9 Ways to Take a Bite Out of Pet Bills

If your furry family member has a health crisis at the same time as you have a financial one, don’t worry: There are ways to find cheap or free help.


I recently spent $1,500 on my cat, Puck. He’s got cancer, and this is the third time in 10 years he’s had major surgery. Total bills so far: nearly $10,000.

Shocked? Don’t be. It’s not just the cost of human health care that’s getting out of control. So is the cost of veterinary care.

From a 2015 Washington Post article:

According to a 2011 report by the American Pet Products Association, the cost of routine and surgical vet visits has risen 47 percent for dogs and 73 percent for cats over the past decade. Pet owners spent about $8 billion on vet care in 2000; by 2013, that figure climbed to more than $14 billion.

So what will you do if the cost of caring for your furry friend gets beyond your reach?

Fortunately, you still have many options, from vet schools to animal welfare organizations. Here are some tips.

1. Look for lower-cost alternatives

Vet Dog's Ear Ivonne Wierink/Shutterstock.com

Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering, as well as other routine care.

To find animal shelters and pet rescue groups in your area, check out Petfinder.com‘s list. The ASPCA has a list of low-cost programs that can help.

2. Try a vet school

Vet with Dogdidesign021/Shutterstock.com

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 list of accredited veterinary colleges for a location near you.

3. Shop around

KittensHappy monkey/Shutterstock.com

Vet prices can vary widely. For example, when I was looking for a new veterinarian, I called six different clinics. The base cost of a visit ranged from $35 to $75.

So, check around. Prices can depend on the clinic’s location, its equipment costs, even the student loan debt of the vet.

4. Ask your vet for help

Vet with CatGudz Sofiya/Shutterstock.com

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

5. Find a charity

Animal Sheltera katz/Shutterstock.com

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.

6. Look for cheaper prescriptions

Child with puppydebasige/Shutterstock.com

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 lists some red flags that should make you suspicious about the quality of medications.

You may be able to get generic pet meds for $4 at stores like Target and Kroger. Finally, ask your vet if he or she will match the best price you find.

7. Keep an eye out for specials

Vet with Cat2 deeepblue/Shutterstock

Just like human-centered businesses, vets offer specials. My vet has offered a 20 percent discount for new patients and $25 off dental cleanings.

Be sure to check out veterinary websites and social media accounts for deals.

8. Be proactive to protect your pet’s health

Dogs with OwnerDaz Stock/ShutterStock.com

Take steps and precautions to reduce your pet’s chances of requiring expensive medical care. For example, the American Humane Association recommends spaying or neutering:

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.

Other tips include:

  • Getting wellness checkups. Prevention is always better (and cheaper) than a cure. Make sure your pets get annual wellness exams. 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

puppy photo

If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course of action. Consumer Reports recommends that you ask your vet about treatment options and cost, as well as the likely prognosis for your pet.

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

Karen Datko and Angela Colley contributed to this report. 

Stacy Johnson

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