Getting Around The High-Cost of Vet Bills

This little guy is Oreo. He’s my friend Shayla’s cat and I’ve known him since he was a wee little kitten.

Last month when I was out visiting, Oreo started to have some sudden health problems. He’s already diabetic and gets daily insulin shots so the obvious guess was that his problems were related to his diabetes.

He was lethargic, hanging out under a piece of furniture for two days straight, he wasn’t eating or drinking (and subsequently not going to the bathroom), he looked thin, his tongue was sitting outside of his mouth in a weird way and he had a constant string of drool from his mouth to his chest.

So what do you do when your pet is obviously having strange symptoms and you want to take him to the vet but you have to seriously consider all the available options because money is, um, tight?

You go straight to the computer and start up Google because the internet knows like, everything.

We were doin’ us some research and soon found out that what was happening with Oreo was not a “kind of” bad situation it was a “super bad” one. As in, get him to the emergency vet ASAP!

image thegoinggreenboutique

Have you ever heard of that Ask-A-Nurse line? It used to be HUGE when I was a kid (pre-internet days) and I was a big fan up calling up and telling the nurse my symptoms to find out what I had. The nurses would always, I mean always, tell me that I should go to see a doctor. I started thinking it was a racket, you know, just a promotional tool for the doctors. You call a nurse and they tell you to go see one of their doctors, ones that paid to be on a recommended list. It’s possible. I sound like such a cynic. “They just want our money!” Maybe they were legit? Do you know if they were?

Shayla ended up calling the emergency room vet after the bleak diagnosis that the internet provided and we were fully expecting them to say, “Yes, you absolutely must bring Oreo in ASAP or he will probably die tonight. Totally up to you though!”

She relayed the symptoms to the nurse and told him that she didn’t want to come in unless absolutely necessary. Then the nurse (are they nurses at the vet? or vet techs?) asked quite a few questions.

The conversation lasted about 20 minutes and he asked if Oreo had gotten into any chemicals, or if he had eaten anything he shouldn’t have. The answer was “no” to both so it was determined that the problem was almost definitely related to his diabetes. We were instructed to give Oreo a little spoonful of honey and that the sweetness would help him if his problem was indeed related to the diabetes. The nurse/vet tech then said that if the problem was diabetes related that Oreo would be acting more normal in about half and hour.

Turns out, getting a cat to eat a spoon of honey (I so want to say: a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down… I know you know what I’m talking about) is not as easy as it sounds. Even though he was lethargic he was still squirmy and that honey was not going to get into his mouth.

The next day Oreo got taken to the regular (non-emergency read: cheaper) vet and got checked out and sorted out and he’s all good today. Go Oreo!

The point of the whole story is that super helpful nurse/vet tech on the phone. Maybe it was his first day out of college and he was super eager to help and all about the enthusiasm. It’s totally possible that she lucked out with that, or maybe he just completely loves animals and didn’t want one to suffer any more than it had to, or maybe he was just totally awesome naturally.

I must say that I’m not an expert in animal care and have not ever attended even one day of veterinary school (so take this advice at your own risk) but, if you have a pet who is in need of a vet visit and you’re low on funds it’s worth a shot to call the vet, tell them you’d like to avoid the office visit if at all possible (I’ve done this with people doctors too when I’ve needed a prescription re-filled but didn’t want to spend the time or money to go in, and they will – sometimes- honor the request. I have 1st hand knowledge that it works).

You just might luck out and get a super helpful person on the line who can save you some money.

It’s definitely worth a shot to try.


How do you deal with the high-cost of pet bills? Have you ever used pet insurance? Is it worth it? Do you have a limit on how much you would spend on your pet’s healthcare? 


16 thoughts on “Getting Around The High-Cost of Vet Bills

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  1. Maria

    This is such a touchy subject to me, because I used to work in a vet's office and I know how high vet bills can get in an emergency. That being said, I tell everyone that is considering getting a pet to be prepared to pay for it. Think of the worst thing that could happen to your animal, and vow to take care of him/her through it all, regardless of the cost. In my opinion, that is the only way to care for an animal.

