9 Ways to Get Cheap or Free Veterinary Care

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 — veterinary care.

1. Look for low-cost alternatives

Local animal welfare organizations, rescue groups and shelters often offer low-cost vaccinations, spaying and neutering. They also offer 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 veterinary school

Veterinary schools are typically cheaper than veterinary 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

Veterinarians’ 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

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

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 organizations that help with the cost of certain types of medical care for pets.

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:

The pharmacies of retail chains like Sam’s Club and Walmart also carry some pet meds. You can also use PharmacyChecker to compare prices.

Be careful when buying pet medications online, and deal only with reputable sites. Finally, ask your vet if he or she will match the best price you find.

7. Keep an eye out for specials

Just like human-centered businesses, vets offer specials. My vet has offered a 20% 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

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

  • Spaying or neutering, which can help lower the risk of some diseases in dogs and cats.
  • Annual wellness checkups. Also, keep up with the vaccination schedule, and make sure you discuss heartworm prevention with your vet.
  • Pet-proofing your home, such as keeping dangerous foods out of the reach of pets and avoiding bringing toxic plants into the house.

9. Compare treatments

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.

Karen Datko contributed to this report.

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