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Finding help with health care for your pet

Times are tough for everyone these days, and pet owners are feeling the pinch, too. The cost of care for our creatures is going up, along with everything else, so a serious medical condition can put a pet owner in a tough emotional spot.

According to the 2007-2008 Pet Owners Survey from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, there are 74.8 million dogs and 88.3 million cats that live in households as pets. Now, many households with one or more pets are trying to determine how they can cut back on pet expenses.

Here are some suggestions you may want to consider in times of economic trouble that might help you avoid abandoning your pets.

Some ways to get help in providing medical care for your pets.

Help for your pets

  1. Pet clinical trials
  2. Student programs
  3. Veterinarian payment plans
  4. Helping Pets Fund
  5. Humane Society grant program
  6. Pet care insurance
  7. Practice preventative health care
  8. Food issues
  9. Foster homes/breed rescue
  10. Pet credit card

Pet clinical trials

"There are many clinical studies that are ongoing at The University of Tennessee as there are at other universities," says Joe Bartges, DVM, Ph.D., a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "Many clinical studies provide care and treatment and follow-up at no expense to pet owners, while others subsidize the cost of providing the medical care."

Currently, the university has clinical studies in the areas of cancer, skin diseases, fungal diseases, orthopedic surgery, soft tissue surgery and urinary tract diseases. The list of studies can be found at the school's Web site.

Investigators and nurses running the studies can be contacted by referring veterinarians or owners of the pets.

To find out more about clinical projects, Dr. Bartges recommends "owners should find the Web site of the nearest veterinary school and look to see which clinic trials are taking place. Pet owners can also do an online search for information related to research about the specific problem their dog or cat may have."

Student programs

At the University of California, Davis, there are student-run programs, such as the Community Surgery Service and Mercer Veterinary Clinic.

"The Community Surgery Service offers some surgical procedures at reduced cost for owners who are otherwise unable to pay full price," says Gina Davis-Wurzler, an assistant clinical professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of California, Davis.

This service is offered on a case-by-case basis and eligible patients are referred to this program by their local veterinarians or from services within the teaching hospital.

The Mercer Veterinary Clinic is a volunteer veterinary medical clinic for pets belonging to Sacramento-area homeless people. The clinic also participates in Spay Day, a national event that offers low-cost spay and neuter procedures. The event is staffed entirely of volunteers (veterinarians, technicians and students). Check in your community for these low-cost spay and neuter services.

Veterinarian payment plans

The Humane Society of the United States suggests that pet owners ask their pet's veterinarian if she will allow you to work out a payment plan. When you can't afford to pay the entire bill at once, it pays to ask for a weekly or monthly plan.

If your veterinarian will not allow a payment plan for care, contact a local animal shelter because many of them know of local subsidized veterinary clinics or veterinary assistance programs. Animal shelters are listed in the Yellow Pages. You can also check the Web site,, and enter your ZIP code to find animal shelters or care organizations in your community.

Helping Pets Fund

An important option for pet owners is to ask their veterinarian to submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association, or AAHA, Helping Pets Fund.

"In order to qualify, your animal hospital must be AAHA accredited," says Betsy McFarland, director of communications for the Companion Animal Section of the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS.

McFarland also recommends pet owners contact their regional office of HSUS. There are 10 regional offices throughout the country, and the staff is often familiar with organizations and programs in your area.


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