What to Do If Your Pet Is Sick and You Can't Afford a Vet Visit

Ideas and Options for Sick Pets in Financially Tough Times

Sad brown dog lying down on the floor

HAYKIRDI / Getty Images

To some people, it is obvious that if times are tough financially, it is not the best time to adopt or buy a pet. The old adage seems to be: if you can't afford a pet (or pets) don't have them! However, as most pet lovers know, it isn't always that simple.

Pets are part of our lives and our families for years, and difficult financial situations can arise in an instant—how can we assume that someone should not have a pet just because they are in a tight spot financially?

In other situations, a pet is homeless, injured, or slated to be euthanized for whatever reason, and people adopt and care for these animals—whether they can immediately afford it or not. Problems arise if this is a chronic occurrence, but it is worth pointing out that there are situations where "innocent" people find themselves in a situation where their money is tight and their pet is sick.

This is a familiar theme in veterinary medicine. Sometimes people assume that vets should treat the ones that can't afford medical treatment for no charge, since "vets care about animals." True—vets care about animals. Vets love animals. However, medical supplies, veterinary office, and staffing expenses, insurance fees, and the normal expenses from running a practice all add up, and it is a difficult situation when vets are asked to give free services and supplies.

So what can be done? Here are ideas on how to be prepared and what to do during financially tough times when a pet is sick.

Be Prepared

Knowing your vet and the services they provide is the first place to start. Finding out answers to the following questions will help you know what to expect and plan ahead:

  • What are the payment policies?
  • Are payment plans available?
  • Does your vet offer emergency hours at the practice?
  • If not, where would you be referred to for emergency and overnight care?
  • What are the payment policies?

Another way to be prepared is to research various health insurance and health maintenance plans. These are offered by various insurance companies, and some veterinary practices also offer health maintenance types of plans. 

When You Need Help Now

The web is a great source of information, but it is not the place to find a cure or "answer" online for a sick pet. A sick pet needs to be examined and treated—oftentimes, as soon as possible.

Contrary to what many people think, it is always best to call your veterinarian first and explain the situation. Your vet can assess your animal's condition and offer any advice/assistance as the situation warrants.

Additionally, some veterinary practices have an "emergency fund" for those in immediate need of assistance.

Here are some more ideas for when your pet is sick and you are in a financial bind:

  • Call your local humane society or animal shelter—they may offer reduced-cost veterinary care or vouchers to use at your local veterinarian.
  • Ask your veterinarian if there are any options for trading work or services that you are able to offer.
  • Various animal aid organizations like IMOM offer assistance to those in need. Check out local resources in your community—your veterinarian may be able to offer advice on local resources, too.
  • Veterinary schools will sometimes take on unique cases as a learning tool.
  • Start a savings plan. This doesn't have to be a huge amount, but some money tucked away "just in case" can be a good emergency buffer. It is easy to look at our pets and assume they are always going to be healthy and vibrant, but things can change quickly sometimes, and having some financial plan will be better than being caught by surprise.
  • Last but not least, check with friends and family for a possible short term loan in the event of a life-threatening emergency.
illustration of ways to pay vet bills
The Spruce

If you are not in a financially tough situation, donating funds to your favorite animal aid organization or even your vet's office emergency fund will help future animals in need. This is a wonderful memorial to the pets who have made a difference in our lives.