Even the most responsible pet owner can be caught with an unexpected and overwhelming potential vet bill. Our vets tell us sadly time and time again of owners that, when faced with their pet’s medical emergency, end up choosing to put their pet to sleep simply because they can’t afford a costly veterinary surgery, and their pet is suffering too much to live without it. While we certainly advise preparing for your pet’s vet costs, it simply isn’t always possible. Pet insurance can be a life-saver, but perhaps it is a pet you just rescued off the street, or a pet with a pre-existing condition not covered by insurance. We often get emails from pet owners asking us if we know where they can get help for their vet bills. While there are a few charities that offer limited help (usually small personal grants around $100 – here’s one directory of them, and here’s another), and some that offer help to specific breeds or diseases, in most cases YOU the pet owner are going to have to figure out a way to fundraise to cover your pet’s expenses.

Here are some tips on how to lower or get help paying for your vet bill:

1. Talk to your vet
Veterinary hospitals are businesses that need to charge what they charge to survive. It may seem like they are making a fortune, but the cost of insurance, staffing, supplies, rent etc make a for a huge overhead. That said, they sometimes can offer you a discount if you can prove you qualify for low-income assistance. They may know of any local charities that offer financial support to people who can’t afford vet care. They may have a new vet-in-training on staff who can do a procedure for a much lower cost, especially if the only other option is euthanasia.

2. Get a 2nd Opinion
Sometimes all you have to do is ask to speak to another vet in the same hospital, and they may be able to offer a less expensive treatment option to try first, say a medication vs. a surgery. It that might take longer or not be quite as effective, but can still help your pet live comfortably and happily. Or they may confirm there is only that one treatment possible. A sole vet, just like a human doctor, can’t possibly know everything about everything. You may need to visit a 2nd vet hospital to get a 2nd opinion, see #3.

3. Look for a less expensive vet or clinic
Call other veterinary hospitals to ask how much they charge for the treatment your pet needs. Explain in advance what your budget is, and see if they can offer a treatment within that budget. You can also see if there is a Veterinary College near you as they may offer discounted care.

4. Fundraise
If your pet’s vet care need isn’t urgent, or you’ve used your credit card or CareCredit, you can try fundraise yourself to cover each month’s payment. Have a yard sale; offer your services (whatever skills you have) to friends, coworkers & neighbors in return for a donation; setup an online fundraiser and ask all your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc and in your email contact list to donate. This is how rescuers pay their vet bills, and you as an individual pet owner can certainly try this too. You may have to swallow your pride to ask friends and family to help, but isn’t your pet worth it?

5. CareCredit
A regular credit card is great if you have one with an available limit, and you can fundraise (see #4) to cover the monthly payments to pay off your balance. However, what if you need the funds urgently, or aren’t sure if you’ll qualify for a regular credit card? There is a special kind of credit card that is exclusively for vet costs, called CareCredit – it can be a lifesaver. If your vet doesn’t take CareCredit, they can help you locate a local vet who will, including a participating vet locator on their website.

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