics.
Discount Spay or Neuter Clinics
Finally, another common option available to financially help pet owners is the large collection of discount spay/neuter clinics that exist across the nation. Spaying and neutering a pet is essential to help prolong their life, as well as avoid unwanted litters or offspring from a pet. It also can have a major impact on the overall population of dogs and cats in the nation, as a single unspayed female cat or dog can have multiple litters throughout her lifetime.
In all, spaying and neutering has many benefits, but it can also be an expensive procedure — anywhere from $200 to $500 for cats, and $300 or more for dogs according to PetMD — that is not affordable for everyone. In those cases, there may be a low-cost clinic near you that offers a discount spay/neuter service, which can drop the price of a spay or neuter procedure dramatically. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers an interactive map to help people find a discount spay/neuter clinic near their home.
Another popular option, both for veterinary bills as well as high medical bills, is to resort to crowdfunding services. These online services allow pet parents to ask for financial assistance from the internet community. Even small donations of $5 or $10 can add up fast, and when thousands of people donate to these causes, many people can receive the financial assistance they need to help their pet.
In exchange, some of these services charge a small fee, which is typically a small percentage (such as 3 to 5 percent) of the amount of money that is received. Additionally, these campaigns may have a small time window to be completed, such as 30 or 60 days.
Some common crowdfunding services and platforms are:
PlumFund: PlumFund offers a crowdsourcing platform that requires no fees for organizers when they receive the money as cash or check, and a small fee of 2.8 percent (+ $0.30) for online payments through Paypal or WePay. Contributors also are not charged any fees.
PetFundr (by Fundrazr): PetFundr offers a platform for pet families in need, with only a small fee of 2.9 percent (+ $0.30) per transaction for any donations received. Additionally, contributors are not required to pay any fees, but may offer to cover the 2.9 percent (+ $0.30) transaction fee for the recipient.
Waggle: Waggle is a pet-centric crowdsourcing platform that partners with certified veterinarians in order to ensure the funds that are raised go directly to paying off a pet’s medical bills. According to their FAQ, donors will pay a small fee at checkout, but Waggle will not charge a fee to the recipients and will not take a “cut” from the funds, which allows 100 percent of the donated amount to go towards the pet’s bills with the partner veterinarian clinic.
GoFundMe: One of the largest crowdsourcing platforms on the internet, GoFundMe has the benefit of offering a larger social reach online as it encourages donors to share campaigns they contribute to. They also charge no platform fees for campaigns, and only a small processing fee for Paypal and WePay contributions (2.9 percent + $0.30 per transaction). GoFundMe stays in business by asking donors for a “tip” when they contribute to a campaign.
Consider a Veterinary College
Finally, another viable option for pet owners is to find a local Accredited Veterinary College. These colleges typically offer low-income families discount services in exchange for practicing common procedures in order for students to acquire their veterinarian degree.
Additionally, students are supervised by a certified veterinary teacher with clinical experience, who can then watch over the procedures and ensure your pet is in safe hands.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) offers a list of veterinary schools by state on their website. Not all states will have an accredited veterinary program.
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