How to Find Low-Cost Veterinary Care so You Can Afford the Bills

Anyone with pets knows just how emotional the pet-owner relationship can be. Our pets and their personalities become intertwined with our families and our day-to-day lives. We care for them as much as children, or sometimes instead of children. And for most of us, we commit to meeting their daily needs and loving them unconditionally. This is all very warm and fuzzy, but what happens when expensive veterinary costs are thrown into the mix? As part of “unconditional love,” are we willing to take on big bills for our furry friends? Are we willing to go into debt and sacrifice our own savings and financial goals? And, most importantly, are we educated enough so that we know where to turn for help when our animal is sick or injured, so that we don’t have to put our own financial lives in jeopardy?

We are going to help make sense of it all and arm you with the tools you will need to make wise decisions if you find yourself in this sort of situation. You may have noticed that we have been writing quite a bit about medical debt lately, and believe it or not, many of those tips are applicable to veterinary expenses, too.

Preparing in Advance

Like with most expensive purchases, the sooner you can prepare, the better. Here are our tips on doing just that.

Deciding where to adopt your pet

Believe it or not, where you adopt your pet can have a significant impact on how much it costs to care for the animal. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, the local SPCA offers a discount pet clinic to any animals adopted from their facility and any of their siblings who are already at home. This is a great deal for many consumers. But on top of this, the care clinic is also open to any household whose annual income is less $55,000 for one person or $74,000 for two people. These opportunities are great ways to save!

Adopting at a shelter or clinic like this can help with upfront costs, too. You may not have to pay for some of the early routine procedures, as those might be covered in a low adoption fee. And when the cost of pet ownership in year one is so expensive, these savings make a difference. For instance, check out how much year one of cat ownership can cost:
cost of cat ownership

Veterinary Schools

We mentioned this tip in our guide to cheaper dental care, but it’s great for vets too. If there is a veterinary school in your area, contact them to see which procedures their students perform. If they offer what your pet needs, you might be able to get some serious discounts on the total price.

Is pet insurance a good idea?

One popular way to combat the costs of pet care is to get insurance for the pet. These policies became quite popular several years ago. While it sounds like a great way to plan ahead for expenses, it’s not as promising as you might think.

You could expect to spend anywhere between $10 and $90 dollars on monthly premiums. If we use $50 as an average, that comes out to $600 per year, or $6,000 after 10 years. On top of this, the insurance doesn’t cover everything. This article from Herb Weisbaum and NBC News covered a pet owner from Washington who had a zero deductible plan. When her dog had emergency surgery, she was still responsible for $1,050 out of a total of almost $7,000.

Because of this, Consumer Reports concludes that “Overall, we found that the pet policies we analyzed were not worth the cost for a generally healthy animal.” Your best bet to get a return on pet insurance is to insure an older pet who is more likely to fall ill or become feeble, or to insure a pet you know has a chronic illness.
Aside from these situations, the best way to provide care for your pet is likely to incorporate their estimated costs into your monthly budget and build out an emergency savings for them each year.


We have talked extensively about how to negotiate medical bills. And every piece of advice we have given on the topic holds true for veterinary care. We won’t go into as much detail here, but let’s break down the main considerations to keep in mind:

Shop around for prices

If the care is not an emergency, call around to various providers to ask the cost of the service. You will likely find a wide range of prices. And sure, there is something to be said of quality and “you get what you pay for,” but some of these services are so routine, that you should feel confident with opting for a lower cost.
For instance, studies have compared the cost of spaying and neutering pets, a fairly basic yet essential operation, and found prices from under $100 to over $300. That’s a big difference! And remember, you should be doing this will all your pet expenses, not just the medical costs. Even just feeding a dog adds up over a year, so you will need to save anywhere you can:

cost to feed large dog

Discuss payment in advance

If you shop around, you will know the cost of the service in advance. But on top of this, you can talk about the details of the payment before you ever receive the service. Make sure the price is clear and that you understand your options for payment arrangements. If one vet offers an 18-month payment plan, but the other just offers a 12-month plan, you might consider taking the 18-month plan if money is tight. Be sure to also ask about interest rates and what happens if you submit a late payment.

Ask for hardship programs or other low interest arrangements

Hopefully you can do this before the service (see point above) but it’s okay to ask about hardship programs afterward too. These types of programs are designed for people who might not be able to make a full payment. While this is less common in the veterinary world than in the medical industry with big hospitals, it can’t hurt to try. Your best bet, though, will be to research thoroughly about where to take the animal (keep reading for more points on this).

Review itemized bills

After your pet has received care, make sure to get an itemized copy of the bill. This way, you might be able to find some areas where costs can be cut. The provider might not be willing to discount some of the bigger items, but if you are charged for medicines, equipment, and other accessories, those costs might be more adjustable and negotiable.

Should I finance?

