When you can’t pay your vet bills

Combine the high cost of veterinary care with an unstable economy weakened by the pandemic, and it’s not surprising that a lot of people are having a hard time paying their vet bills these days. Luckily, there’s help for those who qualify.

Most of us have faced unexpected vet bills at one time or another. It isn’t surprising, since these costs are part of properly caring for a dog or cat. But what if you had to forgo necessary treatment for your animal because you couldn’t afford it? This has become an issue for a lot of people, especially as so many are now dealing with pandemic-related layoffs and shutdowns as well. The good news is that help is out there, in the form of organizations that specialize in assisting people to pay their vet bills.

Rising costs and falling incomes

Vet bills have risen over 10% since 2015. For example, a single round of chemotherapy can run between $3,500 and $4,500. Because these costs are beyond the budgets of many people, they’re forced into making heartbreaking decisions. “Sometimes, the only choice is to give their animals away or have them euthanized,” says Karen Leslie, executive director of The Pet Fund®, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to funding veterinary care for those who can’t afford it. “We help those who are facing that unthinkable choice.”

Amy Sikes is the Deputy Director of Diabetic Cats in Need (DCIN), a Maine-based nonprofit whose mission is to keep diabetic cats in their homes, regardless of caregiver income levels. She adds that many people facing financial hardships are also struggling with mental health issues, and rely on their animals for emotional support.  “Just the thought of having to give them up to a shelter or euthanize them due to financial challenges is truly overwhelming,” she says.

To complicate matters, diseases such as cancer are becoming more prevalent in dogs and cats. “When we started [in 2003], cancer treatment comprised just 20% of our calls for help,” Karen says. “Now, it’s somewhere around 60% and the age of onset is younger and younger.” DCIN has seen an upward trend in feline diabetes as well. Although the disease is manageable, treatment is pricey. “Insulin costs up to $300 for each five-pen box,” says Amy. “So it can be quite expensive.”

How do these organizations work?

Because organizations such as The Pet Fund and DCIN can’t do it all, they usually choose a specific focus. DCIN focuses on cats with diabetes, and The Pet Fund helps with non-basic, non-urgent issues such as heart disease and cancer care. The Handicapped Pets Foundation, meanwhile, is a nonprofit that donates new or reconditioned wheelchairs to animals in need.

The process for asking for help from these organizations is fairly simple. It involves filling in an application, and may require proof of low income, though not always. For instance, DCIN is willing to help those who may not technically fit the low income profile, but who are facing an unexpected diagnosis in their animals and finding it hard to pay for initial treatment. Most organizations also require a cost estimate from your veterinarian.

Can pet insurance help with the cost of vet bills?

Pet insurance definitely helps ease the burden of veterinary costs, but it’s not a guarantee of full coverage when facing a diagnosis that might include heart disease, or a type of cancer that requires chemo treatment. With the rising cost of veterinary care, insurance companies have limitations on what is covered. For example, a dog with a diagnosis of cancer may not be eligible for ongoing chemo treatment. And while many insurance companies offer policies that cover holistic and alternative therapies, there are limitations in that area as well. In short, a pet insurance policy will certainly help, but it’s not going to cover everything.

It’s not easy asking for help, especially if the plea involves money. But when your best friend is in trouble, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of great strength!