Originally published May 17, 2018.
When my dog Anya got sick last year, I was terrified. I rushed her to the emergency clinic, where she recovered after hours of treatment. Unfortunately, the visit came with a steep bill of $1,500, and I wasn’t able to use an emergency vet payment plan to ease the blow.
It was a big drain on my finances all at once, but I was lucky it wasn’t worse. Many people end up with sky-high veterinary bills that are a major strain on their budget. But there are ways to get your pets the care they need without going broke.
5 ways to pay for emergency vet care when you don’t have the money
Enrolling in a pet insurance policy can be a huge help when you’re facing an unexpected emergency. But if you haven’t signed up by the time your pet needs urgent care, it could be too late.
Most pet insurance policies come with a waiting period of 14-day or longer before you can file a claim. But before you refuse care, skip treatments or empty your retirement fund, explore the following options to get your pet the help it needs.
Not being able to afford veterinary care is a common problem. But there are nonprofit organizations all over the country that provide pet owners with financial assistance, and some clinics offer low-cost care.
The Humane Society of the United States maintains a database of national and regional nonprofit organizations that help pet owners receive the monetary aid they need.
Although you might feel shy or embarrassed, consider talking to your vet to see if you can work out a payment plan for your pet’s treatment.
Not all veterinarians will offer payment plans, but some do. And some vets are willing to negotiate payment plans on a case-by-case basis, depending on the client’s need. If you’re eligible, you might be able to spread out your payments over several months.
If your vet doesn’t offer payment plans, ask if they accept CareCredit. CareCredit is a financing program for medical expenses that covers both people and pets. It often offers a no-interest period — during this time you can pay without owing interest, helping make your payments more manageable.
You could also use a credit card, as I did. For Anya’s care, I relied on a low-interest credit card to pay her veterinarian.
It wasn’t ideal (I did have to pay some interest charges), but I was able to pay off the balance within three months. It was a necessary tool to get her the care she needed because her vet didn’t offer payment plans or other financing options.
If you’re thinking of using a credit card to pay your veterinarian, make sure you compare credit card offers beforehand. Depending on your credit history and income, you could qualify for a low-interest card or a card with a 0% APR promotional offer. Those deals could help reduce how much you’ll owe over time.
If you don’t have access to a low-interest credit card, applying for a personal loan might be a better way to pay for veterinary care. With a personal loan, you work with a lender to borrow money for your needs.
Loan periods typically range from two to five years, and your payments stay the same each month. Since a personal loan spreads out the payments over several years, rather than just a few months, it could be the most affordable option. The longer the loan term, the more you’ll pay in interest, but it can be worthwhile to reduce your monthly bill.
If you have good credit, you could qualify for a low-interest personal loan. Some lenders offer APRs as low as 2.49%, and with such a low APR, you won’t pay that much in interest charges. For example, if you took out a $1,500 personal loan at a 5.99% APR and repaid it over three years, you’d pay back a total of just $1,643. Having the luxury of paying your vet bill over the course of three years would cost you only $143 in interest fees.
If you’ve exhausted all your other options and still need money to pay for your pet’s treatment, crowdfunding could be a solution. With crowdfunding, you post your pet’s story on a site like GoFundMe and share it on social media and with friends and family. Hopefully, people will be moved by the story and donate money toward your pet’s care.
Still, there’s no guarantee you’ll meet your funding goal, so it’s a good idea to use crowdfunding only as a last resort.
Preparing for emergency pet care
Trying to figure out how to pay for emergency pet care when you don’t have the money available can be overwhelming, exhausting and devastating. However, it’s important that you don’t give up hope. By talking to your vet and reaching out for help, you can find a way to pay for your pet’s care.
Since you can never predict when an unexpected expense will pop up, it’s also a good idea to build an emergency fund.
Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.