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What happens if I can't afford my vet bill?

Jessica Foster | Nov 8, 2022

Pets make great companions, provide unconditional love, and quickly become an important member of your family. They mean the world to you, so you do everything you can to keep them healthy, safe, and happy.

Unfortunately, life happens, and your pet may become sick or injured. And for many pet owners, the decision of whether to go to the vet is influenced by financial constraints – in fear of facing a costly bill.

The good news is that there are effective ways to reduce costs while providing necessary care for your furry friend.

This detailed guide will explain what to do if you can’t pay the vet bill, what pet insurance covers, and why you should consider pet insurance for your furry companion.

Understanding the costs of veterinary care

The question of veterinary fees is understandably a genuine concern for many pet owners.

A veterinary practice, of course, has a primary goal of helping all of the animals that walk through their door. However, veterinary offices still have expenses like any business, such as staff wages, equipment and diagnostic tools, laboratory tests, and overhead costs associated with maintaining the facility.

Veterinary care costs have increased in recent years

Veterinary medicine advances in the same way as human medicine, hence the standards of veterinary medicine today are approaching those of human medicine – which is fantastic news for our fur family since it means the level of care and treatment has also improved! Veterinary care costs have increased significantly because of inflation, innovations in care, and the rising prices of medicine and pharmaceutical products.

Beyond rising medicine costs, advancements in diagnostic technologies have increased vet costs as well. However, the result has been more powerful tools for diagnosing and treating animal diseases, which can help pets lead happier and healthier lives.

Limited availability of telehealth vet services

With the emergence of telehealth technology, many pet owners may wonder about the availability of virtual vet visits for their pets.

Unfortunately, while some vets offer general advice over the phone, they typically can’t make diagnoses or provide treatments. This requires pet owners to come into an office, which involves higher costs such as the standard “exam fee” visit.

Hopefully the capabilities will expand to one day provide more virtual or remote services to pet owners to help keep costs down and provide quick, convenient services.

What to do when facing a high vet bill

It's understandable the often difficult choice of deciding between quality pet health care and considering your budget or financial constraints. High vet bills may cause you stress thinking that you can’t afford the treatment your pet needs.

Fortunately, you have options. Below are some ways to obtain quality care while limiting your out-of-pocket costs.

1. Talk to your veterinarian

The first thing to try is to talk with your vet. Many vet offices offer programs or sliding scale pricing to accommodate patients with financial constraints. For example, some offices offer membership packages that altogether reduce the costs of vaccinations, preventative care, spay/neuter services, and more.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your veterinarian about your situation and ask if they have any financial support programs available. Sometimes they may be able to accommodate, or otherwise offer a referral to a less expensive facility.

2. Visit an animal shelter or non-profit

The second thing to try is to visit a local animal shelter. Animal shelters play an essential role in working to reunite pets with their owners, easing a lot of potential suffering by families. Many animal shelters offer significantly reduced fees for their vet services.

Nonprofit organizations and charities that provide veterinary services may also be able to help. For example, some charities offer to pay for veterinary care under certain circumstances. Or, some charities offer vet care or financial assistance to ease the burden of a high vet bill.

3. Ask your network for assistance

The decision to ask your family members or friends for aid might be tough. However, borrowing money from a loved one is likely the fastest way to pay your vet bills. Don’t underestimate the generosity of your network, who may be able to support you in a time of need.

For significant vet bills, some owners decided to create a GoFundMe account or similar. This can be particularly helpful if your pet has a terminal illness or chronic disease. Just note that some of these platforms may take out fees, so plan your requests accordingly.

4. Last resort: request a cash advance

While this option is not recommended, it is important to include it for any pet owner who may be facing a financial emergency. A cash advance - either from a bank or an employer - should only be a last resort option due to the high APR (yearly interest rate) and risk of debt accumulation, which can impact your credit score.

With a wage cash advance, you are requesting a portion of your upcoming paycheck in advance of your scheduled deposit. This is at the full discretion of your employer, so talk to your company about whether this is an option for you.

