To Insure or Not to Insure: Financial Preparations for Unexpected Vet Bills

Unexpected Vet Bills

A Guide to Financial Preparations, Dog Insurance, and Support with Veterinary Bills

In regards to my dogs and my finances, I am a fully-fledged, graduated-with honors from the school of hard-knocks student. Any financial mishap that one can encounter with their dog, I have experienced. Over and over again. Through many dogs. Unexpected vet bills? I’m a pro. How about you?

Every dog, I tell myself it will be different. I will be more prepared. I will start a rainy-day-dog fund. Every dog, that fails. Until now. Following are some proactice measures and financial preparations you can take to deal with unexpected vet bills.

The straw that broke the camel’s back happened right before Christmas of 2019. Oliver began vomiting and couldn’t stop. What began with small pukey mishaps on the carpet while we were sleeping turned into veritable lakes of vomit on the kitchen floor. So much vomit that we had to use the garage floor squeegee to clean it up. So much vomit that we knew our dog was in dire straights if we didn’t get him to the vet.

The mishap was an ingested squeaker. An ingested squeaker that Oliver pooped out straight before being whisked to the surgical room to undergo a huge, invasive, and costly “Foreign Body Removal Surgery”.

As a teacher of science, I am always intrigued by the disgusting and odd. The vet asked if I’d like to keep the fetid, stinky object that Oliver passed before surgery. It took me a few days and some nerve to look it over. The $1800 squeaker.

We wondered why the vet still opted to operate on the dog even though he pooped out this “object”. Except the vet was so boggled by his symptoms and other concerning warning signs, he just had to take a look. That look cost us $1800 the week before Christmas. $1800 I would have rather not spent.

Big Oliver made a full recovery since that unfortunate episode. We were lucky that we didn’t lose him and now cut the squeakers out of his new toys.

Some History with Medical Costs and Dogs

If you’re reading this, you most likely own and love a dog. You also are quite aware that veterinary costs are relatively high. When you think about it, these costs are justified. Vets have to go through A LOT of schooling to practice. That often leaves them under mountains of debt, with a compassionate job that pays less than a regular doctor just out of college.

It is also costly to run a Veterinarian’s office, cover the overhead for the building, pay employees, and purchase medical equipment (which is often the same equipment used on humans and costs the same amount). Therefore, those costs are passed on to the consumer who trusts his vet to give his best friend top-notch care.

My thoughts when leaving the vet’s office, just having paid the bill are often related to those when leaving the auto repair shop; Well, I’m lucky I got out of there easy today! Only $300! But to many, $300 is a bill they haven’t prepared for and will have far-reaching effects in other areas.

Vet Bills are Inevitable

For many who have cared for older or sick pets, you are aware of how much it can cost to diagnose and treat a pet in her senior years. You know how costly it is when a sudden illness strikes. Sadly, these sudden illnesses often result in the loss of your dog.

The last 3 dogs I’ve said farewell to have succumed after a quick, but expensive illness. As a dog lover, I’d do anything to give my dog a chance, so long as it doesn’t cause them any more pain and there was some hope of recovery.

When we first brought Franklin to the Emergency vet (on the weekend, after hours, so the ER fee applied) the kind vet told us, “You’ll reach your emotional and financial limits when caring for a sick dog.” For many of us, the emotional limit comes long after the financial limit-if we’re lucky.

Sadly, for many, the financial limit imposes choices on us that prevent us from providing our Best Friends with the best care. There are resources and solutions to budgeting for your pet.

Include Your Pet in Your Household Budget

When you make your monthly or yearly budget, plan for expected and unexpected vet expenses. A good rule of thumb is to prepare for 2 regular wellness checks (around $300 each, depending on where you live) and a dental cleaning around 4-5 years of age (around $400-$600). Also, it’s never a bad idea to have a “Rainy Day” pet fund to cover unexpected vet bills, which can seemingly come out of nowhere.

Rainy Day Pet Fund

Most financial advisors will recommend having a pet emergency fund that you contribute to regularly to cover unexpected vet bills. The bonus with this is that the money is yours; you aren’t paying premiums to an insurance company, so if you don’t use the funds they are yours to keep. The other reality is that U.S. pet owners are handed a $3000 vet bill every 6 seconds. For many, that takes some time so save up and recover once it’s spent.

When we first acquired Oliver and Wally, I had the best of intentions for an emergency dog fund. I keep some of our savings into the stock market through the Stash app. To cover dog related expenses, I purchased a stable bond account and put a set amount in each week. Just for dog expenses.

When that unexpected vet bill for Oliver’s squeaker removal came due, it was HARD to withdraw the amount to pay. I was really fortunate to have it, but I really didn’t want to part with my savings! That’s when the dreaded idea of insurance came up…

Pet Insurance Pros and Cons

After the sting of losing Franklin, a good portion of my savings, the financial sting of Birdie’s illness and loss a year later, AND FINALLY, Oliver’s $1800 squeaker experience a year after that, I knew I needed to pony up for dog insurance. A prime example of my choices to repeatedly go through the school of hard knocks. (All told, I could purchase a reasonably-priced and practical used car with the vet expenses. Definitely not as great as a dog though!)

