Key takeaways

  • The cost of owning a pet can vary greatly depending on the type of animal. Dogs and cats are the most common and least expensive, and exotic animals like reptiles and birds are more costly.
  • Pet loans are a type of personal loan that can cover pet expenses, including routine care, surgeries, and the cost of purchasing a service, therapy, or emotional support animal.
  • It’s possible to qualify for a pet loan even with bad credit, but the interest rates and terms may not be as competitive as they would be for someone with stronger credit.

Owning a pet can be expensive. Setting aside funds for your pet’s needs from everyday expenses to unexpected medical costs is important. This is especially true if you have or are looking for a service, therapy or emotional support animal because they often need specific training.

Luckily, various veterinary financing options, like pet or vet loans, can help if you need assistance for your pet’s needs. There are also pet surgery financing options or pet loans for bad credit to help you cover the cost of treatment.

Pet cost statistics
  • According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs are the most popular house pets in America. The nation has an estimated 76 million pet dogs, which breaks down to an average of 1.5 dogs per household.
  • Yearly costs for animals, especially dogs, will vary based on size and breed. For example, the ASPCA cites that small dogs cost around $40 a month, while large dogs cost an average of $86.69.
  • The average cost of owning a cat comes out to $1,200 a year.
  • A trip to the veterinary emergency room can cost you anywhere from $100 to upwards of $10,000, depending on the severity of the condition and the treatment necessary.

What is a pet loan?

A pet loan is a personal loan that can be used to cover pet-related expenses. Pet loans are offered by banks, credit unions and online lenders. Loans can range from $1,000 to $100,000, although how much you receive depends on your creditworthiness and the lender.

Depending on the lender or institution, you can use a pet loan on nearly every legal expense, from vet bills to adoption to everyday costs, like food and medication.

Because pet loans are installment loans, you’ll be assigned a specific loan term, typically between two to five years. Most of these loans come with fixed interest rates, meaning that the rate won’t change over the life of the balance.

Each lender offers its own set of financial requirements, loan terms, rates and fees. Compare lenders and shop around before taking out a loan to ensure you’re getting a competitive offer for your credit health and aren’t paying more interest than you need to.

Reasons to take out a pet loan

It is highly recommended for pet owners to have funds set aside in their monthly budget for unexpected pet-related costs and daily expenses. However, an unexpected medical expense or trip can drain your savings account even if you prepare.

Pet loans can be a helpful tool if your pet faces a sudden illness or has a need for specialized care or training (like service dogs), but you don’t have the funds stored up to cover the full expense. While these loans aren’t recommended for everyone as a first-resort option, if you have no other way to pay for unexpected or hefty pet-related costs, they can help give your budget some temporary relief.

At the end of the day, taking out a pet loan is best used when funding large, necessary expenses, like major medical bills or support animal costs.

Surgery or major treatments

The bills can be astronomical if your pet needs surgery or major treatments. For example, dog intestinal blockage surgery can cost up to $7,000. A CCL (ligament) surgery can cost owners anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the severity of the injury.

Most vets require owners to pay at least a downpayment before starting treatment. While many offer financing options, most offer point-of-sale loans with astronomically high interest rates or branded credit cards.

Depending on your credit score, it’s likely that a pet loan will carry much lower rates than the in-house financing option offered by most vets and animal hospitals. Due to this, it’s best to research before you even get your new pet to ensure you have an affordable financing option should an emergency medical situation arise.

Service, therapy and emotional support animal financing

The average cost of a service dog can be anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, with the more expensive animals costing up to $50,000. These costs do not account for everyday expenses, like food, accessories and veterinary care, which averages an annual minimum of $500. Unlike support animals, service animals are limited to specific animals, like dogs and horses, and are trained to complete specific tasks for a person with a disability.

Emotional support animals don’t have any official certification programs. They cost far less than a service animal and don’t need to pass any specific training requirements.

Because any domesticated animal can be registered as an emotional support or therapy animal, there is no overall average cost for these pets. Still, you will need to pay to visit a doctor or licensed therapist who can attest to your need for an emotional support animal.

Due to the lessened training responsibilities required of support animals, they’re not permitted in as many public spaces as registered service animals. For example, service animals are permitted in grocery or retail shops, where support animals may not be welcome, depending on the company.

Can you get a pet loan with bad credit?

It is possible to qualify for a personal loan to use toward veterinary expenses, even if you have bad credit. Just keep in mind that your interest rate and terms will likely not be as competitive as they might be for someone with stronger credit.

If your credit score is less-than-stellar and you need to finance a larger cost, it’s worth looking into the veterinary repayment options if they’re offered. The lower the credit score, the higher your rate is likely to be. If you’re offered a high rate from a traditional loan lender, compare it to the veterinary financing option — there’s a chance that the in-house option could be more affordable in this case.

How to apply for a pet loan

Applying for a pet loan is like applying for any other personal loan. While every company’s application process will differ, there are a few steps you can take to increase your eligibility odds with each lender.

  1. Shop around: After checking your credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, look through multiple lenders’ minimum eligibility requirements. Pick around three lenders that best meet your needs and that you could qualify for. Pay specific attention to the interest rate and fees and select the lenders most likely to offer you the most competitive rates.
  2. Prequalify and compare: Prequalification allows you to see your predicted eligibility odds and potential interest rate without formally applying. This process doesn’t impact your credit score and makes it easier to find the most competitive loan for your financial situation.
  3. Apply: Most lenders host a fully online application, while others require in-person presence. Before applying, check the requirements to ensure you live close to a physical branch if you need to be in-person for any part of the process.
  4. Accept the loan terms: Some lenders approve their applicants within minutes and disburse funds as soon as that day. However, not all offer this fast turnaround time. After getting your approval offer, read through the loan agreement before signing off on the balance to know how and when you’ll get your funds.

Alternative financing options

If you need help financing your pet’s medical bills or want to purchase a service or emotional support animal, a pet loan is not the only option. Depending on the circumstances, alternative financing options can be just as useful as a pet loan:

  • Credit: Using credit allows you to pay for the high costs of vet bills or service dog training over time. However, the average credit card interest rate is about 20 percent, keep in mind you’ll be accruing interest on the balances you can’t repay each month unless you have a 0 percent APR card.
  • Nonprofit assistance: Many nonprofit organizations work with people who need service animals. There are programs for veterans specifically, as well as programs for people with autism and physical disabilities. Some non-profit organizations offer grants or loans with low interest rates to help pet owners finance their pet’s medical treatment.
  • Payment plan: Your vet may be willing to negotiate a payment plan, which can lighten the financial blow by breaking it into increments. However, not all vets offer this option. It’s best to ask as soon as you arrive to make alternate repayment plans should your vet not offer it.
  • Pet insurance: Pet insurance covers all or a portion of veterinary expenses, like procedures and treatments resulting from accidents, illness or general wellness bills. Prices vary between insurance companies and policy coverages.
  • Vet schools or low-cost vet options: Vet schools often have affordable clinics that allow students to practice, so your pet can get the treatment it needs at a fraction of the cost quoted by other clinics. Depending on where you live, there may be some low-cost vet options, although the clinics may not offer the same services as traditional animal hospitals.

The bottom line

If your pet needs a veterinary procedure or you need a service dog or emotional support animal, a pet loan can be a useful way to cover the expense at an affordable rate.

However, a pet loan is still an additional debt that impacts your finances. It can jeopardize your credit if you don’t stay on top of the payments and pay the loan off promptly. To best protect your finances, research and compare multiple lenders to find the most competitive rate and terms before applying for a pet loan.