How to Pay for an Emergency Vet Visit
Surprise veterinary bills can be upsetting and challenging to deal with. You want to make sure your pet’s health is taken care of. But you also may not have thousands of dollars available to make it happen.
Emergency pet bills can be more expensive because your animal requires a more sophisticated level of care, such as anesthesia and IVs. Urgent visits can sometimes cost more because your regular vet’s office isn’t open, and you need to go to an emergency clinic.
However, there are several ways you can prepare and pay for pet emergencies, even on a limited budget. Let’s discuss a few of them.
Set Up an Emergency Fund
This can be more difficult if you’ve got a tight budget, but not impossible. Setting up a savings account for all types of emergencies is something many financial experts will recommend. A common benchmark is to build up the equivalent of three to six months of expenses. So if you typically spend $2,000 a month, you’ll want between $6,000 and $12,000 in an emergency fund.
A habit that can help you get there is to put a savings category into your monthly budget. Let’s say your take-home pay is $2,400 a month, and your essential expenses cost $2,200. Start setting aside the extra $200 each month until your emergency fund is built up.
Alternatively, you could factor potential emergencies into a “pet care” budget category. If you usually spend $50 each month on pet food, add an additional $50 as a cushion for routine and emergency pet bills. You’ll just have to remember not to spend that extra cushion on other items for yourself. Or set it aside as a minimum balance you maintain in your checking account at all times.
Take Out a Pet Insurance Policy
Pet insurance policies can help you pay for your animal’s vet care. While pet insurance policies usually cover care for injuries and illnesses, some of them also cover routine care for certain conditions.
You’ll pay a monthly premium in exchange for the coverage and will usually need to file claims for reimbursements. The cost of your monthly premium will depend on the company you take out a policy with, what type of animal you have, and factors like the pet’s age.
If you decide pet insurance is something you want to explore, be mindful of restrictions on claims, deductibles, and what type of care the policy covers. The average monthly cost of insurance for dogs is around $50, and for cats, it’s about $30. However, your costs will typically be lower if you take out a policy on your animal while they are young. If you only want coverage for accidents, your monthly costs will also usually be less.
Keep in mind that your monthly premium may not be your only expense. Similar to our health insurance, pet insurance may cover up to 80% of treatment costs after you meet a certain deductible. There may also be a cap on how much the policy will payout, such as $5,000, in a given year.
Set Up a Payment Plan
Your vet’s office or the emergency care clinic you went to may be able to set up a payment plan. Although not all offices and clinics do this, it doesn’t hurt to ask. With a payment plan, you can agree to submit smaller monthly payments until your balance is paid off. Your vet may negotiate the amount with you according to your income or what you can reasonably afford.
If you have a good payment history with your veterinarian, they may agree to spread out the payment schedule for several months. However, you’ll want to ask whether there will be any finance or additional charges. Also, be sure to discuss the exact payment terms with your vet. This includes how many months you have to pay off the balance before accruing late charges or penalties.
An alternative to direct payment plans is to use credit. Some vet offices and clinics accept financing from companies like CareCredit. Your vet receives payment in full for their services, and you can pay the financing company over time.
You’ll need to qualify for the financing and agree to the company’s terms, such as balance limits and interest rates. Late and missed payments can negatively impact your credit score, so be sure you can handle the payment terms before you apply.
For many people, though, using credit can alleviate the burden of paying for emergency vet bills at once. If you have conventional credit cards with adequate limits, you can also use these to pay for your pet’s care. Or you can ask your bank for a personal loan. If you have an existing checking account or mortgage, banks will sometimes offer these loans at reduced rates.
Ask for Help
If you cannot afford emergency care for your pet and credit isn’t an option, you can try asking others for help. Starting with friends and family is usually best, but you might try using crowdfunding platforms or asking neighbors on apps like NextDoor. With family members and friends, you might offer to pay them back over time. Crowdfunding platforms funnel donations to you, but you’ll want to make a heartfelt appeal.
Sometimes when strangers see themselves in you and your pet’s story, they’ll be more motivated to donate. Let them know how much you need to raise and why you’re asking for help. Organizations may also be able to provide donations or emergency financial assistance. Check to see if there are any nonprofits in your area that give aid to animal owners for medical care.
Paying for emergency veterinary care can be more challenging if you don’t plan for it. Owning an animal is a responsibility similar to caring for a home or a young child. Budgeting for regular and surprise expenses is the best strategy.