8 Ways to Find Affordable Vet Care For Your Dog

As the cost of veterinary care continues to skyrocket year after year, many pet parents struggle to find affordable vet care for their dogs. Luckily, there are some things you can do to afford your dog’s veterinary care. First, staying on top of your dog’s health with routine checkups is the best way to ward off future health issues. Don’t skip your dog’s annual exams, even if he seems healthy.

“Even in the human medical field, early detection is critical for successful outcomes,” says Darren Taul, DVM, president-elect of the American Animal Hospital Association and owner of two veterinary hospitals in Central Kentucky. “Information about what to look for (such as obesity or joint disease) is readily provided as part of wellness and preventive-care exams. We also perform annual preventive lab screening [that is very economical] and greatly beneficial for early detection of problems. Specific breed screening is also implemented for pets that are predisposed to specific diseases.”

If paying for your dog’s veterinary expenses feels impossible, here are eight ways to find affordable vet care for your dog:

1. Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Services

Searching for affordable vet care? There are low-cost spay/neuter services out there. Photography by Fly_dragonfly/Thinkstock.

Spaying or neutering your dog is not only the best way to keep homeless dogs and puppies out of shelters, but your dog will be healthier in the long run. It’s expensive to care for unplanned litters of puppies, and the risk of certain health problems, including some types of cancers, can be greatly reduced or even avoided entirely simply by having your dog spayed or neutered. “A lot of communities have spay/neuter programs available today,” Dr. Taul explains. “A place to start is a local humane society. You can also research local animal rescues and ask for any connections for routine preventive care.”

2. Low-Cost Vaccine Clinics

Vaccines are an important part of keeping your dog healthy and free from disease. If you can’t afford the cost of your dog’s vaccinations, contact your local shelter or humane society to ask about free or low-cost vaccine clinics in your community. Some pet-supply stores regularly host low-cost vaccine clinics.

3. Pet Savings Account

Anticipated costs like food and vaccines are usually easy to budget for, but the bills that really hit hard are those for serious diseases or emergency treatment. Start a savings account and deposit a certain amount into it every month for each dog you own. Then, vow not to touch that money unless you need it to pay one of your dog’s vet bills.

4. Pet Insurance

A dog getting treated at the vet.

Pet insurance for your dog might help you afford bigger vet bills down the line. Photography by pyotr021/Thinkstock.

Pet insurance helps you plan for the unexpected. It is mainly for illnesses and injuries, not for preventive care like vaccines and dental cleanings. “Pet insurance should be a staple for pet owners,” Dr. Taul says. “One major injury or medical problem with a pet often places very tight constraints upon ancillary income.” Pet insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, so it’s best to buy pet insurance when your pet is young and healthy. Read more about pet insurance for dogs here.

5. Wellness Plans

The opposite of pet insurance, wellness plans cover only preventive care, not illnesses and injuries. They allow you to pay smaller amounts monthly to budget for things like well exams, dental cleanings, vaccines, and preventive blood and urine screenings. These types of plans might be offered directly from your veterinarian, or they can be added on to most pet insurance policies.

6. Payment Plans

If your dog needs veterinary care and you can’t afford to pay the amount in full, ask your vet if she will allow you to pay in smaller installments over time. Some clinics will set you up with a payment plan with no additional fees; others require a small processing fee and/or interest. Some third-party companies like ScratchPay offer payment plans that don’t require a credit check. Such plans charge interest, but they allow you to pay over time.

7. Veterinary Lines of Credit

If your dog requires treatment that racks up a large veterinary bill and you’ve maxed out your credit cards, you might be able to get a special line of credit strictly for veterinary expenses from a company like CareCredit. Such companies usually offer a variety of financing options and can be a tremendous help for pet owners faced with a large, unexpected veterinary bill. “The problem with third-party credit cards is that people who don’t have [good] credit have difficulty obtaining them,” Dr. Taul says. “People who have good credit often don’t need a third-party credit card.”

8. Financial Assistance Programs

If you have exhausted all other resources and need urgent medical treatment for your dog, many organizations offer assistance programs for pet owners who cannot afford veterinary care. If you adopted your dog from a shelter or rescue group, first contact them to inquire about any programs they might offer or know about for veterinary care of a rescue dog. You can also check out the following groups to inquire if you might be eligible for assistance:

  1. Brown Dog Foundation: Provides funding to families who find themselves with a sick pet that would likely respond to treatment, but due to unforeseen circumstances cannot afford the treatment.
  2. Cody’s Club: Offers financial assistance to help offset a portion of the cost of radiation treatments for pets.
  3. Dogs On Deployment: provides financial assistance to qualifying military members for help with pet care (dogs and cats) during times of need.
  4. Handicapped Pets Foundation: Provides wheelchairs and other equipment for dogs and cats with special needs.
  5. International Association of Assistance Dog Partners Veterinary Care Partnership Program: Emergency veterinary care fund for IAADP Partner Members (service dogs)
  6. Magic Bullet Fund: Offers financial assistance for dog owners who do not have the financial resources to provide cancer treatment for their pets.
  7. The Pet Fund: Financial assistance for pet owners who need help paying for veterinary care.
  8. RedRoverProvides financial assistance, resources and support to low-income individuals and survivors of domestic violence and their pets.
  9. Rescued Rollers: Provides free and low-cost wheelchairs for people who can’t afford them for their dogs.
  10. Rose’s Fund: Offers financial assistance for veterinary bills for dogs and cats with a life-threatening illness, injury or condition.
  11. Shakespeare Animal Fund: Offers financial assistance for emergency veterinary care for pet owners on fixed incomes or with annual incomes below current poverty guidelines. 
  12. Wheeling Superheroes: Provides wheelchairs for dogs with special needs.

In addition to the above programs, Best Friends Animal Society maintains a listing of state-specific pet financial assistance programs on its website at bestfriends.org/resources/financial-aid-pets.

Thumbnail: Photography ©monkeybusinessimages | Thinkstock.

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