How to manage your pet’s veterinary bills

If it seems like your pet’s veterinary bills are taking a bigger bite out of your wallet, you’re probably right. Pet health care costs are on the rise, much like those for their human family members.  With medical and food costs representing the two largest pet care expenditures, many people are looking for help with their veterinary bills.

Average annual pet care costs

dvm with catWhether you already have a pet or are thinking about getting one, it’s important to add pet care as a line item in your family budget. While costs vary by species, breed, size, age, overall health, region of the country and other factors, average annual pet care costs range from $1,1314-$1,843 for dogs and $1,035 for cats. Veterinary-related expenses – including spay/neuter surgery, routine medical care, pet health insurance and miscellaneous medical needs – comprise anywhere between 42%-53% of the total annual budget for dogs and a whopping 59% for cats. 

Research pet costs in your area, including the big-ticket items like veterinary services and pet food, and adjust your budget to better reflect the going rates in your particular community.

Tip: Multiply your total annual pet care budget by at least 10% to leave room for unexpected expenses and flexibility in how you spend your pet care dollars.

Military discounts for pet insurance

You can buy pet health insurance for Fido and Fluffy to help defray the costs of both routine and ‘unexpected’ visits to the veterinarian, including emergency and surgical care. According to the ASPCA, annual pet insurance costs average $225 for dogs and $175 for cats, but your plan will vary based upon the specific types of protection you want for your pet. Many pet health insurance companies offer a military discount, but they are often unpublished and available only if you speak with an agent and specifically request it. Some companies publish military and other discounts directly on their site, and offer reductions for multiple pets, animals that are microchipped or for applying online.

Tip: Call pet insurance companies to ask whether they have a military discount and how you can get it. Many don’t publish these rates or include it as an option in their online applications.

Financial assistance with veterinary bills

Sometimes the best planning doesn’t survive a large, unexpected veterinary bill or a short-term financial hardship. Fortunately there is help:

  1. On-base veterinary clinics: Most military bases that have a veterinary clinic for military working dogs offer low-cost medical care to service members’ pets. Typically this includes wellness exams, vaccinations and even spay/neuter surgery, but check with your base veterinarian for details and pricing. You will likely need an off-base veterinarian for specialty care, but sticking with the on-base clinic for most of your pet’s medical needs can save you a bundle.
  2. AAHA Helping Pets Fund: Grant-based program providing assistance for both emergency and non-elective treatment of both abandoned pets and those whose owners are experiencing financial hardship. You can use their online search tool to find an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital near you.
  3. Help-A-Pet: Provides nationwide financial assistance for owners who are unable to afford their pets’ medical care. Applicants must provide proof of income and have annual income below $20k for an individual or $40k for a family household to submit an application.
  4. The Pet Fund: Focused on providing financial aid to owners in need of non-emergency assistance with veterinary bills. Individuals must first contact the Fund by phone before submitting their application. 
  5. Trio Animal Foundation: Assists shelter and rescues with the costs of homeless pet care, as well as individuals experiencing financial hardship
  6. Red Rover: Offers a range of both information and grant programs to help animals affected by natural disaster, domestic violence or their owners’ financial hardship. Red Rover provides a nationwide listing of organizations that offer financial assistance for veterinary care, organized by state, disease, breed and other relevant factors.
  7. Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance: As the name suggests, this organization is dedicated to cat owners who are unable to afford necessary, life-saving veterinary care.

Tip: Ask your veterinarian if s/he offers a military or veteran discount at your first visit. Many practices do, even if they don’t publicize it.

Have a pet plan

In the end, your biggest cost-savings tool will be a pet plan. This includes budgeting to reflect your lifestyle, specific pet’s needs and local costs of living, as well as a rainy day fund for unexpected expenses or emergency care.  


How do you save money on your pet’s medical care?


  1. Pets are very important pet owners. They serve as guard, best friend they are even considered as family members. Thus, ensuring their health is very important. I do believe that pet insurance is worth the cost. It’s similar to the issue of health insurance for humans. You never know for sure if you’re going to use it a lot but if you do then you’re going to really get your money’s worth.

  2. I think one important item left out of the blog is preventative or integrative care for our pets. We have found in many cases that the correct diet, supplementation, exercise, and training will save our clients many thousands of dollars over the lifetime of their pets. Many times treatment can comprise food therapy, herbs, acupuncture, rehabilitation veterinary medicine and avoid costly surgeries and medicines.

  3. That’s a great point, Randy; thank you for calling attention to the wide range of preventative measures that can improve the quality and longevity of a pet’s life.

  4. Yeah, if someone considering to get a pet must also consider the finances for it.

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  1. […] Decades later, that was about to change when Bob walked into a Michigan pet store to look at the dogs available for adoption through the Michigan Humane Society (MHS). One six year-old rat terrier named Beau caught his eye, but Bob was concerned that pet ownership was beyond his means. […]

  2. […] Veterinary costs are one of the biggest contributors to the overall costs of owning a pet, which is why Pets for Patriots partners with veterinary practices across the country to provide high quality, discounted care to veterans and service members who adopt through our program. […]

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