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When You Can't Afford a Veterinarian

Written by Mary Anne Miller


This question comes up in many internet forums daily. A member will post a series of complaints about their cat, some of them heart-wrenching, and then follow up the list of symptoms with, "But I can't afford a vet, so what do I do?"


When you share your life with a cat, or any animal, you assume the responsibility of that animal. Vet care is not a luxury; vet care is a necessity, and at times an emergency. The animal should not be denied veterinary care because you can’t afford it. A small health issue handled right away will prevent a larger health issue that will develop later.


Maintaining good, quality care for your cat will help. Making sure that he/she is eating quality foods, and that he/she has been vaccinated against all known diseases is a great way to prevent health issues from occurring. Flea treating your cat safely goes a long way in helping a cat remain healthy. Not medicating your cat unwisely with over the counter products, and ignoring any “miracle cure” you read about on the Internet will help safeguard your pet.


There are ways in which you can work with vets, but you shouldn’t carry the attitude into their clinic, that just because vets work and care for animals, they should foot the bill for your cat all by themselves. That is hardly fair to your vet, and the people who work under them.


Familiarize yourself with your vet’s office policies. Do they accept payment plans? Post-dated checks? Can you swap labor for vet bills? I know one gal that worked half the summer putting up a horse fence for her vet, while her vet cared for her sick mare. Get creative if you have to, some vets are willing to horse-trade. It doesn't hurt to ask, they can always say no. In the olden days, that’s how people worked with veterinarians by trading items of value, for services of value.


Is there a humane society near you? Give them a call and ask them if they have a low-cost vet available? Talk to Cat Rescue groups in your area and see if they will swap time spent to help them, if they will help you. Sell items of value. Turn off your computer, disconnect from the Internet and use the money to obtain care.


There are groups out there that will help you. One of the most effective groups is www.imom.org Established in 1998, they screen their applicants carefully but they can help you out if you qualify.


The Humane Society of the United States has a good webpage to refer to if you cannot afford veterinary care.

 

Editor's note: a recommended financing option that often comes up on our forums is: http://www.carecredit.com/vetmed/.


You should also investigate the Pet Insurance Companies and see if you can find an adequate policy for your cat before the cat falls ill. Another option is to talk to the office manager at your vet clinic first, but start overpaying your vet bills before you pet falls gravely ill. That way you have a reserve of cash available and you can't get to it, except to use it for what it was meant for, the well-being of your pet.


Visit the Cat Health section in Meowhoo.com. You will find a myriad of websites that pertain to good health care and it would benefit you to know about what is going on with your cat and what you need to do in order to nurse her back to health. It also will help you to know what questions to ask your vet.


If you live close to a vet school, that is another opportunity available for you. Getting a second vet's opinion is also a way to go. The second vet might be a bit less expensive than the first. Look into Internet vets that do phone consults. You need a credit card, but you can obtain some vital help in a dire situation. Of course the best way is to have a vet look at your cat, and diagnose the problem, offer solutions. Don’t bother the vet with questions about how you are going to pay for it, that’s why he hires an office staff. Find the office manager and sit down calmly and find out your options.


Another means to consider is to stop unnecessary spending for awhile. I am not saying deprive yourself permanently of perks or pleasures, but if you would for example, quit smoking or cut down, stop drinking soda pop, don’t go out to fast food places or restaurants, or rent videos, or go to movies for a few months and put that amount into a special pet fund, think of how far ahead of the game you would be. Not buying that new pair of shoes, that you don't really need but you want and just exercising caution when spending would help immensely to give you a nest egg that you can fall back on.


There are ways to handle a large vet bill. Please don't expect to land in internet forums and be handed a miracle cure, or the money to pay for one. The forums here on TCS are all about the welfare of cats, but we also promote responsible pet ownership . Learn how to be a responsible pet owner and then this problem will never confront you.



Mary Anne Miller is a free-lance writer, and member of the Cat Writers' Association. She is a web copy writer, and passionate about feral cats/kittens and bottle babies. You can read more by Mary Anne at her Feral Cat Behavior Blog.



Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

Comments (12)

