"My dog is dying and I can't afford the vet." How to get your dog the care they need...

Dogs face being cupped by owners hands
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As the cost of living skyrockets around the globe, “my dog is dying and I can’t afford the vet” is an all too common and heartbreaking phrase being uttered by loving doggy owners who desperately want to help their furry friends but are without the best pet insurance and therefore can’t afford to do so. 

Times have never been tougher for many of us on the financial front and with wages currently being outpaced by rapidly rising food, fuel and housing prices, making ends meet is no easy feat in 2022. These last few years have hit households hard and with so many of us living paycheck to paycheck, extra expenses, like vet bills, are becoming more and more challenging to cover.

Being without a financial buffer means that many pet parents are finding themselves in an incredibly painful position, with seriously ill canine companions that they’re having to watch suffer or have euthanized early because they can’t afford to pay for medication and treatment. 

If you’re currently in this position with your own canine companion, please know that you’re not alone. Having a dog who is ill or dying and being unable to afford the vet has become an increasingly common issue and there are many people right now around the world who are struggling with exactly the same problem.

Grieving a dying pet is hard enough as it is without adding additional emotional and financial stressors to the mix, so if that’s the situation you’re currently in, we’re here to help. 

Below, we walk you through your options for what to do when your dog is dying and you can’t afford the vet, including whether or not you should put them down. You’ll also find an explanation of why vets charge as much as they do and how you can go about dealing with high vet bills. Let’s take a look…

Should I put my sick dog down because I can't afford the vet bill?

First things first - please don’t ever try to put your dog down yourself at home. A lot of pet parents are resorting to this at the moment because they don’t see another way forward and we want to strongly discourage you from taking this option.

Not only is it an incredibly distressing thing to have to do that could leave you with emotional trauma, you may also find yourself charged with animal cruelty if the attempt is unsuccessful, making a painful event even more difficult for you. 

That being said, euthanazia is a different process and one that you may wish to speak with your vet about. When an animal is euthanized by a professional they’re first sedated and then given an overdose of anesthesia in a controlled environment that allows them to pass away peacefully. Euthanazia can cost anywhere from $35 to $400 depending on whether you have it done in a clinic or at home.

Before you resort to euthanazia, it’s worth speaking to your vet about whether or not they offer a payment plan that would allow you to slowly pay off the cost of any medication or treatment your dog may need in the final days and weeks of their life. There may be options available to you that would allow you to spend more precious time with your pup while ensuring they remain comfortable at the same time. 

What can I do for a sick dog with no money?

If your vet is unable to set up a payment plan for you, there are several avenues that you can explore that will enable you to either drastically reduce the cost of euthanazia, or other medical treatments, or have the cost wiped all together. Here are a few resources that you can look into:

  • Your vet - the first step, once again, is to speak with your vet. While they may not be able to offer a payment plan, they may be prepared to reduce the cost of treatment or do it for free given the circumstances. 
  • A low cost vet - if your usual vet isn’t able to do this, they will likely have the contact details for any low-cost vets who happen to be in your area. These clinics specialize in offering pet parents in dire financial straits a way to get their dog the care they need without the huge price tag.
  • Your local shelter - animal shelters live and breathe animal welfare, so drastically reduced or free access to their vet services is something they will usually happily extend to pet parents who are facing extreme financial hardship. 
  • Website resources - there are a range of different fundraising options available to you, including crowdfunding platforms and organizations that offer financial hardship grants. Examples include RedRover, who offer urgent care grants and financial assistance through their RedRover Relief program, Waggle, a crowdfunding platform where pet parents help each other out, and the Humane Society, who have a list of resources for owners in financial crisis. 
  • Apply for CareCredit - this is a loan that is specifically for pet healthcare.  
  • Look for a veterinary teaching hospital - some teaching and nonprofit hospitals offer subsidized care that allows their students to learn the ropes of being a vet while offering you reduced services in the process. For teaching hospitals in your area, check out the American Veterinary Medical Association’s list of accredited veterinary colleges.

As you can see from the above list, there are lots of routes you can take to seek financial relief and ensure that your dog gets the care they need. 

Why do vets charge so much?

A rising pet population and longer lifespans coupled with rapidly increasing prices for drug and pharmaceutical products and more advanced medical technology means that veterinary care is now more expensive than ever. Advanced diagnostic tools, such as MRI’s simply weren’t available for pets 20 years ago, and while it’s wonderful that we do now have access to a much wider range of testing and treatment options, they don’t come cheap.

Another explanation is that more and more veterinary clinics are being bought up by big corporations who determine the prices and leave the vets themselves with no flexibility or option to keep costs down. 

There are also more barriers to pet insurance these days, so even if people decide that the answer to the question ‘is pet insurance worth it?’ is a resounding yes, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll qualify for it. For some of us, our credit score or low income may immediately rule us out of the running. 

Finally, many of us underestimate the cost that goes into running a veterinary hospital. Clinics are also facing the same increases to fixed overheads that we are, so higher rent, utilities, property taxes, medical disposal fees and building maintenance charges means that vets need to up their prices in order to continue to provide the services they do.

They also need to keep their pharmacy stocked with all the drugs our pets need when they’re unwell, their food cupboards full for pets that need to stay overnight, ensure they have all the surgical and diagnostic equipment required to perform their job and pay the salaries of their staff. As you can imagine, all of these things are expensive and a portion of this cost understandably needs to be passed down to pet parents. 

How do I deal with high vet bills?

One of the most important considerations when you become a pet parent is to think about whether you feel you can afford pet insurance, and, if you can, whether this feels like the right option for you. Pet insurance doesn’t cover everything, so it’s important to check the policy carefully for exclusions, but for many things it can give you peace of mind that your pet can receive the treatment they need when they need it.

If you’d like to learn more about pet insurance for the future, you’ll find our pet insurance advice helpful when it comes to what to be on the lookout for when you’re shopping for the best policy. We also recommend you take a look at our guide for how to choose pet insurance to enable you to get the maximum perks for your pet for the least money. 

When pet insurance isn’t an option, we recommend trying to negotiate an installment plan with your vet or contact one of the resources above, such as RedRover, to see if you might qualify for financial relief. As a last resort, you could consider putting the bill on your credit card or applying for a personal loan, both of which will enable you to pay the bill off at a slower rate. 

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.