Financial Safety Nets for Pet Owners

According to a study by the Open Journal of Animal Science called The Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S., one of the top reasons for a pet owner to relinquish a pet is their inability to afford veterinarian costs, especially when household income is less than $50,000 a year. I interviewed a local veterinarian and a practice manager about this topic and both noted that money problems are a frequent topic of conversation between pet owners and veterinarians. The most often recommended solutions to unaffordable veterinarian costs include: preventive care, an emergency fund and/or pet insurance, CARE credit, discretionary veterinarian discount, and assistance from animal welfare groups.

PREVENTATIVE CARE

Many pet owners choose foremost to practice preventive care. They provide their pets with basic health care such as keeping their pets’ hair groomed and their teeth cleaned, research into and purchase of the best foods for their pets, showering their pets with playtime and enrichment, and keeping their pets indoors except on supervised outings. In addition, they ensure that their pets remain current on wellness exams and vaccinations. These things promote good health and ensure that any health problems are caught early, thereby minimizing vet costs.

Dr. Amy Walton believes that Pet Care Center’s emergencies would be cut in half if all their clients would bring their pets in for regular exams. “Many diseases such as heart disease or kidney disease can be caught early and managed before a pet enters later stages and becomes extremely sick. While it’s beneficial for young and middle-aged pets to have bloodwork, it’s even more important that senior pets have regular bloodwork and health screenings. Animals are very good at hiding signs that something is wrong, and they can’t tell you if they feel a little off every day.”

REDUCED MEDICATION COSTS

A pet blogger in the BlogPaws News and Boost Group shared an article with me that she wrote about cutting medication costs. The catalyst for her article arose from her personal experience with her dog who underwent two separate bouts of chin acne and then a lump on his shoulder. Big Pet Mom offered these four tips:

  • Ask for a Prescription, Check Prices, and Shop Around: Big Pet Mom noted that prescription drug prices vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy and so shopping around is critical. She also advised that when faced with needing pet medication, inquire about a less expensive, but just as effective human equivalent for that medication.
  • Inquire About Price Matching: Big Pet Mom said that many veterinarians will match the prices offered by pharmacies to retain a pet owner’s business and to become more competitive in the marketplace.
  • Take Advantage of Discount Programs: Big Mom Point advised pet owners to ask about discount programs offered by local retail pharmacies.
  • Explore Online Pharmacies: Through her personal experiences, Big Pet Mom discovered that online pharmacies can be valuable for pets that have chronic conditions for which medication is needed on an ongoing basis.

PET INSURANCE AND/OR EMERGENCY FUNDS

According to Insurance Information Institute, “the pet insurance industry got its start almost a century ago in Sweden where about half that country’s pets are now insured.” In North America, Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. sold its first pet insurance policy in 1982 to television’s Lassie Today there are 13 major pet insurance companies in North America. Pet Insurance Quotes provides a list of these companies and an overview of the type of coverage they offer. Insurance Information Institute states that the total number of pets insured in the U.S. and Canada reached 2.1 million by the end of 2017.

Both Carrie Johnstone, Practice Manager at Pitts Veterinarian Hospital, and Dr. Walton recommend that pet owners buy pet insurance. However, they cautioned that while pet insurance can be a huge help, it works differently than for people. Owners have to be able to afford the care up front and then wait for reimbursement from the insurance company.

Whether or not a pet owner elects to buy pet insurance, both Johnstone and Walton recommended having an emergency fund. According to them, putting aside a small amount of money each month essential. Walton pointed out, “We always hope that nothing happens but hoping only gets you so far. You must be prepared.”

CARE CREDIT

Yes, I said in the introduction of this article that I would be talking about alternatives to personal finances and credit,but Care Credit is a little different from typical credit cards. It’s a healthcare credit card which allows pet owners to break their bill into monthly payments. In addition, amounts over $200 do not have interest for 6 months. According to the Care Credit site, there are only three steps involved to applying for the health card, at the end of which an instant credit decision is issued.

DISCRETIONARY VETERINARIAN DISCOUNT

Many veterinarians are happy to offer discounts or payment plans to regular clients with good payment histories. Walton and Johnstone stressed the importance of pet owners establishing a trusting relationship with a veterinarian. According to the two ladies, this trust is best built by pet owners showing themselves responsible by paying for wellness exams and elective care, taking preventative care measures, preparing for an emergency, and being honest with and respectful of their veterinarian.

Walton also emphasized the importance of pet owners simply being nice to their veterinarians. She explained that, “Many vets will be much more likely to work with you if you’re nice and show gratitude for them helping you. If you’re rude and get angry with the vet and staff because you cannot afford treatment, most vets won’t go the extra mile and make exceptions, change prices, or reach for those medications in the donation drawer.”

Johnstone advised pet owners to be open about any financial constraints at the start of an exam. “The most frustrating situation for a vet clinic,” Johnson said, “is when a client says in the exam room that they can or will do anything for their pet and okay all treatment options, but then get to the front desk and say they have no money. It puts the clinic in a very difficult situation. Please, be honest from the start. Most veterinarians will do their best to find a treatment option to work within their clients means.”

Johnstone said that Pitts Veterinarian Hospital works with some clients to help them pay veterinary bills. According to Johnstone, Pitts has long-term clients who have earned the option of financing plans for major expenses. She noted that other times staff have worked with people by helping them find a lower cost medication at a human pharmacy when appropriate.

