How to Prepare for Unexpected Vet Bills

Mary Simpson
by Mary Simpson

Accidents happen. And as pet parents, nobody knows that like we do. Here's how to prepare for unexpected vet bills.

Hryshchyshen Serhii/Shutterstock

If you have pets, you know the drill. Always keep funds open on the plastic to cover that unexpected run to the vet. And boy, can those visits add up. For me and my furry clan, the last five months have carried an $8,000 price tag. Yes, one cat, two dogs, and several unplanned trips to my vet are the reason, as I’ve told my fur kids, that momma can’t travel anymore.

And while I could suggest that taking a wait-and-see approach can save you a few bucks when (and if) the issue ultimately resolves itself, this can be risky. Especially if you tend to dismiss your pet’s ailments as being something that will pass with time or heal itself. If we’re talking about an injury that needs stitches or antibiotics, sepsis can set in if left untreated. For critters who have suddenly stopped eating or drinking, dehydration can be lethal. In these instances, you’re not only setting yourself up for a midnight run to emerg (plus a 6 to 8-hour wait) but you’re risking your pet’s life as well as their chance for a full recovery.

Having a financial backup plan in place not only takes the stress out of settling the final bill but it means making the right decision for your pet is a no-brainer - you know you can cover his treatments.

So, how do you prepare for that pricey vet bill you didn’t see coming? Here are five tips to help:

1.    Set up an Emergency Fund

It should be dedicated specifically to pet care and that you won’t / can’t dip into for other purchases. A separate savings account versus that tempting second credit card is a great option because you’re less likely to deplete it on impulse purchases. Establish a target balance – around $5000 depending on your pet count, breed and age – and decide in advance, how it will be used. Is it exclusive to emergencies or can you draw from it to cover his annual vaccines, boarding, grooming, and other essentials? Use it as needed but keep topping it up to maintain that original balance. If the $5,000 sounds a bit steep, consider that my dog’s dental work set me back $2,800 and one month earlier, my cat’s cancer diagnosis with bloodwork and x-rays, topped $2,000. Yes, this is how quickly those vet bills can add up.

2.    Establish a Payment System with Your Vet

Not all clinics will offer this but if you have an established rapport with your regular veterinarian, they might just be willing to let you pay off those pricey treatments, in instalments. Remember, they’re in the business of saving animal lives and will want to see your pet get the treatment he needs when he needs it. So, ask in advance if you can make a partial payment (typically half the value of the invoice) and pay the rest over the next month. Keep the goodwill flowing and offer a reasonable upfront payment, with a short repayment plan.

3.    Ask your Vet for a Discount or Cap

When my vet and I agreed that my dogs would need some serious teeth cleaning, we knew it was going to require anesthesia – which is always pricey. We also wanted to tackle some nasty skin tags that made their regular grooming process rather difficult. I asked for an estimate and got the “it depends on what I find” response. So, I gave him a cap – a dollar figure for which I would not be prepared to go above. Two years ago, that limit was $5,000. Not only did he respect the agreed-upon limit but he also removed additional skin tags and discounted my bill by 10% to help make it happen. I’m just saying, it never hurts to let your vet know in advance of your pet’s treatment, that you want to do right by your little buddy, but you’re doing it on a budget.

4.    Consider Pet Insurance

If your pet is young, he may be a good candidate for pet insurance. Older dogs pay a hefty premium that can make this type of coverage prohibitive for the over-5-year-old crowd. And you should be aware that pre-existing conditions such as allergies or any type of injury that occurred pre-policy are not covered. So that limp due to a leg injury last year isn’t covered. Pet insurance also does not cover elective procedures including tail-docking or routine and preventive care services such as spaying, neutering, vaccines, or that ultra-pricey, teeth cleaning mentioned above. The downside to pet insurance is that the older your pet, the higher the premium. For my 13-year-old Schnoodle, I’d be looking at over $400 per month if I opted for a zero deductible. If she were 3 years old, it would be less than half that amount. So, crunch the numbers and decide if it makes more sense to squirrel those monthly premiums into your emergency fund or to invest in pet insurance.

5.    Shop Around

This last tip may seem a little disloyal if you have a veterinarian that you and your pet have come to love and trust. But, if the work to be done can be scheduled in advance – teeth cleaning, vaccines, or even elective surgeries such as spaying or neutering – consider getting a quote from another clinic. If your veterinarian is located in a city center where rents are always higher and the price for his/her services is going to reflect that. Recently, I discovered that my local emergency clinic charged approximately 15% less to perform the same service that my vet’s office had performed 6 months earlier. So, never assume there is a standard rate for procedures and that all clinics will charge you the same amount.

Each member of your family deserves quick access to medical treatment when necessary. Preparing in advance for those unexpected vet bills not only ensures you never have to hesitate before taking a sick pet to the vet but that you can discuss the right course of treatment without stressing over costs.

Mary Simpson
Mary Simpson

Sharing space with three seriously judgy Schnoodles and a feline who prefers to be left alone. #LivingMyBestLife

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