Are you a cat parent who wants to know how to save money on vet bills, and better understand when help is actually needed? This guide is for you!
If you haven’t already seen it, don’t forget to read part one of our guide as well, sharing the many different ways to find low cost spay and neuter near you!
Cat parents, would you like to know how to save money on your vet bills? Or know when to actually seek help? Don't miss this great guide from @kittybootcamp Click To Tweet
It is with pure happiness that I welcome my fellow cat lovin’ blogging friend, Liz, from Tails & Tips, to the blog. 😊
She holds a certificate in Applied Animal Behavior, is a supermom to foster kitties, and all around great person. In this guide, she will be sharing her expertise on how to save money on your Vet bills by knowing when to seek help and finding lower-cost options as well!
Please give her a warm welcome. ❤️ Aside from her blog, you can also find Liz on her Instagram page where she shares helpful tips, adorable photos of her fosters available for adoption, and more!
Stop by and say hi 👇🏽
How to Save Money on Vet Bills
Liz from Liz’s Kitty Boot Camp here, and I’m so honored to be tag-teaming this important topic with Holly. We want everyone to be able to find affordable veterinary solutions for their strays and pets!
In this post, I’ll talk about how to become your cat’s advocate, but also respect boundaries you have around personal preferences, finances, and more. The stress and cost of veterinary visits is a real issue, but Holly and I want to help you navigate through all of that so you can keep your stress and expenses low and your cat healthy.
Tip #1: Low-Cost Clinics and Nonprofit Full-Service Vets
As Holly mentioned in the last post, low-cost clinics are a great option for basic care. In addition to spay and neuter services, these clinics often provide microchipping, vaccinations, deworming, and flea preventative. Some low-cost clinics treat minor illnesses like kitty colds.
Search online to find some in your area, and if you’re having difficulty, reach out to local intake shelters. Sometimes they offer these services, or can recommend places for you to go since the communities they serve are often also on tight budgets.
Low-cost clinics are a fantastic resource, but keep in mind that most offer very limited services, so you still may end up elsewhere to treat your pet.
A full-service vet is one that provides complete, end-to-end services, and the average vet is considered full-service. There are some full-service nonprofit veterinary clinics who will offer more extensive services, including diagnostics and surgeries. They are not as common as low-cost clinics.
Again, you can run a search to see if there are any in your area, or reach out to local shelters for help finding one. For expensive surgeries like dentals, it may be worth it to travel to a full-service nonprofit vet for the procedure, even if the vet isn’t “local.” Gather the estimated costs and your travel expenses before making a decision.
I chose to drive two hours round trip to get a dental for one of my cats at a nonprofit vet and the actual procedure was $1,700 less than what I was quoted at a regular vet. They could also get me in sooner. This will not always be the case, but I wanted to share it as an example of when the savings can make a far drive worth it.
Tip #2: Develop a Trustworthy & Comfortable Relationship With Your Vet
A vet’s responsibilities include outlining options for you, but you as a customer must ask questions that will ultimately help you make decisions for your cat. And when it comes to these decisions, cost is a very big component, but people sometimes have a hard time expressing that … including me.
I used to be embarrassed and worry that I would be viewed as not wanting what was best for my cat. I’ve changed my approach and perspective over the past few years.
Keep in mind that nearly everyone has financial limitations, and you need to work with your vet to find solutions that help your cat but also keep you within budget and not stressed about that budget.
Explain to your vet any concerns you have about your cat’s wellbeing as well as cost. State you’re on a budget and ask what can be done if you can’t do everything they’re suggesting. It’s important to find a common ground.
If you don’t feel like your vet is respecting your concerns, you may want to find another vet. Not every vet is a fit for every cat parent, and not every cat parent is a fit for every vet. Ask friends and family members who they use for their pets – these types of referrals are an excellent way to find a vet who will be a good fit for you.
Tip #3: Know What Is an Emergency
It’s very difficult to know when you need to take a vet to get care. Is my cat actually sick, or did they just throw up a furball and their stomach is upset? There are really no hard and fast rules, and I always tell people to trust their gut, however here are some guidelines that may be helpful.
You can always call your vet to get their opinion on how fast something should be addressed, but any of these issues usually require immediate attention, even if it’s the middle of the night:
- Respiratory distress – Panting, fast breathing, or breathing with an open mouth.
- Ate something toxic – Like a plant.
- Ate an object – Like a toy.
- Vomiting but nothing is coming up.
- Straining to pee but nothing is coming out.
- Excessive bleeding from a wound, in vomit or in feces.
- Uncontrollable vomit or diarrhea.
- Dragging a limb.
- Meowing in pain.
- Any sign of seizure or loss of consciousness (even if brief).
- Excessive hiding if not normal behavior.
- Kitten with diarrhea and loss of appetite – Kittens get dehydrated very quickly.
- Dehydration overall – Pinch the skin on the back of neck, if it sticks up, the cat is likely dehydrated. To double check, touch the gums; if they are tacky, cat is dehydrated.
If the issue isn’t listed above and my cat is otherwise healthy, I will give it 48 hours to see if it subsides. Most commonly this happens around vomiting, loss of appetite, mild diarrhea, and sneezing. Another example: kittens sometimes minorly injure themselves while playing and limp a bit. It usually subsides within 24 hours.
