How to Get Cheaper or Free Vet Care

One day I noticed that my puppy was acting strangely. She walked a few steps, stumbled, fell over and slowly got back up, only to fall over again. I realized her tummy was extremely bloated.

I rushed her to the vet. The vet examined her for a few minutes and started to chuckle. Then my puppy let out a bellowing burp and the vet actually started to laugh. When he asked me if I had left dog food out, I remembered the large bowl on the kitchen floor for my other dog. My puppy had four cups of food in her ½-cup stomach.

It wasn’t serious — although food bloat can be a very serious condition – but I wasn’t laughing when I got the bill for $100.

Between routine care and those little surprises, your pet’s medical bills can get expensive. In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson has a list of ways to find less expensive or even free vet care. Check it out, then read on for more information.

1. Look for low-cost alternatives

Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and other routine care. To find animal shelters and pet rescue groups in your area, check out Petfinder.com‘s list. Also, if you can’t afford to spay or neuter your pet, the ASPCA has a list of low-cost programs that can help.

2. Try a vet school

Veterinary schools are typically cheaper than vet clinics and animal hospitals. While procedures are performed by students, they are supervised by a vet. Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Accredited Veterinary Colleges list for a location near you.

3. Shop around

Vet prices can vary widely. For example, when I was looking for a new veterinarian in New Orleans, I called six different clinics. The base cost of a visit ranged from $35 to $75. TV station KARE 11 in Minneapolis found a wide range of prices among 13 clinics for several common procedures. The price often depends on the clinic’s location, its equipment costs and the student loan debt of the vet staff, it said.

4. Ask your vet for help

If your pet needs an expensive medical treatment or you’re struggling to cover the cost of care, discuss this with your veterinarian. Many vets offer payment plans or discounts to their steady clients.

5. Find a charity

If your vet can’t help and you can’t afford an expensive and necessary medical procedure, you may be able to get help from a charity. The Humane Society has a list of charities, some of which help with the cost of life-saving medical care for pets. Click on your state to see what’s available. Keep in mind that the demand for this type of assistance is high.

6. Look for cheaper prescriptions

If you’re buying prescription medication directly from your vet, you may be overpaying. Compare prices online at sites like:

Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says: “FDA has found companies that sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, and sell expired drugs.” It offers some red flags to look out for.

You may be able to get generic pet meds for $4 at stores like Target and Kroger. Finally, ask your vet if he’ll match the best price you find. In fact, my vet promises to beat the best price online by 5 percent, and I don’t have to pay shipping costs.

7. Keep an eye out for specials

Right now, my vet is offering a 20 percent discount for new patients and $25 off dental cleanings. Just like human-centered businesses, vets offer specials. Be sure to check out veterinary websites and social media accounts for deals.

8. Be proactive to protect your pet’s health

Take steps and precautions to reduce your pet’s chances of requiring expensive medical care:

Spaying females prior to their first heat cycle nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer. Neutering males prevents testicular cancer and enlargement of the prostate gland, and greatly reduces their risk for perianal tumors.

  • Getting wellness checkups. Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than a cure. Make sure your pets get annual wellness exams to spot problems early on before they become costly and heartbreaking. Keep up with the vaccination schedule, and make sure you discuss heartworm prevention with your vet.
  • Pet-proofing your home. Keep dangerous foods out of reach of pets and avoid bringing toxic plants into the house. Check out the ASPCA’s list of people food your pets shouldn’t have and its toxic and nontoxic plants database.

9. Compare treatments

If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course for your pet. Consumer Reports recommends that you ask your vet these questions before you decide what to do:

What are the treatment options?

What are the immediate and long-term costs of each? What’s the prognosis for recovery?

What will the pet’s post-treatment quality of life be like?

Have you faced a situation where your pet required expensive care? Share your story on our Facebook page.

Karen Datko contributed to this report.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Kit Wilson

    Vets are less incliined to offer financial assistance to a new client. They’ve been burned way too often. If you are an established client with a good history, they will be more willing to offer assistance. And be advised, yes, it may be cheaper to buy an RX online–but many of the online pharmacies require payment at time of request, before you know if the Vet will approve it. (Especially a problem on some refills). Shopping around is good, but you do get what you pay for. (For spays etc we offer pain management–a lot of the low cost places don’t). Yes, I work for a vet. And it is very hard to give an estimate over the phone for a lot of procedures without actually seeing the pet. We get a lot of phone shoppers–and mostly we tell them we need the doctor to see the pet and see the problem so we can put together an estimate.

  • Missouri Bird

    Veterinarians are local small businesses, and need our support. They don’t get support from local governments or donated pharmaceuticals. They are being put out of business by big pharma and the unintended(bad) consequences of low cost spay/neuter clinics. If you commit to having a pet, go to a good local vet. Sure, you’ll pay more, but you are supporting your community, small businesses, and your pets. I captured two feral kittens and had them spayed & checked by a great vet. A spay/neuter clinic would have been cheaper, but I support the great local vet, the economy, small business and my community.

  • Vito V

    My vet makes plenty of money on office visits alone. Its 100.00 just to say hello. Trust me, he’s not going to starve if he doesn’t soak his clients on medication. I’ll get them the cheapest way possible.

  • http://elizabethjarrard.weebly.com/ Liz Jarrard

    When we needed to spay our sweet pup – we took her to the local Humane Society. I can’t remember the cost – but it was no more that $30.00. MUCH better than the vet’s office! Just be sure to make sure it’s a clean and well kept facility!