Major Medical: Surprising Ways to Tame Unexpected Vet Bills

By Lisa Dresser | Aug 04, 2014
Photo by: P.A.W.S. Volunteer Jane Kurko Hazel is a buff-colored domestic short hair cat waiting for adoption at the P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center.

Every year, pet owners all over Midcoast Maine face a gut-wrenching decision: shell out money they don’t have to pay for essential veterinary care, or relinquish the animals they love to a local shelter.

It could happen to you. Suppose you’re living on a tight budget or fixed income, and FiFi develops a painful tooth that needs extracting. Or Fido decides to tangle with a porcupine just days after you lose your job. All of a sudden, a care issue that might otherwise have been a monetary molehill morphs into a budget-busting Mt. Everest.

Both locally and nationwide, financial difficulty is among the most oft-cited reasons why people surrender dogs and cats to animal shelters. While data are scarce and often subject to interpretation, many studies point to cost of care as the fourth or fifth most commonly given reason why people put animals up for adoption—behind behavior problems, allergies, and moving.

P.A.W.S. operations director Laura Stupca says that’s about how things stack up locally.

“We don’t keep data on why people bring their animals in, but often they mention a financially overwhelming medical emergency—like a dog needing porcupine quills removed. It doesn’t mean they’re bad owners,” she commented.

Taking a Bite out of Bills

So what’s a pet owner faced with daunting veterinary expenses to do? First off, don’t panic. And don’t assume you’ll have to give up your pet. Consider instead the following tips, endorsed by experts:

  • Apply for Care Credit, a credit card that you can use to pay for veterinary expenses. It’s interest-free so long as you meet your minimum monthly payments, and many Midcoast vets accept the card. Apply at carecredit.com/vetmed.
  • Contact one or more of the numerous organizations across Maine that offer assistance with spaying, neutering, and other pet-care costs. The Humane Society of the United States has a state-by-state list of these groups; go to humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/trouble_affording_pet.html.
  • Ask your vet if you can negotiate a payment plan, so you won’t have to pay the entire cost of a treatment up front. Or offer to perform a service, like cleaning kennels, in exchange for a reduced fee.
  • Get a second opinion. You’ll pay for the consultation, of course, but another vet might have a less expensive way to treat your pet.
  • Check out a veterinary school. For Maine residents, the nearest option is Tufts University in North Grafton, Mass., where third-year students, under the supervision of experienced vets, perform low-cost canine spaying and other services. For routine care, such as immunizations, watch for reduced-fee clinics at pet stores and other locations.
  • Earn some extra dough. Ask friends to help you hold a bake sale. Sell things on eBay, or gather your family’s cast-offs for a yard sale. If your birthday or a holiday is near, ask for money in lieu of gifts.

An Ounce of Purr-vention

By all means, if you’ve recently acquired a pet, be proactive. Purchase pet insurance. Or set up a savings account earmarked for future veterinary expenses. Above all, commit to giving your pet the best care you can, starting now. Experts say it’s the smartest way to reduce the risk of costly health problems down the road.

But even if you’re years into pet ownership and have done nothing to prepare for that big “total due,” rest assured: major veterinary expenses needn’t cost you your shirt—or your furry friend.

This article was written by Devon Smith, a volunteer of P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center.  P.A.W.S. Animal Adoption Center provides a safe, caring environment for homeless and abandoned dogs and cats until they can be placed with loving families. P.A.W.S. serves the towns of Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville, Belfast, Northport, Searsmont, Liberty, Islesboro and Swanville. For more information about P.A.W.S. visit the center at 146 Camden Street in Rockport or www.pawsadoption.org.

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