Totally agree with all of the above. Thank you for taking the time to write this.
I am a widow on a pension but own two burmese cats. I have at odd times had to take them to the vet unexpectedly so just have to do without other things for a few months. They are worth it to me because they are members of my family. :)
This is a serious issue. I recently called the Humane Society in NYC to see if I could make an appointment at their clinic for a friend who had a sick cat and did not have a vet. I was told they would not make an appointment until I gave them a credit card number. One of my cats recently had to have surgery and I just about needed smelling salts when I saw the final bill. My cats mean the world to me and I will do everything I can to make sure they get the care they need- even if it means going without some things for myself for a while as Drea said. But It seems that animal medical care is getting as outrageously expensive as human health care.
IA few months ago, I had to put down a cat who turned up with prolapsed anus. I didn't find out about this website until after I came home from surrendering her to animal control. What I didn't know was that at least one local clinic had extended horus (I had adopted the young cat from their sister clinic). All I could think to do was to take her to a local vet ER, and their quote for surgery was $5,000, which is to me outrageous. This was a guy from India. Well, a lot of regular human doctors resent foreign doctors coming here and undercutting their business with (sometimes) lower prices, but this guy must have come here t take advantage of what he assumed were gold-plated Americans who could afford his gold-plated prices. Vets usually don't take payment arrangments anymore, and Care Credit turned me down. There was nothing else to do but surrender that poor cat to Animal Control to be euthanized. Not saying I expect anybody to work for free, but $5,000 was well beyond anything I could have afforded or scraped together. I would have made payments if he had been agreeable to that. I spent most of that night crying and telling Callie what a good girl she was and how sorry I was that there was nothing I could do for her. She was a really sweet cat. I will never go back to another animal ER unless I have just won the lottery. I make use of vets who offer low-cost spay/neuter and vaccinations, and I am grateful for that.
I'm sorry but I must agree with pbmaltzman on this subject. I have been a cat owner for over 30 years and have always had them desexed and vaccinated but they are confined to indoors 99.5% of the time and only outside SUPERVISED. I currently have 4 cats, the oldest is 20+, then I have a 15 year old, a 10 year old and an 81/2 year old. I recently lost the 10 year old ( SHEEVA) brother MAVERICK to CRF. When his symptoms first became obvious - and very sudden I might add, I was left with no choice but to take him to an animal ER and was charged $1000 to keep him on a saline IV over night as it was a Sunday and my vet was closed. On the Monday I rang my vet and organised her to call this ER and tell them I was transferring him to her care. Maverick stayed at my vet under close supervision and testing and continuous drip plus renal food etc when I took him home and charged me just over $800!!!! Those Er's are money making scams even my vet agreed!
I agree with everything you say but my problem is that I rescue and always have more animals here than what I can afford. I am also a widow with a decent pension but I try to do too much so I'm always short of money. I do all my own shots except rabies and the vets do not appreciate me doing that. That's the gravy to them but I have to do what I can. I recently read about a woman breeder who does her own surgery! That's way over the line to anyone with any sense. She does it to make more money. I don't make money.....just spend it on thse cats and dogs. I have now sworn I will take in no more but some times you just do what you have to do. My adult children do not agree. LOL I have found a vet who makes house calls and will do as many vacinations as I need on one call. He is a great help as I can't physically handle taking in more than one at a time and most vets charge a office visit if I take one or ten. I have chronic illness and I just get too tired carrying more than one crate at a time. So I do what I can and now let the house call vet do the rest. Even my worst care is so much better than what they have come out of as I live in puppy mill country and take their throw aways. That means sick in one way or another......but usually just old and worn out. I clean up and try to socialize and find homes for them. I just do what I can and try to figure out how to do more. I'm happy when I get a call to take one born with a little problem that usually they kill at birth but if they know I'll take it and find it a home they do call some times. You have to admit that puppy or kitty breath is worth it all.
Right now I can't even find the comment to which MaverickMills responded. It's not an easy thing to deal with. The poor young cat with the prolapsed anus... I wish I could have saved her. I hated like hell to have to take her to Animal Control to be put down because there was nothing I could do for her. If I had $5,000 right now, I'd be making near-term plans to get my significant other, the cats, and myself out of California permanently. We want to go to Kingman, in Northern Arizona, where we can pay significantly less for rent and utilities, and we will be taking our jobs with us (medical transcription). I will say that I recognize that although I am grateful for low-cost spay/neuter and vaccinations being offered (just google for those services in your area, you might be surprised at what's available), I realize that no one owes it to me to either charge less for services or work for free. That said, I thought that a quote of $5,000 was WAY out of line for surgery for prolapsed anus for that one poor cat. I cried most of that night and told Callie what a good girl she was and how sorry I was that I couldn't do anything for her. Maybe, if I'd found this website sooner (with its discussion of prolapsed anus), and/or found Callie with her problem sooner, I could have at least put some Preparation H on her rear end and maybe helped her a bit. For the most part, I stay away from regular human doctors as well. Well, if I ever win the lottery, some of it will be put toward animal rescue.
