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How to Prepare for Unexpected Vet Bills

As pet owners, most of us can sympathize with unexpected veterinary medical costs (how many of us have ever gotten into a good-natured competition with another pet owner over who had the biggest vet bills?!). Whether our pets suffer an accident or an unexpected illness, vet bills can quickly add up. Exams, surgery, treatment, medication, hospitalization, and follow-ups are some of the costs that may be needed. Our concern for our pets is at the front of our minds... but the reality is that financial considerations have to be taken care of too. Here are some ways to try to help cover those unexpected vet bills.

Buy Pet Insurance

There are many companies who offer pet insurance, with varying degrees of coverage. The more you want covered, the more expensive the monthly premiums will be. Not all pets will qualify for insurance; for example, elderly pets may not be accepted by all insurance companies. Existing medical conditions are also typically not covered.

Plans may not cover optional surgeries (for example, a surgery that isn't necessary to save a pet's life, but is necessary for quality of life); often have limits on how much money will be paid out per year or per illness or accident; and plans usually do not cover regular vet visits (wellness exams), vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, dentals, and other 'standard' care.

When getting quotes, make sure you are comparing pet insurance plans that offer the same type of coverage. Ask how the plan works and how long it takes to get the money - do you have to submit receipts after it's done (risking that the procedure may be rejected for coverage), or is there a fast way of getting confirmation that the procedure will be covered?

The advantage of pet insurance is peace of mind that you have some help if an emergency were to happen. It is also a big help for those who find it difficult to save money on their own.

The disadvantages are that the procedure may not be covered, or that only a portion of it may be covered. There is also the possibility that the pet owner will need to pay for the procedure first and then wait for acceptance and reimbursement from the insurance company.


This is just another way of saying, save up for unexpected veterinary bills. Get a few quotes from pet insurance companies to see how much monthly premiums would be for the type of insurance you would want. Then every month, put the monthly premium into a separate savings account that you can access in case of emergency.

The advantage to this method is that you can use the funds for anything your pet needs, rather than having to ask if there is coverage from a pet insurance plan. Another good thing is that over time, the account continues to grow. As pets age, the likelihood of health issues increases, so a healthy savings account can be very useful.

One disadvantage to self-insuring is that saving in this way requires discipline - not just to put away the money each month, but also not to use it for anything other than emergency vet bills. There's also the risk that there won't be enough funds in the account when an emergency occurs.

Consider Alternatives

An emergency can occur at any time and sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out how to pay the vet bill.

  • Get another opinion. Not all vets are the same. Another vet may recommend a different treatment option that is more affordable.

  • Consider seeing a vet outside the large cities. Sometimes veterinary services in smaller centres are more affordable.

  • Look up any veterinary schools in the area. Some may offer lower-cost services or financial assistance for low-income families.

  • Ask your vet about alternative or complementary therapies. Instead of surgery, for example, perhaps physiotherapy or rehab therapy are options. Another example is the use of acupuncture instead of long-term use of expensive medications. Some people find it easier to pay for a once-a-week treatment than paying a lot of money in one lump sum. It can also buy some time to save money for the more expensive procedure if the alternative therapy isn't working as well as hoped. If there are other ways to improve the pet's quality of life that are more affordable, it's worth taking the time to do the research.

  • Work out a payment plan with your vet. Discuss it with your vet first, before agreeing to the procedure (otherwise the vet may feel blindsided and less willing to help). If you've been a good customer and have paid your bill on time in the past, the vet may be willing to work with you.

  • Raise the funds yourself. Have a garage sale, sell stuff on eBay, or get a temporary job. This can be done at any time and the funds put away specifically for emergency vet bills.

  • Look into financial assistance. Ask your vet clinic or local animal shelters for names or organizations who can assist with lower-cost vet care, or grants or loans to cover vet costs.

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Topic: Dealing With Unexpected Vet Bills
Olvia says...

I adopted a senior dog four months ago. I couldn't get approved pet insurance for him due to his age. Well, he ate part of his dog bed and now I am facing a 7000.00 dollar surgery that we are just devastated to try and pay. We got him the surgery but, I don't know how on earth we are going to pay it and it will sadly deter me from adopting another senior pet again.

Michele says...

Hi , I took my cat to his regularly yearly visit .. I found out he lost 2 pounds and has to get 3 teeth removed .. it is gunna cost me $740 .. I am devastated.. I have no choice cuz miles is only 10 and I don’t want him to b in pain anymore ..

tia says...

Hi I have a poodle ive had since it was 3 months old and i took it to a vet because she wasnt acting normal, turns out she has pyometra and the bill is going to cost over 2000 and im on welfare is there anyway I can get help. I want to do montly payments buts its hard to find a loan on Welfare. Help please. I paid for the xray to find this out

Talore Hillton says...

I have made a lifetime raw food commitment to my GSD. About a minimum (Cdn) $30,000 over the next 10 years. However, I expect Suki to live 50% longer and healthier (and livelier) and will determine her needs at that time. I am in my late sixties and two years into our plan for growing old together. She has had all required shots and been spayed. By all accounts, she is an extremely healthy and well adjusted dog although still a bit imperfect. But soon...

Anyway, my wife and I chose raw food diet on our research and discussions with other big dog owners.

Based on my observations and calculations, raw food certainly hasn't cost us much more than the alternatives for her diet and nothing in the way of vet bills. She also has good lines without the problems some breeders have injected into their pups.

We are hoping this diet will preempt some of the later in life major vet bills and few in the first five years or so. Check back with me in a few years or do a poll.

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