While pet food is the most often recurring cost associated with pets, pet medical care may well be the most expensive. When me and my partner rescued Francie from the rooftop, we immediately took her to the vet to make sure she was healthy. Although we got a 10% discount for taking in a rescue, that initial visit cost a whopping $80. Since, Francie’s been spayed, ($200) the kittens had their shots ($80 each for five of them), and a sick kitten was nursed back to health with the help of the vet ($80).
All in all, it’s been an expensive winter. Obviously, it is not typical to incur all of these costs in such a short period of time, but the average yearly medical cost for pets is still upwards of $300. Here’s a breakdown of different options for making sure your pet still gets the care it needs despite high costs and difficult financial times. After all, we don’t want to be these people. (Don’t click on that link if stories about abandoned animals upsets you, I was really saddened)
1. Pet Insurance
Gaining in popularity in the past five years, insurance for pets is very similar to our medical insurance. You find a provider (there aren’t many, but here’s a great starting list), pay a premium that depends on your pet’s age, health, etc, and have all expenses covered after your set deductable amount. However, like our medical insurance, there are many serious procedures or treatments that are only partially covered and there is difficulty in getting a pet with a serious pre-existing condition covered. Additionally, if you have a breed with a known predisposition to a certain disease, e.g. hip dysplasia in German Shepherds, you may not be covered for the condition. Despite all this, there is a good chance that getting pet insurance can save you upwards of $1000 over the lifetime of your pet.
2. Pet Wellness Plan
It walks like a duck and talks like a duck, but is it a duck? That’s the question with pet wellness plans. If your pet only has routine expenses, a wellness plan can function exactly like pet insurance; you pay a monthly fee and certain treatments are covered, often at lower fees. However, a wellness plan is unlike an insurance plan in one very traumatic way- if your pet needs emergency care and dies, you may still be stuck with the fess. Unlike insurance, you are still liable for any fees, because a wellness plan actually works like an auto maintenance program. If you sign the contract for a year, you have to pay for a year. This usually works best for preventative care and pets without a history of chronic illness. Vets usually offer wellness plans, but make sure to read all contracts carefully.
3. Discount programs
If you are wary of insurance or wellness programs, there is yet another option: discount programs. For one annual payment, you receive pre-set discounts on veterinary services. The discounts range from 20-35% and cover almost any treatment your pet may have. The catch is that you have to see a participating veterinarian, which may not include many of our independently owned veterinarians. Pet Assure is the largest of this programs, but a quick internet search yields many more.
4. Pet Emergency Fund or Credit Card
If you’re not planning on any of the above options, you should at least plan on being able to provide some financial coverage for emergency pet expenses. One of my friends recently found out her cat needs a $600 blood test right out of the blue. When life hands you a financial lemon like this, make sure you have a plan of attack. Hopefully, you have an emergency fund you can dip into, or barring that, you have a credit card that can be used for pet expenses. The last thing you want is your furry (or reptilian) friend suffering unduly because of a lack of financial planning.
5. Vet emergency fund or payment plan
In the case you are really in a financial pickle (and with the high costs of vet services these days, it’s not unlikely), veterinary offices often have emergency funds for clients who are unable to pay their pet’s expenses. Don’t count on this money, because it is doled out on the basis of various factors that you don’t have any control over, but certainly ask about it if you find yourself unable to pay. Similarly, many vets will accept your payment in the form of a payment plan, allowing you to pay what you are able over a given time period until the service is paid in full. You may have to pay additional interest to offset the time it took for you to pay in full.
6. Non-Profit Funds
Another solution if you’re in a pickle is funds from various non-profit agencies. Depending on where you live, the pet you have, and your affiliations, you may be eligible to apply for emergency funding from a non-profit group. This process takes time, so is probably best coupled with being able to pay your vet up front with a credit card, but can help fund costly emergency expenses. A partial list of these non-profits can be found here.
7. Preventative Care
This is probably glaringly obvious, but still worth repeating. My mom is always bugging me about getting my teeth cleaned every six months, so that I can avoid the dental problems she has had as a result of poor hygiene. Despite that, I don’t think I’ve been to the dentist in at least a year (don’t tell!). As much as we *know* that preventative care will lead to a happier, healthier and cheaper pet, we need to force ourselves to remember to schedule that yearly appointment. Go and do it now. I’ll wait.
The next six months of my pet expenses will hopefully be a lot less than my first six months. However, my kitten needs to get neutered, and there probably needs to be some teeth cleaning too. How do you cope with unforeseen pet medical expenses? Does anyone have an insurance provider they love? Have you found another way to cut costs on pet medical expenses?