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What Is the Average Vet Cost, And How Do I Pay for Big Vet Bills?

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Pet moms and dads know that owning a furry friend can greatly enhance your life. But vet costs can have a significant impact on your finances. Figuring out how to pay for vet bills, especially unexpected ones, can be stressful.

Here’s how you can prepare for vet costs and what your options are when it comes to paying your vet bills when you don’t have an emergency fund.

Your cost for 7 typical vet visits

The annual average cost for routine veterinary care is $200 to $400 for dogs and $90 to $200 for cats.

Although it can be hard to predict exactly what your pet will need to visit the vet for, there are about seven common reasons dogs and cats need to see the vet. These average vet costs can give you an idea of your approximate annual vet costs, allowing you to plan ahead so you may avoid taking out debt to care for your pet:

  1. Physical exam ($45 to $55): Your vet will review your pet’s overall health, such as by listening to its heart and lungs with a stethoscope, seeing how they walk and feeling different parts of their body. Your vet may make recommendations on your pet’s diet, for preventative medical treatment and more.
  2. Vaccines ($15 to $28 per vaccine): Vaccines can protect your pet from common and serious diseases, such as rabies, parvovirus and lyme disease.
  3. Fecal exam ($25): To ensure your pet isn’t infected with intestinal parasites, your vet may request a fecal exam.
  4. Heartworm test ($45 to $50): According to the FDA, dogs that are 7 months old or older should be tested for heartworms. Cats are less susceptible to heartworms. Speak with your veterinarian to see if they recommend testing for heartworms in your pet.
  5. Dental cleaning ($70 to $400): A dental cleaning will remove plaque and tartar from your pet’s teeth and help your vet assess the overall health of their mouth. Thorough cleanings require your pet to be under anesthesia.
  6. Allergy testing ($195 to $250 for a skin test), ($200 to $300 for a blood test): Your pet can be allergic to a variety of things, from grass and dust to certain foods and cleaning products. An allergy test and potentially an elimination diet can uncover an allergy.
  7. Geriatric screening ($85 to $100): For older pets, this kind of screening is more comprehensive and can reveal your aging pet’s overall health. Bloodwork and a urinary test may be involved.

Keep in mind that as pets age you’ll likely have to visit the vet more frequently as new health issues emerge.

Your pet’s annual check-up: What to expect

Your pet’s annual check-up can help you safeguard their health. It can reveal unseen medical issues and teach you how to better care for your aging pet. Here’s what to expect when you’re headed to the vet.

vet annual check-up

What does pet insurance cost?

Pet insurance is becoming an increasingly popular strategy pet owners are using to make sure they can afford vet bills throughout the lifetime of their pet. There are two popular versions of pet insurance: accident and illness insurance and accident-only insurance.

According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association (NAPHIA) accident and illness insurance is by far the most popular version of pet insurance, with 98% of pet insurance purchasers opting for this type of coverage. NAPHIA estimated that the average pet insurance claim was $284, and it reported the following premiums for 2018:

  • Average annual accident and illness premium: $566.34 for dogs and $354.48 for cats
  • Average annual accident-only premium: $190.02 for dogs and $140.87 for cats

There’s no Magic 8 Ball to help you decide whether pet insurance is worth it. Like humans, you can never predict when your pet will get ill, have an accident or need significant medical attention.

It could make the decision easier to compare insurance policies so that you understand exactly what you’re getting before you sign on to any plan. When you’re comparing pet insurance policies, be sure to ask how much routine vet care is included in your insurance policy and whether dental coverage is included.

Unlike human health insurance plans, which are typically similar from provider to provider, pet insurance plans can vary widely. Since every pet insurance provider has its own policies it’s important to spend your time doing an in-depth comparison.

How to pay for vet bills

Personal loan

You might consider taking out a personal loan to cover the cost of your vet bills. If you have good credit then the interest rate on a personal loan might be lower than the interest rate you’d pay with a credit card. Personal loans also have a set term, so you’ll know how long it will take for you to get out of debt if you keep up with your payments each month.

If you’re interested in getting a personal loan your first step should be to shop around to find the best rates. You can compare quoted rates online to make the process simple. Make sure that lenders are doing a soft credit check when they’re quoting rates to you so that the process doesn’t negatively impact your credit.


  • Could qualify for a lower interest rate
  • Set monthly payments and term
  • Some lenders will fund loans within 24 hours


  • Eligibility and rates depend on your credit
  • May come with fees such as an origination or prepayment fee

0% interest credit card

A different route to try is opening a credit card with a 0% APR introductory rate. This basically means that you won’t pay any interest on purchases during the introductory period. This is potentially the cheapest way to finance your vet costs because if you can repay the money before the interest rate kicks in, you’ll have paid no extra in interest.

However, before you go this route make sure that you can definitely repay the funds in time. That’s because the interest rate can significantly jump when the introductory period expires. Some credit cards may also charge deferred interest if you’re still carrying a balance; that means you could be slapped with all of the interest charges you avoided if you fail to pay off your balance in full before the introductory period ends.

You should compare credit cards before choosing the best one for you. Consider how long the introductory rate with each credit card is and what the interest rate will jump to after that. You can apply online for many credit cards so once you choose the best one for you the process is simple and straightforward.


  • Could be the least expensive way to finance your vet costs
  • Can apply online


  • These types of credit cards can be difficult to qualify for
  • If you don’t repay the money before the introductory rate expires, it could get expensive
  • You might not qualify for the advertised interest rate

Vet office financing program

You might find that some vet offices will offer financing or the option to pay your vet bill in installments. Often, when your vet offers a program like this, they’ll charge interest on the funds owed. Even though this is a more expensive way to pay your vet bills, the lower installments could make it a more reasonable offer. If you only have to pay a portion of the funds up front that gives you time to make the rest of the money before the next amount is due again.

If you’re interested in an installment program, ask your vet what they offer. If you haven’t found a vet yet, this could be one of the ways you screen potential providers. Also be sure to ask your vet’s office how you qualify for financing or installment payments. Some vets might run a credit check while others might sign you up on the program without one. If you have bad credit and find it difficult to qualify for personal loans, this could be a way to afford the costs of going to the vet.


  • Lower initial payment means you have time to make or find the rest of the money needed
  • Could be a simpler process than applying for a loan
  • Might not rely on a credit check


  • Added interest means your vet bill will be more expensive overall
  • Could impact your credit if you miss payments and your vet reports to a credit bureau
  • You might qualify for a lower interest rate elsewhere

Paying for the cost of a vet can be overwhelming, but it can be manageable if you take the time to carefully consider your options. Weigh the pros and cons of each method and consider what best fits your monthly budget. Even if it feels like you’ll never find a solution, by taking a careful approach you can figure out what’s best for you and your furry best friend.


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