Recessionista: How to Deal With Terrifying Vet Bills


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

I’ll never forget the day I rushed my sweet cat, Dahlia, to the emergency clinic, thinking she was having an asthma attack. I was worried enough about my baby girl, but when the receptionist handed the estimate to me, I almost passed out: $1,500 for overnight care in an oxygen cage, draining the fluid from around her lungs, plus the procedures that had already been done.

I was unprepared for a bill that big. I had no savings, I didn’t have much available credit, and I had no pet insurance, so I didn’t know what I was going to do. The receptionist handed me a sticky note with CareCredit’s toll-free number and suggested I call.

Are you ready for sudden major veterinary expenses? Start planning and acting now, and you won’t need to be terrified by a big vet bill.

1. Savings


I know, I know — you can stop laughing now. I’m not a big saver, either. If you can afford to set aside a small amount in savings each month, do so. Your savings might not cover a sudden large expense, but having some money available can give you what you need to put down a deposit. Most emergency clinics require at least half of the estimate before beginning treatment.

2. Available credit

Consider having a credit card to be used for veterinary expenses only. If you use a standard credit card, you might have to make small regular purchases on that card like automatic delivery of pet products in order to keep the account open.

If you choose to use CareCredit for this purpose, you won’t pay any interest if you pay your balance off within a certain time period, usually six months. However, if you don’t, your interest rate will jump to around 26 percent per year.

Handing back a credit card by Shutterstock

3. Pet health insurance

Pet health insurance is becoming more popular as pet owners learn just how much vet care costs. That said, it’s still used far less in the U.S. and Canada than it is in Europe. However, it can be a huge help if you’re caught by surprise veterinary bills.

Most pet insurance reimburses policy holders after the fact, so you’ll need to pay up front for care costs — hence the importance of savings and credit. Many insurance plans offer a range of coverage and deductible options, so know what you’re buying. Pet Insurance University is an independent site run by a veterinarian who has compiled a list of the benefits, coverage, and “gotchas” of every policy available in the U.S. and Canada.

4. Charities

Some nonprofit organizations offer financial assistance for veterinary care — emergency care or a specific illness such as diabetes, for example. These programs typically have strict financial guidelines because of limited funding, so if you apply for assistance through a charity, be prepared with financial information including paycheck stubs or public assistance benefit information. A web search can help you locate information in your area.

A veterinarian and a cat by Shutterstock

True Stories of Scary Vet Bills

In my daily work at Trupanion, a pet health insurance company, I see some frightening vet bills. Here are a few true tales from Trupanion customers about their feline friends’ veterinary encounters.

The cat: Cupcake

The condition: Blood disorder, spontaneous bleeding from the ear

What happened: One day, Cupcake’s owner noticed some blood coming out of Cupcake’s ear. She rushed him to a local emergency clinic, where Cupcake was admitted immediately. He was in an oxygen cage overnight, unresponsive. One of the nurses brought her cat to donate blood for a life-saving blood transfusion.

After three days, Cupcake was up and alert. He spent six nights in care before he was allowed to come home, and although he continues to improve, his care is ongoing.

Total payout to date: $12,541.44

A vet holds a cat by Shutterstock

The cat: Neville

The condition: Urinary blockage

What happened: Three-year-old Neville was in good health until one day stones in his bladder blocked his urinary tract, leaving him gravely ill. He was hospitalized in intensive care, and when other treatments failed, veterinarians surgically widened and shortened his urethra.

After months of care, including a lot of medications, hospitalizations, and adjustments in diet, Neville is finally his old self again.

Total payout to date: $7,328.07

A vet holds a ginger tabby cat by Shutterstock

The cat: Barney

The condition: Foreign body ingestion

What happened: Barney’s owner noticed that Barney was looking uncomfortable. He was neither eating nor making much noise, which was unlike him. His owner took him to an emergency clinic, where an ultrasound revealed an intestinal blockage. A specialist surgeon was called in to perform an emergency operation to remove the foreign object — a small rubber item his owner couldn’t identify.

Total payout to date: $3,306.47

A cat gets an examby Shutterstock

The cat: Dayle

The condition: Malignant mast cell tumors

What happened: One September day, Dayle’s owner found two lumps on Dayle’s ear and toe. After removing both masses, the vet sent them out for biopsy. When the results came back, the news wasn’t good: mast cell tumors. The oncologist suggested aggressive action, including an ultrasound, a spleen sample, removal of the affected toe, and chemotherapy.

“Dayle is still fighting his battle with MCTs but he has not lost his sassy personality even with one less toe,” his owner said.

Dayle is undergoing round three of four chemotherapy pills in an effort to attack the mast cells.

“The knowledge that Dayle will have coverage for anything revolving around his MCTs is comforting,” his owner said.

Total payout to date: $6,559.63

Read more by JaneA Kelley:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline authors, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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