Financial aid for veterinary care

Veterinary care can be expensive, and many people struggle to pay the bills. If you ever find yourself in this position, consider one of many the charitable organizations that help animal lovers afford surgery or treatment by offering financial aid.

Bea was in a quandary. Her young dog had been hit by a car and needed veterinary care as soon as possible. Trouble is, Bea is single and between jobs, and simply couldn’t afford a costly vet bill. “I either had to find the money right away, or have my dog euthanized.” A concerned friend immediately directed Bea to an organization that could provide her with some of the emergency financial aid. Her dog received the necessary care and is now on the road to recovery. “They saved the day for us,” Bea says gratefully. “It’s such a load off my mind.”

Many people understand the crushing pain of not being able to pay expensive veterinary bills to keep their animals alive. Some have decided to help others in the same situation by setting up financial aid charities. Carol Smock is one of them. She’s the founder and national board chair of the Brown Dog Foundation. She formed the organization along with her friends and sister after her own beloved dog, Chocolate Chip, passed away from liver failure after a litany of acute illnesses. Unemployed at the time Chocolate Chip was ill, Carol found herself faced with the problem of how to pay for his care. Now she strives to help other animal lovers dealing with the same issue by offering financial aid options for their veterinary bills.

Carol isn’t alone in her endeavors. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States lists dozens of financial aid organizations on its website. Some focus on helping with specific issues and conditions, while others offer financial assistance for spaying and neutering, or paying for prescription medications or pet food.

How does it work?

Each organization has its own rules and regulations, but the funding process generally begins with filling out an application. “Be prepared for full disclosure and don’t try to figure out what answers we want to the questions asked,” Carol says. “Just answer them honestly. We will refer you to other programs if we can’t help.”

In addition to an application, the Brown Dog Foundation also requires recent IRS 1040 tax returns for all adult members of the animal’s household, a disability or welfare statement where applicable, a recent pay stub if the applicant is employed, and proof of “pet ownership”. Most organizations will require this type of documentation.

These charities are also set up to act as quickly as possible once an application has been received, since they understand it’s often an emergency situation. “We attempt to get back to the applicant within no more than 24 hours with an approval or denial,” says Tim Meeker, founder and director of Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance (

What’s covered and what’s not?

Financial aid charities for veterinary care are primarily designed to help people pay for emergency or life-threatening situations. “People typically come to us for hit-by-car, attacks by dogs, blocked urethras and abscesses,” says Tim.

“We receive over 200 requests for funding each month, ranging from help with basic medical care to heroic measures to save a life,” says Carol. She also receives multiple requests for IVDD surgery, and both ACL and CCL repair. “Many issues can be treated for about one-third the cost of surgery by using an integrative medicine approach overseen by a holistic or integrative veterinarian,” she adds.

While these organizations try to do everything they can to help, financial constraints mean that most don’t cover preventative care or chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Of course, there are exceptions. The Magic Bullet Fund, for example, specializes in providing financial aid for dogs with cancer. But because 501c3 charities are run on donations alone, they cannot afford to pay for long term medication and treatment – especially in trying financial times when donations fall and applications for help rise.

For these same reasons, the cost of any case may not be covered in full. “Occasionally, we are able [to pay for all costs] depending on the amount of the bill, but in most instances our grants are limited to $100 to $500 and do not usually cover the whole cost,” says Tim.

“A non-profit is not obligated to help just because you ask,” Carol adds regretfully. “We can’t be all things to everyone.” This means that, wherever possible, you’re encouraged to consider other feasible options to help pay your vet bills, including buying pet insurance, asking family or friends for help, or checking to see if your veterinary clinic offers an installment payment plan, before applying for a grant from a financial aid organization.

The good news is that there are a growing number of these charities out there, so you have many options to turn to for help. Do your homework to ensure the organization is reputable and legitimate, and be sure to understand what it can and cannot do for you. It’s a good idea to do some research before a crisis strikes, so you’ll know where to go if the need ever arises. You’ll find it comforting to know help is available if your animal ever needs care you can’t afford.