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How much does an emergency vet cost? And how can you pay for one?

Two vets examining a retriever on a drip
(Image credit: Getty)

When your pet is in a crisis and you’re rushing to the emergency clinic, the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether you have the funds to cover the emergency vet cost. Even the best and most cautious pet owners may experience a pet emergency. While these emergencies are stressful for a number of reasons, worrying about the ability to pay for your pet’s emergency care is a big stressor for many clients. 

Even when they have the best pet insurance, many clients struggle to pay a large veterinary emergency bill up front, so it’s always best to plan ahead. Careful planning can maximize the likelihood that you’re prepared to handle an emergency situation.

Common pet emergencies

Emergency veterinarians treat problems that arise when your regular family veterinarian’s office is closed. The conditions treated by emergency clinics range from relatively mild, such as a torn toenail, to life-threatening trauma cases, such as a dog that has been hit by a car.

The most common cause of emergency veterinary visits is gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting and/or diarrhoea. In some cases, the pet has relatively mild signs; a dog may have had just a few episodes of diarrhoea, but its owner wants to know how to help a dog with diarrhoea before the dog’s condition worsens or before the carpet in their home is ruined. In other cases, however, the pet is very ill and requires more aggressive treatment. A dog that is dehydrated after several days of vomiting and diarrhoea will need a full medical workup, plus hospitalization and intravenous (IV) fluids. 

Another common cause of emergency visits is trauma. This broad category encompasses a variety of injuries, ranging from a simple dog bite to extensive internal injuries after being hit by a car. While some trauma cases can be treated with just pain medication and antibiotics, others require radiographs (x-rays) or ultrasound to rule out serious injuries, hospitalization for the treatment of shock, and surgery to repair external wounds or internal damage. 

Other potential causes of emergency clinic visits include sudden weakness or collapse, seizures or other neurologic issues, breathing difficulties, and toxin ingestion. Each of these conditions varies in its diagnostic workup and treatments. Some of these conditions may be treated on an outpatient basis, but many require hospitalization. 

The cost of emergency veterinary care 

The cost of a veterinary emergency visit varies, depending on a number of factors. The veterinarian will first perform a thorough physical exam on your pet. Based on the exam findings, the veterinarian will then determine what diagnostic tests and treatments are needed. Some pets may require only medication, while others will require a comprehensive workup and hospitalization. Obviously, a more involved workup or more invasive treatments will be accompanied with a higher cost. 

According to PetPlan pet insurance, the average cost of a veterinary emergency is $800 to $1,500. Keep in mind, however, that this is just an average. Some emergency clinic visits, such as a straightforward case of acute diarrhoea, may cost just $200-300. If your pet is hit by a car and requires emergency surgery, however, your costs may easily climb to $5,000 or more. 

It’s important for every pet owner to be prepared for the possibility of expensive veterinary emergencies. Hopefully, your pet will live a happy, healthy life and you will never find yourself dealing with a serious veterinary emergency. If an emergency does occur and you’re prepared, however, you will be in a much better position to allow the veterinarian to proceed with high-quality veterinary care. 

Two vets operating on a dog

(Image credit: Getty)

Pet insurance reimburses the cost of emergency care

One popular option for managing costs associated with emergency care is pet insurance. In some ways, pet insurance works like human health insurance. You pay a monthly premium in exchange for coverage of a certain percentage of your pet’s medical expenses. You will have a deductible; expenses will not be eligible for coverage until you exceed this deductible. 

Unlike medical insurance, however, pet insurance operates primarily on a reimbursement model. In most cases, you will pay your pet’s veterinary expenses and then submit the receipt to the insurance provider for reimbursement. Your pet insurance provider will then reimburse you, based upon your agreed-upon deductible and reimbursement percentage. There are some pet insurance providers that contract with veterinarians to pay large bills directly, however. If you are concerned about your ability to pay the veterinarian and wait for reimbursement, it may be worth seeking out one of these providers! 

There are two types of conditions that are often excluded from pet insurance coverage: pre-existing conditions and hereditary conditions. Pre-existing conditions are conditions diagnosed before you purchased the insurance policy. For example, if your dog was diagnosed with skin allergies before you purchased pet insurance, skin conditions related to your pet’s allergies would never be eligible for coverage. Hereditary conditions are conditions that are genetic, or inherited through a pet’s parents. Examples of genetic conditions include hip dysplasia, tracheal collapse, and third eyelid prolapse (or “cherry eye”). Many pet insurance companies exclude hereditary conditions from coverage, even if they develop after the policy is purchased. 

If you purchase pet insurance, it’s important to pay careful attention to the details of your policy. Pay careful attention to your financial responsibilities and what is and is not covered by the policy. This can prevent a lot of headaches and frustration! In general, however, pet insurance is a great option to help defray costs associated with emergency veterinary care. We’d also recommend you find out how to get cheaper pet insurance as there are few steps you can take to limit the cost.

What if you don’t have pet insurance?

When a pet emergency occurs and you don’t have pet insurance, your options are more limited. Hopefully, you have savings or a credit card available to handle the veterinary bill. If not, many emergency veterinarians offer credit through a company known as CareCredit®. CareCredit® is a credit card designed specifically for medical and veterinary expenses. You can apply online or via telephone and receive a decision within minutes. If you’re approved, there is often a period of interest-free financing available. 

If you are unable to get approved for CareCredit®, consider reaching out to friends and family for help. Some clients may also use GoFundMe® or reach out to non-profit foundations to help fund their pets’ veterinary care, but these alternatives may not be logistically feasible in an emergency situation. Most emergency clinics will require at least an initial deposit before beginning treatment, so you will need to have funds available in a short timeframe. 

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

While we all hope that we will never have to deal with emergency vet costs, the reality is that emergencies happen. There’s a decent chance that you experience at least one or two emergency visits over your pet’s lifetime. Plan ahead and have financial resources in place for emergencies, whether that is a pet insurance plan, a well-funded pet savings account, or accessible credit. Having the ability to pay for emergencies will ensure that your veterinarian can provide your pet with the best possible care.