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
- Pet clinical trials
- Student programs
- Veterinarian payment plans
- Helping Pets Fund
- Humane Society grant program
- Pet care insurance
- Practice preventative health care
- Food issues
- Foster homes/breed rescue
- 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.”
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, www.Pets911.com, 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.
Humane Society grant program
HSUS has launched a new grant program for local shelters that may help families care for pets in tough financial times. The program can provide up to $2,000 per shelter or nonshelter rescue/adoption group. It’s called the Foreclosure Pets Fund, because so many pets have been left behind in abandoned homes.
“Animals have been left behind in foreclosed homes, and shelters are reporting that families are struggling to keep and feed pets,” McFarland says. “Don’t leave your animal to fend for itself.”
The grants to local shelters are intended to assist programs by working with veterinarians to develop service vouchers to be distributed to people who need assistance with vaccinations, spay and neuter surgeries or other veterinary care. Another aspect of the program may involve partnering with local food banks to donate and distribute pet food and supplies.
Pet care insurance
According to Lisa Peterson, director of club communications for the American Kennel Club, or AKC, pet insurance can save you thousands of dollars when your pet has a serious illness. There are numerous pet care insurances in the market, so the best option for pet owners is to compare prices and see what each plan offers.
“Paying a little each month is better than being faced with a large medical bill,” Peterson says.
At the AKC, pet insurances cost 35 cents a day for a dog for accident and injury coverage. For a few cents more a day, you can get the next level of a plan that includes illness coverage. Pet care insurance is available for cats as well.
Practice preventive health care
Pet owners who want to keep their medical bills low will practice preventive health care. Dr. Davis recommends bringing in your pet for a yearly exam so that if something is not right, the condition can be found early.
“Just as proper nutrition, a good diet and activity is important to humans to keep us healthy, it’s also important for our pets,” Dr. Davis says.
To keep your pets healthy, groom them daily. Check for ticks or lumps before there is a problem. Cut down on visits to a grooming salon by doing some of the grooming yourself. Clean teeth on a regular basis and scrape some of the tartar off. Also, learn to cut your pet’s nails and give the animal a bath yourself.
The AKC does not recommend changing your dog’s diet or feeding your pet the least expensive food you can find. Instead, Peterson recommends cutting back on the number of treats you give your dog or cat.
As an option, forget the store-bought treats and give your dog crunchy vegetables such as baby carrots, chopped-up celery or zucchini. Cat and dog owners can also take existing treats for their pets and split them to make them stretch. Or take a small amount of the animal’s food and use it as a treat.
The HSUS believes pet owners should also stop purchasing expensive toys and accessories. There are tips for inexpensive toys for cats and dogs on the organization’s Web site.
Foster homes/breed rescue
Consider individual breed rescue groups across the country. For example, owners of a Maltese can legally turn their dog over to the nationally run rescue group for any reason. Each breed group locates foster homes and pays for health care until the dog can be adopted by another family.
“Medical care can be quite costly, and this area of our club operates on the donations of our members as well as others,” says Sandy Bingham-Porter, president of the American Maltese Association. “Many breeders would also allow the owner to return their Maltese, no questions asked.”
Other breeders will do the same.
The Cat Fanciers Association has a breeder assistance program to help breeders and catteries with assistance in the temporary loss of a home, personal family situation such as divorce, loss of a job or owner illness. There is also a Breed Rescue Program that helps purebred cats at risk in shelters across the country.
A Food Pantry program, with assistance from the pet food manufacturer Royal Canin, helps cat breeders who are unable to purchase cat food to feed their cats. This is a regional program that is being expanded to operate on a national level.
Pet credit card
There is also a credit card that can be used for your pet’s medical bills. Dr. Davis recommends that cat and dog owners apply for a CareCredit card that is exclusively for healthcare services for their pet. There is no annual fee for this card.
The CareCredit card features plans with no interest for three, six, 12 or 18 months, or plans with monthly payments as low as 3 percent of the balance letting you pay within the specified time. Fixed-interest plans are also available for pet owners who need to pay over a longer period.
The Web site lists all the veterinarians that accept the card.