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Cost of Chemotherapy for Dogs and Financing Options

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When it comes to the $70 billion-plus pet industry, even the most well-prepared person is likely to face some unexpected costs after adopting or buying a dog. One of the most emotionally and financially draining expenses is a surprise diagnosis of cancer, especially if it needs to be treated through dog chemotherapy.

Adopting or buying a pet may be a matter of the heart, but financial practicalities should also be part of the decision to add a furry friend to your family.

Chemotherapy for your dog: Typical costs

Chemotherapy for dogs can be costly, and close to 50% of dogs older than 10 will develop cancer. Every dog owner should plan ahead for potential treatment.

Treatment plan for dogs with cancer

Veterinarians and veterinary oncologists can diagnose cancer in dogs in multiple ways, including a biopsy. In some cases, cancer might be treatable by surgery alone. When it isn’t, chemotherapy for dogs may be an option.

When a veterinarian suspects that a dog has cancer, several things will happen:

  • A biopsy confirms the diagnosis
  • The veterinarian reviews potential treatment options with the pet’s owner

If the veterinarian is not a veterinary oncologist, ask for a referral to a certified veterinary oncologist or look for one through the Veterinary Cancer Society.

During the initial consultation with the veterinary oncologist, treatment options and outcomes are discussed. This may include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Herbal or holistic treatment

Will pet insurance cover chemotherapy costs?

If you’re concerned about the possibility of your dog getting cancer, pet insurance is worth exploring. With all the unexpected medical costs that can crop up, it’s not surprising that the pet insurance industry is expected to double from 2017 to 2022 to reach $2 billion.

Like many health insurance plans for humans, there are policies that control the costs of treatment for unexpected illnesses and injuries. They can have a fixed monthly premium and may have a certain out-of-pocket deductible. The plan will then provide a limited coverage amount per plan year, which is the maximum amount the insurance policy will cover.

Policies are generally wide-ranging, covering treatment for, among other things:

  • Breed-specific illnesses
  • Cancer
  • Accidental injuries

Pet insurance allows you to visit any veterinarian, rather than being required to choose one from a network. These policies generally allow for partial reimbursement of fees paid to the veterinarian.

When buying a pet insurance policy for your dog, it’s also important to understand the difference between pet insurance and wellness plans. Wellness plans are simply packages that provide a discount on routine services; generally, they cover services such as vaccinations, testing and physical exams. These wellness plans can be a good way of budgeting overall veterinary costs, but they aren’t going to offer any value when it comes to cancer.

Procedure for chemotherapy

Dog chemotherapy provides a mixture of cancer-fighting drugs. The drugs used in dog chemotherapy may vary depending on the type of cancer, the dog’s age and its general health.

During chemotherapy treatment, the dog will either be given the medication orally, intravenously or under its skin. Often, X-rays, bloodwork and other tests are required before each treatment session, so many dog owners are asked to drop their dogs off for a minimum of three to four hours. For some intravenous doses, an entire day might be required.

Caring for your pet after a round of chemotherapy

Dogs often experience side effects a few days after the chemotherapy treatment is administered. In most cases, these side effects — which include nausea, diarrhea, skin irritation and swelling — are resolved in one to two days. Less than 10% of dogs receiving chemotherapy may experience more severe side effects requiring hospitalization. Specific side effects can vary depending on the exact medications given and the breed of dog.

Deciding whether to get chemotherapy

No matter how much you want to do for your dog, it’s important to evaluate whether chemotherapy is the right choice both for your pets and for you. Here are some of the factors that weigh into the evaluation.

Success rates

Your vet will discuss with you the likelihood of success based on the stage of cancer, location, age and health of the dog. While it may be tempting to grasp at even the slimmest chance that chemotherapy will cure them, consider basing your decision on the likelihood of failure in comparison to the cost. When your dog lives a full life after chemotherapy, you will see the cost as having been worthwhile. But would you feel the same way if treatment was unsuccessful?


Another consideration is whether you can realistically afford the treatment. A recent LendingTree survey on pet debt found that 36% of people have been in debt due to pet-related expenses. If paying for dog chemotherapy costs will destroy your budget and your family’s long-term financial needs, it may be a tougher choice.

Post-chemotherapy care needs

Paying for the treatment and dropping your dog off aren’t the only responsibilities you have when your dog is getting chemotherapy. You may also have to rearrange your schedule, take time off of work and adjust your lifestyle to deal with post-chemo side effects and physical therapy. Consider whether you, your family and your budget can practically meet these added demands.

Paying for chemotherapy

Ideally, emergency savings and pet insurance policies will cover the costs of dog chemotherapy. But that’s not always possible, since pet insurance excludes pre-existing conditions and the plans often have age limits. In these instances, you can consider some of these alternatives.

Veterinary payment plan

When you have an established relationship with a veterinarian, they may offer you a payment plan that breaks up chemotherapy and treatment costs over several visits.

Other alternative arrangements can include financing plans with an added fee or deferred payments. Some veterinarians, for example, may use Scratchpay or VetBilling to establish flexible payment plans.

Personal loan

A personal loan for pet financing can offer an affordable option for those with a high enough credit score to secure a low interest rate. Personal loans give the predictability of a steady payment and a fixed term.

People with bad credit may find personal loans with no prepayment or origination fees, though you’ll likely pay an extremely high APR. Before selecting this option, try to exhaust other assistance and payment plan options and compare costs to ensure you choose the best loan.

Credit card

Credit cards are a common resource for emergency expenses associated with dog chemotherapy. High interest rates make credit cards a last resort unless the pet owner has a low- or no-interest card.

There is also a pet-specific veterinary financing option, CareCredit. This card features short and long-term financing options with APRs starting at 14.90%.

Assistance program

Many organizations take part in financial assistance programs that help to cover treatment costs for families in need. One example is the Petco Foundation, which supports many payment assistance programs.

There are also assistance programs for specific dog breeds. You can get lists of these on the Humane Society’s website or through your state’s veterinary medical association.

Clinical trial enrollment

Veterinary schools and research organizations often run clinical trials to test new medications and treatment methods.

While only certain animals will qualify and treatment is untested, it can provide an alternative for patients struggling with costs.


Many of the people you interact with on social media understand what it’s like to struggle to afford medical treatment for a beloved pet. You can set up a crowdfunding site to solicit and request contributions from family, friends and strangers who want to help.

There are even some animal-specific crowdfunding sites, such as Waggle, that can work with your veterinarian to certify the anticipated cost of your pet’s treatment.

Veterinary school

Student veterinarians need to practice caring for pets, and they often do so at a lower cost. If there’s a veterinary school in your area, find out if they have student-administered cancer treatments and dog chemotherapy at a discounted price.

Bottom line

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis for your dog is hard enough on its own. Determining whether to pursue life-saving treatment based on its cost can seem like a cruel added form of pressure.

By preparing in advance and exhausting all available payment options and resources, you can make the price less of a factor when determining whether dog chemotherapy is the right call.


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