    Last year our 3 year old lab got sick. I mean, really sick. Numerous trips to multiple vet offices, thousands of dollars worth of tests, and, in the end, an excruciatingly difficult decision to end his suffering. Our total bill was close to $4,000 and he didn't live. The bills zeroed out our savings and then some. But I would never say that it wasn't worth it, or that I regret it — I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I knew we hadn't done absolutely everything possible for him.

    Not every animal will have a life-threatening illness or need emergency medical attention during its lifetime. But you have to be prepared for it. If you're not willing to make those financial sacrifices for your animal, then you should seriously rethink adopting a pet. The only way to "get around" the cost of vet bills is to not own a pet in the first place.

  2. courtney

    Maybe some parents will think I'm horrible, but I actually think most of this can be applied to kids too. We didn't have health insurance for several years, and every time my daughter got sick, I would panic. One time I was certain she had an ear infection, but of course, her symptoms started getting bad late on a Friday when my only options for more than 2 days would be urgent care or, worse, the ER! Luckily I have a sister who is a nurse who gets way too many calls from me. She always issues a disclaimer, and then tells me her opinion. It was good for me to know that antibiotics aren't even really proven to "cure" an ear infection– the symptoms often clear up on their own within 48 hours, the same time frame if you're using antibiotics. So maybe I'm a horrible mother for just keeping my daughter dosed with infant tylenol! I was so worried I would take her in and nothing would even be wrong, so I would be out a couple hundred dollars for nothing. That being said, like with a pet, you have to be prepared for random health costs, and I never would have risked it if my daughter had a high fever or some other red flag symptom. The internet and a nurse (or vet!) in the family can be a serious lifesaver.

  3. Nicole

    Oh yes, vet bills can be pricey. What we do is have a section in the monthly budget for our pets. It includes food and what we would pay yearly for their two vet visits, plus extra in case of emergencies. That way it's taken out each month, but we have extra saved up from when previous months were low. Kinda like a health savings account, if you will. So when we had to pay a crap ton for one of our cats to have an ultrasound, antibiotics, and numerous blood tests, it wasn't quite as much of a burden as it could have been.

    When we got out pets, they became part of the family. And so we will pay what we need to pay. Luckily, and knock on wood, we haven't hit our financial limit when it comes to paying for vet bills.

  4. Meghan

    I agree with the other posters. After I started the Spending Diet, my dog got bitten by a Wolf Spider. $1000 later, she's fine. I would have spend $4000 though, and I would have charged it.

    Side note – I'm not a doctor (insert disclaimer) but I do have inner ear trouble. Meclizine (Dramamine) works wonders for fluid and infection in the inner ear. It also helps if you have pain while flying due to pressure. It's indicated use is for vertigo, but I swear by it, and I haven't had to use antibiotics. And the store brand is about $1.50.

  5. Josie

    My partner and I decided when we got a puppy that we would get pet insurance. We keep the monthly cost of that down by having the excess set quite high because we can afford standard trips to the vet, so the insurance is for big time emergencies that require surgery or ultrasounds or ongoing treatment.

    I don't like paying insurance as a rule, because it feels like wasted money if you don't use it (and you don't want to use it, so it's like you want to waste money), but this means we don't ever have to worry about whether we could afford to look after her if something bad happened.

  6. S.P.

    Since I know first hand the cost of pets, see me in the article :) I think that pet insurance is definitely an option to consider. It is too late for us with Oreo bc even pet insurance has that pesky "pre existing condition clause" which diabetes fall under.
    I want to be clear that we always spend what is necessary on our pets and that we knew that when we adopted our pets that was what we would be in for.

    However if you can avoid going to the er and go to your regular vet in the morning, which is what Anna was relaying we did, then it is always a bit better for your finances, not to mention that the personal vet is going to have a better knowledge of all the health issues related to your pet.

    We have spent 1000's of dollars on oreo and always will spend what is necessary to keep him healthy and alive. It is never a "lets save money and put our pets life on the line" type of thing. If we thought it was truly life or death we would have immediately gone to the er vet no matter what. But since we have dealt with his diabetes for so long we have a pretty good grasp on when he needs immediate attention. However with that being said it is always reassuring to speak to someone on the phone that can give you tips to ease your mind and i think whenever someone goes the extra mile as this vet tech did that it is a nice unexpected and sometimes money saving gesture.

