What to Do if You Can’t Afford a Vet

Last Updated on

Having a sick or injured cat is stressful enough. When you can’t afford a vet? Horrible. If you’re uninsured, on a shoestring budget, and facing thousands of dollars in vet bills, the situation might look hopeless. It doesn’t have to be. 

In this article, you’ll get real low-cost solutions to help your cat get the care she needs.

A couple of days ago, we received a message from a woman named Estefania. Her cat, Gypsy, ate a hair tie and required surgery to feel better. Not sure if she could afford the surgery after being on medical leave for months with no income, Estefania created a GoFundMe page. She started stomping the streets of the internet asking for help.

That’s how she found us. She didn’t ask us to donate. Instead, she asked us to write about vet bills in the United States and help other people who can’t afford a vet.

The fact is that veterinary care is more expensive than ever before, but in most cases, there’s a way to pay for it. Through financial aid, payment plans, and low-cost veterinarians, you can pay for veterinary care on a low budget.

What do you do if you can’t afford a vet?

Your course of action depends on the situation. Have you already gotten the bill or are you thinking about not even going to the vet because you don’t think you can afford it?

Here’s a summary of what you can do in various common scenarios. 

At this time, the resources in this article are only relevant to people in the United States.

Ultimately, we want this to be a global guide that will help pet guardians around the world. We’re always on the lookout for international resources.

If you work with or know of an organization that may be able to help provide financial assistance or other forms of aid to pet guardians in need, please contact us.

You’ve already gotten the bill but it’s too expensive.

Before you use your credit card or take out a loan, ask your veterinarian if he’ll let you pay on an installment plan. Not all veterinarians will be up for it, but some offer interest-free payment plans, allowing you to pay in small chunks over time. This works best if you’ve already established a relationship of trust with your veterinarian.

Secondly, you may be able to get help from a pet charity. Refer to the Humane Society’s list of national and state organizations that provide financial aid to pet guardians in need.

Your pet is experiencing a medical emergency and needs treatment right now.

Veterinary schools often provide low-cost veterinary care as it helps their students gain real experience caring for real animals. Though the procedures are performed by a student, they’re overseen by an experienced vet.

View the American Veterinary Medical Association’s list of accredited veterinary colleges. Use the drop-down list to find a college in your state.

If you’re not comfortable with the idea of your cat being part of the veterinary school curriculum, look for low-cost veterinary clinics in your area. If you can’t find a low-cost veterinary clinic, just go to the vet. Get the veterinary care you need and then figure out how to pay for it later. There are organizations that can help you to cover your vet bills.

Click here to search for pet financial aid organizations by US state.

If you’re not sure whether or not your pet needs emergency medical care, immediately call a veterinarian and describe the symptoms. The vet won’t charge you for a phone call and you’ll get a more authoritative answer than you’ll find on PetMD.

Your pet is not having an emergency and needs non-critical care like neutering, vaccinations, or a physical exam.

You have a little more time to think. Low or no-cost spay and neuter services are widely available.

Click here to find a low-cost spay and neuter clinic near you.

Low-cost or free vaccinations are also common, though you might have to wait for a special vaccination clinic to pop up. Vetco offers affordable vaccination services at some Petco stores around the United States. You don’t need to make an appointment and there’s no exam fee.

Click here to look for a Vetco clinic near you.

You need a veterinarian’s advice.

If you have a question about your pet’s health—maybe you’re not sure why your cat has been vomiting lately or you’ve noticed an unusual rash—but your pet isn’t in serious distress, you may get valuable advice from a veterinarian online.

You can get free, personalized advice from veterinarians on PetCoach.co.

If you need answers fast, you can pay a small fee to get a speedier reply. PetCoach is good, but sometimes you need an interactive, real-time conversation.

If you would like more of a veterinary-office experience, you can pay a small fee to chat with a real veterinarian on JustAnswer. JustAnswer consultations cost between $10 and $100, depending on the speed and complexity of service you need. They’ll give you a quote before you get started so there won’t be any surprises.

How much does it cost to see a vet?

Veterinary bills, once relatively inexpensive compared to human medical care, are now the most expensive part of having a pet. Paying the veterinarian a major problem for MOST pet guardians. You don’t have to be unusually poor to struggle to cover vet bills.

In an article on Credit Karma, Nashville veterinarian Eva Evans says that “…in at least 50% of emergencies, owners don’t have the financial ability to afford care for their pets…”

Average costs for examinations start at $50 and reach up to $200 per visit, while treatment for health problems can go into the tens of thousands of dollars.

According to Elyse Cannon of Petplan Pet Insurance, “Most pet parents will probably be surprised to learn that the average bill for unexpected care can range from nearly $800 to $1,500 … and the reality is that every six seconds a pet parent is handed a bill for more than $3,000.”

Elyse is, of course, trying to make a case for buying pet insurance, but there’s no doubt that veterinary care is expensive. Actual costs vary based on where you live and your individual vet. Across the United States, treatment for a cruciate injury brings an average bill of $3,480, cancer treatment adds up to about $2,000, and ingestion of a foreign body is somewhere around $1,755.

Preparing for the Future

The solutions we’ve suggested so far are geared towards people in a really tight spot. But once you’ve got the present figured out, it’s good to prepare for what’s next. Here are a few tips to help you avoid those catastrophic expenses going forward.

Consider getting pet insurance.

Insurance is a gamble. But if you can afford an extra $10-$30 a month, consider getting it. Good insurance policies really do provide peace of mind. We recommend HealthyPaws and Figo, but you’ll need to choose the provider that’s right for you and your pet.

This article on the best pet insurance may help you find a good match. 

Practice preventive care.

There’s no way to protect your pet from every possible health problem. Some of the most expensive conditions, however, are also the most preventable.

Feline diabetes, for example, could cost over $10,000 over the patient’s lifetime. We know that you can prevent it with a low-carbohydrate diet and a healthy lifestyle. Treatment for feline lower urinary tract disease could cost over $2,000. A high-moisture diet almost always ensures that your cat will never need that treatment.

Keeping your pet indoors or supervising them when playing outside will help to prevent the injuries, poisoning, and illnesses that come with a free-roaming outdoor lifestyle.