How to Better Plan for and Pay Vet Bills

by Sundays

Use this guide to understand the costs and plan for everything from routine care to those surprise, late-night trips to the emergency vet.

It seems like every time you’re finally in a good place with your finances, something major happens that costs a lot of money to fix. When you’re a pet parent, it’s usually an unexpected vet visit. For most people, a high vet bill is hard to recover from. 

So how do you get help with vet bills? Even beyond vet bills, just the cost of owning a dog is pretty high, if you add up all the expenses, from pet sitting and vaccines to food and toys. Use this guide to understand the costs and plan for everything from routine care and annual visits to those surprise, late-night trips to the emergency vet.

What’s the Cost of Owning a Dog?

There are tons of variables when it comes to how much you spend on your dog, but according to a Rover survey of pet parents, the average cost is $1,188. This accounts for food, flea and tick medication, poop bags, treats, toys, and an annual checkup. Then you have things like pet sitting, grooming, dental cleanings, pet insurance, and emergency vet visits. 

Another estimate puts the range of yearly costs at $1,210 to $4,130, saying to budget for $2500 annually, which includes food, toys, treats, routine medical expenses, supplies, and pet insurance.

So, you can expect to spend about $100 to $200 a month on your little furball, and that’s how much you should be setting aside. 

How Much Is a Vet Visit?

If we’re just talking about vet visits, the cost depends on the type of visit. You’ve got routine annual visits where your pet gets their regular tests and vaccines, but that can vary in cost depending on the age of your pet. Senior dogs usually go twice a year and need a few extra tests in their senior wellness checkups. Then you’ve got dental cleanings, where your dog may also need some teeth pulled. And then of course there are the emergency visits that can get really pricey. Here’s a breakdown of these types of visits and their cost ranges:

Dental cleaning (no extractions): $500-$900

Emergency vet visits: $170-$3000 (or more!)

Annual visit for adult dogs: Around $355

- Visit: $50

- Bloodwork: $140

- Fecal exam: $35

- Vaccines: $20 each

- Heartworm test: $50

- Urinalysis: $60

Annual visits for senior dogs (once or twice per year): Around $440

- Visit: $50

- Bloodwork: $225

- Fecal exam: $35

- Vaccines: $20 each

- Heartworm test: $50

- Urinalysis: $60

- Extra testing if needed (thyroid, blood pressure, x-rays, EKG, glaucoma)

How to Get Help With Vet Bills

Now that we know just how expensive it is to have a dog, we should probably tell you where you can get some help with vet bills. You’ve got more options than you think, but here are some of the most popular:

Care Credit

Every vet office is familiar with Care Credit, especially emergency clinics, and can most likely even help you if you have questions. It’s a credit card that can be used for most any kind of veterinary care, whether it’s a routine visit or an emergency. You can apply for it online when you’re at the vet clinic, and you get an approval decision right away. Then you can show your virtual credit card to the vet staff to pay. The best part is the zero interest periods they offer for 6, 12, 18, or 24 months for bills over $200 if you pay it in full by the end of the promotional period. If not, you do pay interest, and it can vary as to how much you pay.


Scratch Plans offer more financing options that are available in 6-month, 12-month, 18-month, or 24-month repayment terms. The annual percentage rate could range from 0% if you have excellent credit all the way up to 36%. There’s usually a downpayment of $15 followed by monthly payments after that. You also get an instant approval notice for this one.

Pet Insurance

You’ve probably heard about pet insurance. It works sort of like human insurance, but also has some major differences. One good difference is that every vet office accepts every type of pet insurance. But with most plans (except for a few that pay your vet directly), you have to pay the cost to the vet upfront, and then you submit a claim to be reimbursed. There is also a waiting period, so you can’t just sign up for pet insurance when your pet has an accident. This is more of a plan-ahead type of assistance. 

There are all types of plans, but many won’t insure pets over a certain age (around 10-14 years old). And no plans will cover pre-existing conditions, although they will cover the same pet for many other new conditions that pop up. The typical plan is accident and illness, and some companies also offer “wellness” plans that are usually add-ons to the main plan.

Go to a few pet insurance sites and get quotes to get an idea of what kind of coverage you can get. Pay attention to customer reviews and comparison tools. You might even want to ask friends and neighbors on social media which pet insurance they’ve tried or like.


Waggle is like GoFundMe, but for pets. You create a crowdfunding campaign to pay for your pet’s vet bill, complete with their story, pictures, and vet info. Then you can share it on social media, and Waggle reviews your campaign and posts it on their Meet Pets in Crisis page. Your pet could also qualify for sponsorship or a special grant. These are powered by partnerships with celebrities and nonprofits plus monthly donations from thousands of pet lovers that are matched to create donation grants. 

The Pet Fund

The Pet Fund is a nonprofit organization that offers one-time grants if your pet’s needs meet certain criteria. It’s not for emergencies or routine care. Instead, this is for pet parents that need help paying for care related to more chronic conditions, such as cancer treatment, heart disease, eye diseases, and endocrine disease. They ask you to email them first to explain your pet’s medical situation and include a phone number. Then they’ll let you know if you are eligible, and if you are, they will send you an application form. From there, you’ll be put on a wait list, and they can advise you how long the wait list is when you apply.

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