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By Sarah Wooten, DVM
If you have been to a veterinarian recently, then you know that veterinary care can be expensive. I sympathize with any pet parent who has been presented with an estimate for vet costs that has a comma in it—the shock that comes with pet health costs is real!
Unfortunately, vet bills can present a barrier, and many companion animals are not receiving the care they need because their pet parents cannot afford it.
One area where pets are suffering needlessly is dental health. Pet dental care can be expensive—it is not uncommon for vet costs for dental work to exceed a thousand dollars. Even though a dog or cat may have gum disease, tooth pain, bad breath or rotting teeth, owners will often forgo treatment simply because they can’t pay the vet bills.
Another area where vet costs can be a barrier is with long-term prescription pet medications for chronic conditions like Cushing’s disease or arthritis. Even though there are amazing drugs available that can improve the quality of life and reduce pain for animals, a large percentage of pets go untreated because of the money barrier.
If you want to provide the best veterinary care for your pet but find yourself in a place where you don’t have the funds necessary to pay for vet costs, here are five options that can help you afford the care that your pet needs.
Lines of Credit
If you find yourself in a bind over vet bills, one option is CareCredit.com. CareCredit is a health care financing credit card that can be used for people and for veterinary payment, including dental bills.
If you make minimum monthly payments and pay off your balance within the promotional period (anywhere from 6 months to 24 months), then the loan is interest-free.
However, if you do not pay it off within the specified period, there is a hefty penalty in deferred interest charges that are substantial, so read the fine print. CareCredit approval depends on a person’s credit score, so you may not get approved if you have bad credit, or you may only qualify for an amount that does not cover the entire bill.
I have seen creative clients organize multiple people to apply for multiple CareCredit lines, and combine the amounts to pay for needed care. Wells Fargo also has a healthcare financing credit card that also works for vet costs that may be a good fit. I recommend that you apply for the line of credit even if you don’t currently need it, so that it will be there for you if you ever do.
Scratchpay is an online payment plan for veterinary costs that can be used for any species. It is not a credit card or a line of credit, so it doesn’t rely on your credit score or affect your credit score, and more pet parents get approved.
Scratchpay has a higher approval rating, no hidden fees and no deferred interest; however, the vet clinic must be registered with Scratchpay. Like CareCredit, Scratchpay pays the veterinarian up front, and then you make payments to Scratchpay.
You have several options for payment. If you pay the balance in full within 90 days, you won’t pay any interest. Or you can choose to pay monthly over a period of 12 or 24 months with the interest already figured into the payment.
Pet insurance is similar to health insurance for humans ... but cheaper. If you don’t have an emergency savings fund in place to pay vet bills in the event of illness or a pet emergency, then pet insurance might be a good option for you.
Pet health insurance policies vary widely, so it’s important to do your research before you settle on a policy or company. Each pet insurance company has an online tool to help you compare plans.
It is important to note that unlike human health insurance, pet health insurance usually requires you to pay upfront for veterinary bills, and then the company sends a reimbursement check to cover your out-of-pocket expenses.
The exception to this rule is if your veterinarian uses Trupanion Express, and your pet is covered by Trupanion, the company pays the veterinarian directly. Many companies offer wellness riders, but you should take time to crunch the numbers, because it may be more affordable to pay for wellness care out of pocket.
In addition, check to see if the pet insurance policy or additional wellness rider you’re considering covers pet dental care—many policies do not.
Vet bills can be overwhelming, and sometimes you just need a helping hand. Fortunately, there are several charitable organizations that exist to help pet parents that are down on their luck.
The Pet Fund and the Brown Dog Foundation are two organizations that exist to help pet parents pay for veterinary bills. These organizations require an application process. Aid is income based, and funds are not available for emergency care.
The GoFundMe website has a comprehensive list of additional organizations that exist to help cover veterinary bills for people in need, and don’t be afraid to ask your veterinary office for additional resources.
Many veterinarians have funds set aside to help people in a financial crisis, or they may know of local organizations. The point I want to leave readers with is that there is help available, and no pet should suffer with untreated pain or illness due to lack of money.