LOCAL FINANCIAL NETS

According to the Open Journal of Animal Science study about rehoming cats and dogs, pet retention is more likely to happen when pet owners are provided with financial safety nets. Johnstone said that When a client can’t afford to pay the cost of diagnosis, she often encourages them to ask a family member or friend for help. “That way we can get their pet in with a veterinarian to get a better idea of what exactly is going on and what treatment recommendations might be,” Johnstone said. “From there, the client at least knows what is going on and what is needed next.

Members of the Best Friends Network’s Facebook group advised that pet owners in need of financial help should turn to an organization that can provide them with pet supplies and/or medical assistance. If a pet owner is able to obtain free food, treats, poop bags, litter, towels, shampoo, and other basic supplies, that will free up money for veterinarian costs. Medical assistance might also increase the likelihood that pet owners can afford pet emergency care.

In Lincoln, several organization exist to provide the following financial safety nets: pet food and supplies, low-cost spay/neuter and vaccinations, and medical assistance.

Pet Food Banks (and Supplies)

According to the Humane Society of the United States, an estimated 23 million dogs and cats live in poverty with their families in the United States. In addition, financial hardship accounts for 25% of the pets that are surrendered to shelters. Across the nation, there are 150 pet food banks, including the three listed above for Lincoln. “I know Lincoln Animal Ambassadors only has so much money, and is all run by volunteers, but I appreciate that they buy food from the vet office for me,” said Lynn, a pet food bank recipient.

Low Cost Spay-Neuter:

Twenty-five percent of pets in the United States have not been spayed or neutered. Cost is one major reason. The good news is that there are animal welfare groups in every state that offer low-cost spay/neuter services, including those listed above for Lincoln. The greatest joy for Pauline Balta, the spay/neuter coordinator for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, comes from realizing the efforts that pet guardians will go through to keep their pets and keep them healthy. Balta gave the example of one pet owner who was helped by LAA: a young woman came to the organization for help because she struggled financially despite having multiple jobs, but couldn’t resist taking in a mother dog in need.

Medical Assistance:

Both the Coalition for Pet Protection and the Sadie Dog Fund offer financial assistance for emergency vet care. CPP relies on donations via its Paypal account and fundraisers to cover emergency costs, and typically offers up to $100. SDF relies on donations, fundraisers, and grants to cover emergency costs, and works closely with the dog owner’s veterinarian to determine how much to finance.

NATIONAL FINANCIAL SAFETY NETS

Although local financial safety nets exist, they aren’t always enough, especially if a pet will need ongoing medical assistance due to special needs or a disease. Several pet bloggers in the BlogPaws News and Boost Group recommended Waggle, which describes itself as “a pet-dedicated crowdfunding platform that partners directly with leading veterinary providers to help pet.” According to the website, for the families of more than 500,000 pets, the inability to cover the costs of treatment results in the decision to relinquish or euthanize a pet with a positive diagnosis. To use Waggle, follow these steps:

  1. Submits your pet’s profile to Waggle.
  2. Its team of professional writers will then create your pet’s story using information submitted.
  3. Waggle’s network of donors become involved in raising funds. 100% of donations are used to fund the patient’s care.
  4. You submit post-treatment updates, so Waggle can share it with donors.

Here is a graphic (source unknown) that is well-circulated in animal rescue circles. The graphic lists organizations that provide financial assistance to those that qualify and meet their criteria.

In addition, I’ve started a page at LAA Pet Talk that lists national financial safety nets. At the moment, it’s bare-bones and far from being exhaustive. Please check it out at and, if you know of financial safety nets, please tell me about them in the comments.

OTHER SAFETY NETS

At the beginning of this article, I referred to a study by the Open Journal of Animal Sciences, which found that one of the top reasons for a pet owner to relinquish a pet is the inability to afford veterinarian costs. This study also discovered that 88% of these owners, when told there may be financial support available, chose to keep their pet.

HuffPost reported that in 2014 the ASPCA started addressing pet relinquishment due to the inability to afford vet care by establishing and supporting “safety net” programs in communities across the country. One such program was launched at two of the highest intake Los Angeles County shelters. Since its launch, the program has assisted over 4,100 animals that were at risk of entering the shelter system. Early follow-up with a small sample of clients has reported that over 80 percent of these pets still remain in their homes.

The ASPCA cited all of the below as examples of safety net programs that can help keep pets in their homes, several of which I’m pleased do exist in Lincoln.

  • Assistance with housing issues, such as helping to pay a pet deposit fee
  • Pet food banks (and supplies) *
  • Spay/neuter services *
  • Temporary housing for animals whose pet parents faces crisis situations
  • Vaccination clinics *
  • Behavior classes and/or behavior help lines *
  • One-on-one counseling
  • Pet help lines (via phone and online) *

* Available in Lincoln to some degree.

More than one pet owner whom I talked with said that they’d use up their savings to pay the costs of emergency care for their pet or that they’d maxed their credit cards or increased their credit limits to care for their sick pet. Obviously, many pet owners wish to keep their pets in the family. My hope is that this article will provide them with a greater awareness of the financial safety nets that exist to help them.

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2 thoughts on “Financial Safety Nets for Pet Owners

  1. I think emergency funds sounds great on paper but the costs can exceed whatever you saved up very quickly. At least that’s how it played out for us. I would never go without insurance anymore.

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