For many people, there may be a time during their pet’s life when they can’t afford to go to their normal vet for their dog’s yearly exam and routine well care. Often, this is where things stop, and care gets skipped. This doesn’t have to happen because there are lots of resources out there for low-cost veterinary care in almost every community, and it’s good to know about them before you need them.
Nationally, programs such as Vetco are offered in pet stores, and are usually advertised through fliers ahead of time. These programs offer vaccine packages, heartworm testing and preventative treatments, worming, and other basic care for a low fee. You’re able to determine exactly what you’ll need to pay before you go, and all costs are up front. Your pet won’t get the same exam they’d get at the vet’s office, but keeping up to date with vaccinations and heartworm preventative is an important part of keeping your pet healthy. Parvo, kennel cough, and other common diseases are much less expensive to prevent than to treat, and you’re helping to keep these diseases out of your community.
Hopefully, your pet is already altered (and you should make that a priority if they’re not), but most local low cost spay/neuter clinics offer very affordable vaccination packages on the day of surgery, and they may have well care days for vaccinations and routine care for pets that have already been altered. The local humane society or shelter may offer similar services as well. The Internet will most likely have all the information you need, but contact a local rescue or shelter if you can’t find the programs you need in your area. They’re probably out there, and you just have to know where to look. In many communities, there are also programs through local universities to provide low-cost vouchers or clinics to students, and you just need to check with student services to find out if anything is available to you.
In some areas, there may even be a full service low-cost veterinary clinic. These can be tricky to find, and sometimes they don’t advertise themselves that way, but if you can’t find one in your city online, try asking a rescue if there is something available. Usually these are the only types of veterinarians that will have a price list readily available online or in the clinic. If you have an animal with unusual health issues, this may not be the best place for them, but for most animals, this can be a great option.
If you know you’re the type who won’t save up for your pet’s annual exam, some veterinarians offer programs similar to Banfield’s Wellness Plans. These allow you to pay a monthly fee for exams and well care. This may or may not be a good deal, depending on what’s available in your area, but it is an excellent way to control and anticipate your pet’s health care costs. I’ve used Banfield as an example because they’re a national chain, but some local vets offer pre-payment plans as well.
No matter where you get your wellness care, the Internet is almost always the best place to find lower prices on heartworm and flea preventative. Get a prescription from your vet or use a company that will call the prescription in for you so you can do your own pricing. Heartworm pills are as little as $5/month. If your pet has been on heartworm preventative as prescribed (that means EVERY MONTH), and your pet does somehow get heartworms, the pharmaceutical company will pay for treatment.
If you’re not so worried about routine care and don’t have a way to pay for emergency care, pet insurance may be a good option for you. While many plans require you to pay out-of-pocket and be reimbursed, they usually have a “preferred network” or something similar where they’ll allow you to jump through some hoops and pay certain vets directly. Even if you can’t arrange that, being able to prove to a vet that you do have pet insurance and that they will be reimbursed will often make them more willing to set up a payment plan or otherwise work with you on the billing. If you already have a vet, you should check to see if they have a pet insurance company they already work with regularly.
If you’re just worried about having money for emergency care readily available, Care Credit is accepted at almost every veterinarian I’ve ever used, and they offer very reasonable repayment plans. Get it before you need it so you’ll have a realistic idea of what’s available to you in an emergency. You can also use this for routine care or dental cleanings. You then pay it off over a few months if needed.
The most important part of having a pet and paying for their care is to be realistic with yourself and have a plan. Circumstances change, and the plan sometimes has to change with the circumstances. If you know you’re not the type to keep vet money in the bank, you need to go with a pre-payment plan or one of the more comprehensive insurance policies. If you’ll put a little away each month and your pets are at a low risk for expensive health issues, you might do better with the savings account. Be honest with yourself and think about it before it comes up. There is nothing worse than having a loved pet die from a preventable disease or something that’s gotten out of hand because their owner couldn’t afford veterinary care.