When she was barely more than a kitten, my feral rescue, Sweetie, got a growth on her nostril. As it kept getting bigger, I took her to the vet, who advised surgery to remove it. Within two weeks, I could see it beginning to grow again. It bubbled up tight against her nose. I couldnt afford another surgery and I didnt want to put her through that again anyway. I went on the web to a site where you ask a question and people who are knowledgeable about your problem will post an answer. There was no set price for help, and no need to pay at all if no one could help you. One person in particular posted that there was something called a bubble tumor and one of the possible causes for it could be a plastic allergy. I had been feeding my kitties in cheap Chinese plastic bowls. I immediately began feeding them in glass dishes and within a week, I could see Sweeties tumor was shrinking. It finally disappeared, leaving only the tiny scar from her surgery. I paid that person $20, and I wish I could have paid more. Compared to the $195 I had paid the vet, Sweetie and I got a fantastic bargain. I would suggest a person try a service like that if they are up against the wall. You may not find the help you need, but dont pay for advice that doesnt help you.
"Learn how to be a responsible pet owner and then this problem will never confront you."- that comment is incredibly offensive. Even the most responsible pet owner can be faced with a job loss, or an untimely substantial medical bill. Pet insurance does not always make financial sense- many times you would pay more in premiums than the cost of a substantial bill. Accidents happen. An unleashed dog can attack a leashed pet. Not everyone consistently has $3,000-$5,000 in savings that can be used for a vet emergency.
Just a general note - the best place for your comments and definitely for your questions is usually in the forums.
I have a unique situation . Last March after a lengthy and financially draining illness my vat died. I did the best I could, testing treatment, SubQ fluids etc.My remaining cat mourned for months and in May I went to a local resuce to find him a companion. I found the perfect match a 6 year old cat who had been at the rescue shelter for 3 years. He had a corneal scar on 1 eye , both eyes ran with what looked like blood and I explained to the group that I was interested but wanted to make sure he was healthy. I told them that I had just spent 3k on care and while I realized there were no guaranties I could not purposely adopt a sick cat. They assured me he was fine. I took him on a foster to adopt so I could take him to a vet to make sure. The cat smeled terrible and ...so I take him to a vet who told me some cats just have runny eyes, the scar was fine etc. I remember asking about his teeth and smell. Nope , all good. He had black waxy stuff coming from his ears which the vet said "some cats just have" Ok that night I get a note from the recue director stating that they would be happy to pay for his dental. Ireply no problem vet says his teeth aregreat. Well, the ears don't clear up, the eyes don't either and the smell yuck! I take him to another vet and find he has severe dental problems cause by FIV. There is no way the director of the rescue didn't know this , that is why she had written me. BUt when she realied I had gone to a crappy vet and didn't know she didn't tell. Oh and this sweet cat has FIV too. If I had known within a month of adopting they would have had to pay for his care via our contract. So, there are times when not being able to afford expensive treatments is not a character flaw in planning. Here a full mouth extraction cost around $1,700 if there are no complications. Just thought I would write because I am up at 2 am wondering how I can do this. Perhaps my bank won't mind if I don't pay the mortgage.If It had happened next year we would be fine but now I just do not know what to do.By the way my step-son got hit by a car recently (no insurance) he lost a leg broke his hips and lives in Florida where the governor won't expand medicaid, he had just lost his insurance. We are helping him. Things happen. Obviously I am mad. Isn't a rescue suppose to care for the animals they adopt out? Bunch of liars they are.
Vet bills can be particularly frustrating, even to the most devoted cat lover. All 9 of the cats I have I grew up with, raised each and every one of them since either birth or just weeks old, and all of them are now considered seniors, and it's very hard. We've always made sure they get spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and medical care. But even they youngest of all of them has been with me his whole life since I was still in school, and our oldest two have been with me since I was just 11 years old and longer than half my life now as they are getting older, it breaks my heart. I would never part with them as they are my kids and we have a bond that is unbreakable. But being I don't make a lot of money but have a full-time job, and easily spent more than $3,000 on vet bills this year (and still rising as one's going in for surgery that's in total about $1,000 after everything, just next week), it brings us to tears. That's almost half of what I made for the year, not even including the cost of food and litter, bedding, toys, collars, and the list goes on. It's depressing and frustrating, and the costs of vet care keep rising to ridiculous extremes, even for basic surgeries. A relative just recently brought their cat in to get just a basic spay/neuter and it cost almost $600!!!! That's unacceptably high. And there's no regulations to control the cost. When we had our guys done it ran about $200-$300 for typical spay/neuter after rabies shots, check-up, and bloodwork all included. It's more than doubled, maybe even tripled in cost, in less than a decade. Outrageous. Low-cost spay/neuter clinics run typically at base price, and that used to be $50 for males in our area and $75 for females, including rabies shots for free. Then he tells me that when they did the spay that they told him they no longer "have" 3 year shots for rabies (about $20) and they now only carry 1 year shots (about $30), and I know that's a lie because we got 3 year shots done at that same office earlier this month (and they tried telling me the same thing last year, and when I said that's fine I'll find a different clinic that does offer them, they suddenly said "well, we DO carry them, but don't like to use them" and gave them the 3 year ones they supposedly didn't have....so basically they're saying you have to spend $90 over 3 years on just rabies shots because they don't want to offer 3 year, which they try to claim is "more likely" than 1 year ones to cause sarcomas. They are both a risk, and yet it's required by law. I'd rather vaccinate them less than more. And problems with the 3 year is probably because immunity lasts 7-10 years, not 3 years, but yet they add another shot every 1 or 3 year intervals, and they're being over-vaccinated because that's what the "law" requires. Got to love America. It's funny that society claims they want to "help" people and their pets but they really could care less. What they really want to is take advantage of someone who loves their pets...
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