Help! I can’t afford my pet!

I have written several blogs on the costs of veterinary care and how as a pet owner, it is your responsibility to be able to pay for your animal’s treatment.  However,  one criticism I often receive is that I don’t seem to appreciate that vets are costly or that people’s circumstances can change and so too their ability to pay.

So, let me be clear, I absolutely appreciate it can sometimes be a challenge to pay medical bills.  It is important to remember that there are usually several options for treatments and investigations with most conditions and although choosing a less costly option may mean making some compromises, this is fine as long as the animal’s welfare is not affected and you are aware of the potential limitations of such an approach.

One obvious way to reduce your pet related out-goings is to stop buying preventative medications, like flea and worm products, or miss annual vaccinations.  However, I would council against this (especially in the summer months!) as infestations can be MUCH more expensive to cure than prevent!  Also, some infectious diseases can be very serious, if not deadly.

Many practices have loyalty schemes where a monthly direct debit will cover flea and worming products, annual vaccinations and, often, discounts on other treatments.  Some even include free consultations or health testing.  These often represent a significant saving, especially if your pet becomes sick.  Pet insurance is also worth considering, even on a tight budget.  Some cheaper policies are limited in their cover but can be very helpful for unexpected bills!

Internet pharmacies will also help save you money.  They are often significantly cheaper than veterinary practices, for the simple reason that they sell in bulk and have fewer overheads.  Some products will not require prescriptions, certain flea and worm treatments for example (read my blog on how to ensure you get ones that actually work though!) but medications will.  Your vet will charge you for scripts but the  cost is usually small.

(However, it is important to remember that is everyone did this, practices would lose a significant income stream and have no choice but to put up other charges to compensate!)

In the UK, if you are really struggling and on a low income or certain benefits, you may be eligible for charitable help.

The PDSA accepts pets whose owners are in receipt of either council tax or housing benefit.   The treatment they provide is free of charge but they will ask for contributions towards your pet’s care.  They cover most of the country through a combination of their own hospitals or local vets who provide care for them.

The RSPCA and Blue Cross also have veterinary hospitals but they cover a much smaller area of the country and their eligibility criteria vary, so you will need to speak to them to see how and if you qualify.

A recent development in the private veterinary market has been the emergence of ‘low cost’ clinics.   I have worked for a couple of different chains, some are excellent and some, how can I put this, you get what you pay for!  However, all work on the principle of ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’, so you are likely to encounter busy waiting rooms, possibly delays in being seen and maybe not the personal, consistent service you get at other, more expensive, practices.  That said, these vets work hard, do a great job and provide a valuable service for their clients and pets.

If you have explored all your options and you can’t get help, you may have to look into rehoming.  This can be heartbreaking, not to mention difficult, as rescue centres are already full to bursting.  The key is to contact as many as possible and you may have to be prepared to go on a waiting list.

The final option would be to consider euthanising your pet.  This may seem harsh and certainly is never an easy decision and, hopefully, not for a healthy animal. But, if they have an illness or injury which needs treatment and you cannot afford it or find help, then their needs must come first.  If they will suffer without care, putting them to sleep may be the kindest thing for them.

Before I get lynched, let me be clear that this is an extreme decision and one which can only be taken after all options have been explored.  I, and every vet, has spent hours on the phone trying to secure funding for poorly animals or discounted treatment for deserving cases but sometimes, it is the only choice.

If you are struggling to afford your pet’s medical care the most important thing by FAR is speak to your vet about it.  We are here to help, we will know how best to access charitable funding, we may be able to cut your bill or alter your treatment but…..

…. if you don’t talk to us, we can’t help you, or your pets!

You can follow me on Twitter; @cat_the_vet or find me on FaceBook;  Cat_The_Vet

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