If arrangements with your vet still won’t cover the cost adequately, you may need to consider financing the expense. Don’t take this decision lightly. You need to remember that interest will make this purchase even more expensive over time. And, you also need to keep in mind that there might be complications with the procedure, or that your animal might fall sick again very soon and require even more expense. If you do end up financing the care, one popular option is Care Credit, which allows financing for medical and veterinary costs and does so at relatively reasonable terms. It’s up to you to understand the terms and conditions and to make your payments in a timely manner.

We see clients on our Debt Management Program all the time who have struggled to meet their obligations with creditors like Care Credit, so you’ll want to be sure that you can manage the costs.

Other Resources

There are many resources out there to help you find affordable ways to care for your pets. The Humane Society has put together a great list to get you started. As they mention, be sure to look into breed-specific programs and groups, particularly if you are a dog owner.

One thing they don’t cover in great detail is how to research low-cost emergency services in your area. We’ve already discussed how easy it can be to save on routine procedures, but what about when there is a life or death issue, and you only have a few hours to make a decision?

That’s a situation we all hope to avoid, but your best bet to be prepared is to do as much upfront research as possible. If you already have a go-to clinic for routine care, ask them if they know of any resources for when emergencies pop up. They might have a network of doctors who offer low-cost or pro bono care.

And if you’re struggling to find any clinics at all, don’t hesitate to consult the Internet. Perhaps one of the best ways is using a search engine to look for “low cost veterinarian in CITYNAME” where you fill in CITYNAME with your area or another city within driving distance. Then, call that location and get all the information you need, such as hours, prices and services they offer.

Want More Help?

We don’t want you to sacrifice your pet’s health and comfort or your own financial well-being. Hopefully you can use these tips to make the costs of pet ownership more affordable and easier to bear. If you need more budget help and want to create a game plan for your pet care and other financial obligations, we are here to help. One of our nonprofit credit counselors would be happy to work with you in a free session and review your budget thoroughly.

Thomas Bright is a longstanding Clearpoint blogger and student loan repayment aficionado who hopes that his writing can simplify complex subjects. When he’s not writing, you’ll find him hiking, running or reading philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter.

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10 responses to “How to Find Low-Cost Veterinary Care so You Can Afford the Bills”

  • My Shih Tzu is almost 14 – his lymph nodes are enlarged around his neck and under the front two legs. I don’t have the money to do the testing the vet is asking me to do which is about $600 – I don’t even have$50. He has not eaten in two days and I think he may have Cancer or a very bad infection –

    ???where can I go to get just a blood test and results to find out what is going on?? We live in Statesville NC 28677

    I can pay $35 -40 for this blood test?

    What kind of foods should I feed him?

    He ate 3 small pieces of cooked beef this afternoon and walked away.

    Any guidance is highly appreciated

  • Katie Anderson

    I think when it comes to getting with the right vet, you should be willing to pay for the best possible care. If you can really connect with a vet then they will give you all that you are paying for, and help your pet to remain healthy. The relationship you hold with a pet is so valuable, you want to make sure that the relationship lasts as long as it can with good healthcare.

    • Thomas Bright

      Definitely! It’s much harder with financial pressure, but your sentiments are right on.

  • Tiffany

    I am trying to shop around, but most vets don’t put their pricing out on the world wide web. When calling for pricing what kinds of questions should I ask to get prices that I can compare? Thanks!

    • Thomas Bright


      Great question, and kudos to you for shopping around. I guess it really depends on what your needs are. Are you just looking for basic care like shots and general checkups or do you know that the pet needs a larger operation? Whatever the case may be, do some research and understand what pieces are involved (if shots, know the type of shot needed, etc.). Then ask about these specific costs and pose the question “How much will the total visit cost?” That should get you the information you need. When it comes to any medicine for your pets which will be charged for separately, be sure to check out the information in our post about saving on prescriptions. There are a few great apps that can save big bucks on pet meds.

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, and good luck!

  • I have a cat with manx syndrome. It would of cost me $5k to get him the surgery he needed to save his life. Thankfully I was prepared and got him insurance so it only cost me $1k out of pocket. All my pets have health insurance. The cost of medical care is to much now.

  • Trina Anderson

    I think you missed one of the most important points of all. People, on their own, can cure most animals health problems on their own with a little ingenuity and research. There is a wealth of information available online and many many veterinary medicines available at farm stores and online. There are so many homeopathic remedies out there too. It is COMPLETELY unnecessary to run to the vet for every little thing. I’ve been an animal my owner my whole life and have only needed my veterinarian’s advice and assistance once. With a little know-how every person can become their own animal doctor and save themselves thousands of dollars over the course of their lifetime. Most animal and people drugs are the same, they only vary in dosages. In tight times like these, people need to learn to do things for themselves, that is truly the biggest and best way to save money!

    • Thomas Bright

      That’s a really good point. While we certainly need to be careful when giving DIY care to animals, there are many instances when it makes sense. In some cases, the Internet might provide a quality, authoritative answer on how to treat the pet at home, but you might also be able to call in to your vet and get “free advice” that way as well. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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