With a bank cash advance, you essentially request to withdraw money against your credit card limit with the intention of paying off your balance as soon as possible. Bank cash advances should only be used for emergencies, as there is often a cash advance fee and a high APR.

What do vets do if you can’t pay?

Many people assume veterinary offices will take away their pets or report them if the owner can’t pay the bill. This is a myth. Veterinarians can’t seize animals for unpaid vet bills.

However, your vet can send your payments to a collection agency. This can negatively affect your credit score and possibly accrue additional fees. Some vets may even refuse services to you until payment is received.

If you find yourself in such a situation, it is recommended you not to be afraid of discussing payment options with your vet. Depending on the fee or the nature of the situation, your vet may be willing to work out financing alternatives, such as a weekly or monthly payment plan so you won’t have to pay the total fee in advance.

Guard against high vet bills with pet insurance

While pet insurance won’t cover a previous vet bill, it is one of the best ways to guard against large future out-of-pocket expenses. It will help you effectively prepare for medical emergencies, illnesses, and injuries – circumstances that are hard to budget for and often come with high vet bills.

There is a wide range of different pet insurance options (accident & illness, accident only, time-limited policies, maximum limit policies, etc.) on the market, satisfying different needs. 

It is important to make sure that you carefully check and understand what the policy of any pet insurance provider you’re considering covers. Pet insurance policies can usually include coverage for:

  • Veterinary fees: fees charged by veterinarians for treating and diagnosing diseases and injuries. This often covers the price of consultations, check-ups, tests, x-rays, MRI scans, medications, surgeries, and hospital stays
  • Accidental injuries: bone fractures, traumatic ligament or tendon injuries, motor vehicle incidents, an allergic reaction to insect bites, and abrasion of tissue
  • Illnesses: unforeseen illnesses; may include (but not limited to) cancer, giardia, ringworms, hookworms and roundworms, salmonella, and Lyme disease
  • Boarding costs due to pet owner hospitalization: the cost of looking after your pet if you should go into the hospital for emergency medical treatment. 
  • Lost pet advertising costs: to assist in finding your stolen or missing pet as well as the price of a reward if someone finds or rescues your animal. 
  • Holiday cancellation costs: if you must cancel or curtail your holiday because your pet needs emergency care, you will be reimbursed as per the pet insurance policy terms. 

Some of the most common things pet insurance does not cover include:

  • Pre-existing illness or injury: anything that in any way refers to a condition that your pet had prior to the policy's inception. This often comprises illnesses that may recur in different areas of your pet's body.
  • Pregnancy and giving birth: anything to do with pregnancy, giving birth, and treatment of any offspring is not usually covered.

Why should you consider pet insurance?

Here’s a fact: Pet insurance can help your pet enjoy a healthier life and can protect you from unforeseen expenses that emerge when your pet requires medical attention. Pet insurance saves you money on pricey treatments so that you do not have to go through the stress of acquiring funds in a crunch.

Also, pet insurance gives you peace of mind that if anything unexpected does happen to your pet, you have coverage for potential vet care. If your pet runs into an issue that requires immediate vet care, pet insurance will enable you to choose the best option recommended by your vet without the extra financial concern.


Final thoughts

Many people love animals and treat their pets like valued members of the family. Pets provide companionship, bring joy to our lives, and give us affection. Owning a pet is exciting, and opening your home to a pet is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.

However, we believe responsible pet ownership has numerous obligations, like regular preventive care and regular veterinarian checkups. Pets must be taken to the vet periodically to keep them healthy and active.

Pet insurance helps you prepare for unexpected situations and vet bills. No longer will you find yourself pondering, ‘what if I can’t pay my vet bill?’. Furkin Pet Insurance offers comprehensive pet insurance, covering both accidents & illnesses, with the flexibility to use any licensed vet in Canada or the U.S.

We are here to help. Contact Furkin Pet Insurance for more information about our comprehensive pet insurance plans or get a quote today.