    If only more people were as helpful as he was…sigh…wishful thinking ;)

  7. Kayla

    This post is something I'm having to deal with right now. A week ago my 10 year old dachshund went blind. Fine one day and blind the next. I took him to my vet and he was only able to agree with me and refer me to an animal eye care specialist. (I didn't even know those existed.) Now I'm going to be traveling two hours away to make sure the blindness of my dog isn't related to anything more serious. It's probably going to cost me at least a couple of hundred dollars (for the initial appointment and if blindness is the only thing that's wrong) but this dog has been with me for over half of my life. I will do whatever it takes to give him the best quality of life possible. He's definitely a part of my family.

  8. K&D

    Pet insurance has saved our cat's life – literally. When our 10-month-old kitten developed bladder crystals and couldn't pee (a life-threatening condition), he ended up needing emergency care and surgery that cost us over $3500. Our pet insurance covered 90% of that. Without it we wouldn't have been able to afford his surgery, even on credit, and would have had to put him to sleep.

    Since then we've used insurance more times than I can count and it's always been a relief knowing at least some of the money is coming back to me.

    It doesn't cover everything – vaccinations and wellness exams are on the owner – but it lets me rest easy knowing if there is ever another emergency, we're covered for 90% with no deductible. I would highly recommend it for every pet owner and I wish more people knew about it!

  9. Jenn

    This really is a tough one and have now been through it twice. Last year our German Shepard, who we loved like she was one of our kids, became paralyzed from the mid section up, within a matter of a few hours. Of course, it happened very late on a Saturday night. We luckily have a vets office that treats their own emergencies and met us at 6am on Sunday. By Monday Sandy had to be put down. 2 days and 1 night, IV's and euthanasia cost us over $1000….had to charge it. Fast forward to now. Adopted a rescue greyhound who Monday, started peeing on everything…it was literally pouring out of him…no control of it at all. Back to the vet..thankfully a weekday…Norm has bladder stones! Luckily he passed them w/ some flushing and didn't need surgery. Part of me thought, well Norm, if you need 3K in surgery, you are out of luck, but I know if it came down to it, he'd get the surgery and my credit card would be on fire! It's easy to say there is a limit on what you would spend on your pet but when it comes down to the actual time….it's harder to do.

  10. Bri

    I signed pretty hardcore adoption papers for my dog & flew her 8000 miles to be my pet. She is more like a child for me. I signed her up for a wellness plan & I pay a flat monthly fee. It pays for vet visits, vaccines, & teeth scaling. I have saved so much $ using this plan. It gives me discounts on food, medicine, & other procedures. I can’t recommend wellness plans & pet insurance enough.

    When I lived in a foreign country with my dog there wasn’t an option similar to this. It was cash or bust. I feel so fortunate that even if my baby has a bad health day I can get her looked at immediately with no extra $ out of pocket.
    Health is everything & always an important investment.

      1. Bri

        It was recommended to me through a friend. I use the plan at Banfield Animal hospital located in PetSmart. I have the mid-grade plan is $33 per month. It includes, office visits, teeth scaling, de-worming, blood work, vaccines/shots, etc.

        It also offers discounts on medicine, products, etc. I can’t say enough about how great this is. If I have any concerns for my fur baby I bring her in. Three times she had severe stomach pain in a year. I brought her in & paid nothing because it was covered by the plan.

  11. owen

    vets are just like all other business the prices are so high so the capitalist owners of them can get lots of money that’s the problem with this world some people cant even afford treat their pet based on some evil wrong capitalist fact of a disabled pensioner or a minimum wage worker not having enough money to pay for surgery so they have to put their pet down what a dog eat dog wrong wrong evil capitalist world we live in this is why true socialism is better you don’t have problems like people not being able to pay their vet bill under socialism as the government provides all this and other services for you

  12. Norm Stokes

    Couple of years ago I paid about $3500 vet bills for my cat which had an infection from a cat bite.The vet always found ways of increasing the bill with over servicing . Another vet I first saw had x ray prices several times the average.


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