9 Ways to Get Cheap or Free Vet Care for Your Pet

Office visits for your furry or feathered friends can be expensive. But you don't have to roll over. Here are some simple tips to take a bite out of vet bills.

9 Ways to Get Cheap or Free Vet Care for Your Pet Photo by VGstockstudio / Shutterstock.com

One day I noticed 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 4 cups of food in her half-cup stomach.

It wasn’t serious — although 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. Here are some ways to find less expensive — or even free — vet care.

1. Look for low-cost alternatives

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

Check out Petfinder’s animal welfare group search tool, or the ASPCA’s low-cost spay/neuter program search tool.

2. Try a vet school

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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

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Veterinarian prices can vary widely. For example, when I was looking for a new vet in New Orleans, I called six different clinics. The base cost of a visit ranged from $35 to $75. So, check around.

4. Ask your vet for help

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

5. Find a charity

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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 of the United States has a list of pet financial aid-related organizations that help with the cost of certain types of medical care for pets.

6. Look for cheaper prescriptions

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

The pharmacies of retail chains like Sam’s Club and Walmart also carry some pet meds.

Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has some red flags that should make you suspicious about the quality of medications.

Finally, ask your vet if he or she will match the best price you find.

7. Keep an eye out for specials

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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

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

  • Spaying or neutering: The American Humane Association says of cats and dogs, “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.”
  • 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 the reach of pets and avoid bringing toxic plants into the house. Check out this list from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) of people foods your pets shouldn’t have and its toxic and nontoxic plants database.

9. Compare treatments

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If your pet has a serious medical condition, the most expensive treatment may not be the best course of action. Ask your vet about treatment options and costs, as well as the likely prognosis for your pet.

For more ways to save on costs for your four-footed friends, check out “20 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Pet Supplies.”

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

Karen Datko contributed to this report.

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