Obviously, if you are able to get in at your regular vet and not an emergency vet, you will save money. The downside to that will be that you’ll need to wait if your cat needs extensive diagnostics, like an ultrasound. Those tests are usually scheduled through a specialist in advance, but will be done immediately for ER patients.
Tip #4: Ask About Different Diagnostic Options
Most vets have multiple options where they can send things like blood work, urinalysis and urine cultures. Sometimes breaking up these tests is less expensive, but other times it’s more. So you may actually save by opting for testing for more things. Tell your vet you’re concerned about cost, and see if they have different options or packages they can offer.
Depending on what’s wrong with your cat, you may also want to do a wait and see approach. Example: A cat has a suspected urinary tract infection (UTI). Ask your vet for an antibiotic that treats most UTIs. They can hold onto any urine sample, and if your cat doesn’t get better on the antibiotic within a day or two, then they can send out the culture.
If your cat does get better and you’re really strapped financially, you don’t have to get a urine culture. Technically it’s always better to get a culture to know what bacteria is there, but you don’t HAVE to.
Another frequent problem with cats is GI related. They have been known to throw up or not eat, and we run to the vet and run a ton of tests to find out nothing is really wrong. Is there a way around this? It depends on the circumstances and how severe the symptoms are.
For healthy cats, a day or even two of not eating is usually not an issue (as long as they are drinking and they otherwise seem normal).
One thing to keep in mind, especially if you can’t afford diagnostics, ask the vet to treat for the most likely ailment, with the best treatment for that condition.
Tip 5: Weigh Risk vs. Reward
Although none of us like to think about it, our cats will cross the rainbow bridge someday. Always consider the age and health of your cat before saying yes to any sort of diagnostics or even treatment. I had a super senior, 16 years old, who was having some cognitive issues (staring at walls).
After treating him with antibiotics, he still wasn’t better. Blood work was normal. The next step would have been an ultrasound, which runs a few hundred dollars. The question became, IF we found something on an ultrasound, could we realistically treat it?
Whatever we would find would require more tests and probably procedures and surgeries, which he wouldn’t have been strong enough for anyway. I decided to let him be and help him pass when the time was right.
Make sure you know what your treatment options are before you opt for testing, because if you can’t afford or don’t want to do the treatment, it will not make sense to proceed or put your pet through the stress of it.
Tip 6: Explore Medication Formulations
Different formulations of meds are different prices, so be sure to ask your vet what they offer. You’ll want to consider your cat’s temperament and your abilities to medicate your cat when doing this, but you definitely still have options. Meds tend to be available in tablets, capsules, and liquid. There are a handful that are transdermal (rubbed on inside of ear).
Some meds can be given intravenously, and they’ll save you a lot of stress when it comes to medicating your cat. Two common injectables are an antibiotic called Convenia and the steroid Prednisolone. These are great ways to treat feral or stray cats who you may not be able to guarantee they eat their meds every day (and pilling is impossible).
Another good trick is to ask if your vet can call prescriptions into a human pharmacy. Not all formulations and strengths are available, but some are, and this will save you money in the long run. SSRIs (antidepressants) for example, are available at human pharmacies. So are higher doses of gabapentin (a calming medication).
Prazosin, a vasodilator often given for cats recovering from urinary blockages, can’t be filled at human pharmacies because a cat’s dose is too small and they don’t have pills small enough. You can always check to see if the med is available at a pharmacy in your area by using the GoodRx app. GoodRx will show the price and discounts available at each pharmacy in your area so you can save even more.
Lastly, some human OTC meds can be used in cats, like allergy meds (like Zyrtec, Claritin, and Benadryl) and anti-nausea meds (Pepcid). You can get generic versions of these in bulk at big box stores or on Amazon for a low price, but you’ll likely need a pill cutter to get small even doses for your furbabies. Never give your cat anything your vet hasn’t approved.
Tip #7: Care Credit, Financing Options & Fundraisers
As Holly mentioned, Care Credit is an excellent way to pay off a bill over a period of time. It allows you to “pay” the vet upfront, but pay off the balance with Care Credit more slowly. Not all veterinary offices accept Care Credit, so make sure it’s an option at your vet office before you assume.
You can also reach out to your credit card company to see if there is anything they can do for you on the financing side to make things a little easier to pay off.
You can talk to the vet office to see if the payments can be divided up in any way. Typically, payment is due at time of service, but if you’re experiencing a financial hardship and have a good relationship with your vet, you may be able to work something out.
Another way to help with vet bills is to do a fundraiser. It’s important to explain why you need help and what your cat means to you. Ask people to share it even if they can’t donate. If your cat was adopted from a rescue organization, contact that organization and ask if they’ll share your fundraiser. This can be another great way to get support.
Remember: You Can Only Do Your Best
Making financial decisions tied to our pets can be so difficult. All you can do is make the best decisions with the information you’re given and the resources you have. Do not feel guilty for any choices you have to make, and always have honest conversations with your vet.
Talk to close friends if you need help sorting out options. You’ll find more support than you even know you had.