I detest insurance. I am also grateful when I use it. It’s one of those double edged grown-up swords; it sucks to pay and pay. Without it, you could be bankrupted. When something happens, and you can use it, you breathe a sigh of relief.

I ended up insuring both dogs through Pets Best Insurance. This is not a review or promotion of their company, as I have limited experiences and have not tried other pet insurances. I opted to insure my dogs right after Oliver’s squeaker incident, so they were both relatively young. Both dogs cost $33/month, but Wally has lower coverage due to the squeaker incident with Oliver. I thought Wally seemed more “rugged and healthy”.

I was wrong on that! I have used that insurance on Wally 3 times in the last 4 months! All for illnesses and emergencies; Lyme disease and 2 odd episodes of illness. I was glad that I had the option of taking him to the vet without thinking about the cost the last 2 times.

All told, Wally’s unexpected vet bills have totaled around $900. Ouch. The insurance has covered 80% of the last 2 claims, although I did just hit Wally’s $500 deductible earlier in December, so my reimbursement is a relatively small amount. We haven’t used the insurance at all on Oliver dog.

It’s important for you to do your homework and research the different types of pet policies; here is an article from The Canine Journal. You can check out Pet Insurance Review or The Best Pet Insurance for comparisons also.

Many pet insurances do not cover yearly wellness, only emergencies and illnesses. Most pet insurances have a $500 deductible, so you have to reach that amount before claims are paid. Pet insurance premiums can also be much more expensive on older dogs.

I know in my case, both with past experiences and vet bill horror stories from friends and family, I am relieved to have the pet insurance and my experience has been positive so far.

Seek Funds

  • Line of Credit: CareCredit is a health care financing credit card that can be used for medical and veterinary expenses.
  • The Pet Lifeline Program – Created with the goal of helping sick pets get the medical attention they need. They offer financial assistance to pet owners who are having trouble paying their veterinarian bills.
  • Scratchpay: An online payment plan for veterinary costs. It pays the veterinarian up front and you reimburse Scratchpay. It’s neither a credit card or line of credit, so your credit score is not a factor. Payment plans vary from 5-24 payments beginning at 0% interest. Your vet does have to be registered with Scratchpay for you to use it.
  • CareCap: You are set up on a payment plan once you and your vet sign up. CareCap creates a custom payment plan based on your budget. This service does charge a 1% fee each month. Reasonable compared to credit card interest rates.
  • Charitable Organizations: These organizations exist to help pet owners who cannot afford veterinary care, recognizing that we all want what’s best for our pets and cost should not be a barrier to getting your pet the care she needs. The Pet Fund and Brown Dog Foundation help people who cannot afford veterinary bills. Both base aid on income and have an application process. Funds are not available for emergency care. Both are also registered non-profits that you can support.
  • GoFundMe: Here is a list of organizations that will help cover vet bills for people in need.
  • Waggle: This organization helps crowdfund and share your story on social media to raise money for emergency vet care.

Monitor Your Best Friend Daily

To truly help avoid those costly vet bills, become an expert on your pet’s health. YOU are the person who sees and observes your pet every single day. YOU are the person who can notice subtle changes in diet, elimination, energy levels and behavior. If you make it a daily habit to check your pet’s teeth and gums, monitor their bathroom and eating habits, and monitor the quality of the environment your pet is exposed to each day you have a much better chance of catching something that’s “off” before it becomes a full-blown illness or emergency.

By utilizing a healthy lifestyle for you and your pet; include daily exercise, nutritious food (daily variety please!), minimize environmental toxins and unnecessary chemical exposure, and detoxing your pet from chemical flea and tick repellents. Your Best Friend’s body will last longer and require fewer fixes along the way. This will hopefully translate into fewer vet visits for you and a longer, healthier life for your Best Friend!

Best Friends’ Weekly Feature: Meet Oreo!

Meet Oreo! While Oreo’s true age and breed is unknown, he is a rescue and survival success story!

Oreo was found wandering the streets of Lansing, Michigan in 2010. He was picked up by a local animal control, where he was adopted by Char, who had recently lost her beloved pug, Cookie to a sudden illness. Char adopted Oreo sight unseen, thinking he was a pug mix. Maybe he is, but without a DNA test, we will surely never know!

Early in Oreo’s life, he became violently ill with an unknown disease which required intesive veterinary care, blood transfusions and regular check-ups after his near-death experience. Luckily, Oreo made a complete and full recovery.

Oreo is an older gent now, and revels in time with his human, feeling the sunlight on his skin, rides in the car, and of course chowing down on his Best Friends’ Kitchen Turkey Recipe Dog food. We wish Oreo a long, happy, and healthy life!

Want your dog featured in a future blog? Fill out this form! I promise I won’t spam you or flood your inbox!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart