Health & Care
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What to Do If You Need Help with Vet Bills

Picture this: Your cat is sick or injured and the cost of treating her is more than you can afford. Try these suggestions if you need help with vet bills.

Kellie B. Gormly  |  Aug 15th 2017


As any cat parent who has faced a health emergency or serious illness will attest, veterinary bills can be steep. Not everyone can readily spend hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars on their cat’s health, so how does a caring pet parent get help with vet bills?

A cat wearing a cone of shame.

A cat wearing a cone of shame. Photography by tosher/Thinkstock.

What happens to pets whose parents can’t afford appropriate health care?

“What happens for the pet — the victim in this case — is they end up having to suffer with prolonged illnesses or dying prematurely, often by the decision to euthanize them,” says Dr. Michael J. Blackwell, a veterinarian with the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Blackwell chairs the Access to Veterinary Care Coalition, which researches barriers to veterinary care and ways to make it more affordable. “I think we can do better.”

Asking for traditional help with vet bills

Many pet parents tend to go into credit-card debt to pay vet bills — but, not everyone qualifies for credit, Dr. Blackwell says. He’s also seen people sell items to raise money or borrow funds from family and friends.

“I don’t believe we have nearly the amount of bankruptcy you see in human health care, but some families get into financial trouble overall,” Dr. Blackwell says.

Turning to the internet or social media

In today’s high-tech world, many cat moms and dads turn to the internet and social media to get help with vet bills. Some people post about their pet’s health crisis on Facebook and ask friends to call their vet’s clinic to donate toward the cat’s care. Others organize formal campaigns through crowd funding on sites like gofundme.com or youcaring.com.

Take Waffles’ story for example: The kitty’s constant itching became so severe that the gray shorthaired cat bled, lost all her facial fur and got crusty sores. Waffles’ family spent more than $4,000 on visiting several veterinarians, including a dermatologist, getting multiple blood tests and trying different medications. Now, Waffles’ family anticipates they’ll spend a few additional thousand dollars to keep Waffles’ condition controlled and her life comfortable. Feeling overwhelmed, Waffles’ human, Nicole Javorski, 19, started a campaign for Waffles on gofundme.com.

“I felt so bad for her,” Javorski says. “Either we get this money, or I’ll have to give this cat away … either put her down or give her to a shelter.”

Javorski’s family has raised close to $1,000 — a lot of it from strangers who heard about the campaign from her friends and family on Facebook.

Sometimes, the vets step in

Veterinarians do their best to care for pets in need and respect the clients’ budgets, but there is only so much they can do, Dr. Blackwell says.

“Most of my colleagues are dedicated to taking care of the pet,” he says. “They are trying to make decisions medically in this case that would be in the best interest of the pet. That said, we are also charged with looking after the well-being of the client.”

“Veterinarians, as big as their hearts can be, can’t just give away vet care and survive,” Dr. Blackwell says. “You can only go so far in cutting the fees.”

Other suggestions on getting help with vet bills:

Although some people are reluctant to spend the money on pet insurance, it can protect you from a major bill down the road.

Some vet schools offer discounts for clients to work with veterinary students in training. However, Dr. Blackwell says, the Good Samaritan funds from donations tend to deplete quickly. Animal shelters may also offer discounted care.

Negotiate a payment plan with your vet. Many clinics will do this for longtime clients. Or, you can offer to perform services for your vet in lieu of payment, such as cleaning kennels.

If you can’t use a major credit card to pay your vet bills, consider applying for Care Credit, a credit account that can only be used for medical expenses. Many veterinarians accept the card.

Research charity groups, like redrover.org, that offer financial aid for pet parents in need. Several groups provide help for specific pet breeds.

Plus, see advice for setting up an emergency fund for your cats on Paws and Effect >>

Thumbnail: Photography by fotoedu/Thinkstock. 

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