Unexpected Canine Health Costs: How to Prepare for Emergency Vet Care

While there are many everyday expenses to dog parenting, including food, supplies, toys, treats and regular check-ups at the veterinarian’s office, many people do not consider the cost of medical emergencies. Medical emergencies are unexpected and can be financially staggering. While there are some programs that can help alleviate the costs of veterinary care, many pet owners do not spend the time learning about them until it is too late, and they are forced to pay the high fees out-of-pocket. Believe me, I know only too well about the unexpected costs.

I have been very fortunate. My first two dogs were never sick and never required any care other than routine exams.  Both pups lived till 13.  I have not been so fortunate with my next two dogs.  Both of my labs needed knee surgery and it cost me a fortune to get their ACLs repaired. I lived on fumes for months and of course, I had no pet insurance.  Now it is a pre-existing condition so many of the pet insurance places won’t pay for the other knee if it goes.  But to make it worse, my big beautiful brown dog Chester was just diagnosed with Wobbler’s Syndrome after $3, 000 of testing.

Tumors, either malignant or benign, are also becoming all too common among dogs.  From simple removal to chemotherapy, bills can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Skin infections and allergies are common ailments that generally cost around $100 for a vet visit and treatment. Some dogs are prone to infections, which require a vet visit, antibiotic, prescription food and numerous fecal samples to ensure the infection is gone. These costs can total over $100, which adds up quickly for a dog who gets the infection easily.

Oftentimes, even putting forth our best effort will not keep our pets healthy. All pet guardians, whether careless or highly attentive, will likely face some sort of medical emergency in the lives of their dogs. Many pet guardians today are choosing to invest in pet insurance. Like human insurance, pet insurance has a monthly or annual fee that varies based upon the health and breed of the dog. Pet insurance also varies based upon the company and the type of insurance purchased. Pet insurance can cover anything from vet check-ups to chemotherapy. Many plans offer a co-pay option, deductible and annual premium.

Pet insurance range in price but, most average between $2,000 and $5,000 over the life of the dog. Some of these plans have deductibles and benefit limits. Unfortunately, many advanced diagnostic tests are expensive even with pet insurance. An MRI, for instance, can cost over $1,200 out of pocket, but may still cost a few hundred dollars even with pet insurance.

One important benefit to pet insurance is that pet owners who have it before an emergency strikes are not forced to make a difficult decision between money and the life of their dog. Rather than finding themselves in deep debt to keep the dog healthy and alive, they are able to pay the co-pay and the insurance greatly alleviates the costs of care.

Medical advances allow for improved treatments for pets. Not so many years ago, a cancer diagnosis would be a death sentence for a dog, but today many dogs are treated and go on to live many years after cancer, or other sicknesses.

There are some alternatives to pet insurance that can temporarily relieve the financial stress of the situation. Having an emergency credit card is a good way to avoid having to pay everything immediately out of pocket. Some rewards cards will even offer cash back, like Capital One or a card through a bank like Chase or 5/3 Bank. These cards can be paid within the month to avoid accruing interest, or can be paid off, with interest, more slowly like other credit card bills. While owing a lot of credit card debt is never a good idea, it can make the decision to treat your pet much easier. Having a card set aside for medical emergencies can allow an owner to get the care their pet needs without having to sacrifice any human needs.

Another alternative is a CareCredit card, which is a card specifically for healthcare for both humans and pets.CareCredit has a few different plans. Certain veterinarian offices accept the CareCredit card as an acceptable form of payment. The entire bill is put on the card at checkout. There are different plans for the cards, varying from 6 months to 24 months with no interest on the bill. After the waiting period, the interest rate jumps up quite a bit. CareCredit is an excellent solution for a pet owner who expects to be able to pay off a medical emergency in the allotted time frame before the interest kicks in.

The challenge with weighing the pros and cons of pet insurance or alternative emergency care programs is that you will never know if or when a medical emergency will occur. While some breeds are more susceptible to certain genetic illness, having a dog of that breed does not guarantee an illness will occur. Additionally, purchasing a mixed breed, or pure breed that is categorically healthy and hardy is no guarantee that medical emergencies are avoidable. Some illnesses are genetic, while others are spontaneous. There is always routine vet maintenance to consider.

After considering pet health insurance opportunities, it is probably wise to at least have some sort of plan for emergency pet care. Whether you plan on paying out-of-pocket for pet medical expenses, keeping a credit card reserved for expensive emergencies, or investing in pet insurance to ensure pet medical bills will be alleviated in emergencies as well as regular maintenance, formulating a plan is crucial. Deciding not to consider these options before an emergency occurs can lead to plenty of heartache, or financial hardships. For many pet owners, a dog is more than a pet; a dog is a best friend and a treasured companion. Choosing between your pet’s health and you financial security is a position no pet lover ever wants to be in. Consider the options and choose what is best for your family and your pet, before an emergency catches you unaware and ill-prepared.


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