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Dreaded emergency vet visits — here's how much they really cost

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Pet emergencies may be more expensive than you think

With all the talk about health care recently, all the pet parents might need to think about their fur babies, too. Exactly how much can it cost for a pet to be treated? The answers might surprise you.

When we reached out to get some numbers, we were shocked. We aren't talking about hundreds of dollars but rather thousands! How do those costs add up so fast, and what can you do about it?

How much can a pet emergency cost?

Many of the people we asked quoted multiple thousands of dollars.

  • Lisa Martin's ex's dog racked up a bill of $4,000 after being hit by a car.
  • Gayle Carson has had three animals (of many) over the years with pet emergencies that racked up charges of $5,000 — each.
  • Amy Krakow's Weimaraner needed emergency surgery for bloat (a very serious condition), which cost around $3,000.

Why so expensive?

When we take our pets to the vet, it always seems like their appointments are so much cheaper than ours, but when it's an emergency, the tab can get out of hand. Kristen Vance, a veterinarian with Homeward Bound Mobile Vet, says there are many factors involved. She tells us that in an ER setting, there are often more expensive supplies needed to treat animals. They'll need diagnostics like blood work and X-rays done and may even need IV medications.

Another emergency vet reached out to us to explain even more. Melanie Galanis of Artemis Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Services gave us a little breakdown of prices. The prices she gave are specific to the mid-Atlantic area, and at least one other person noted that even in the same city, prices can vary greatly, so you can't "take these to the bank," but the info she provided us is invaluable in showing how it gets so expensive so quickly.

  • Emergency visit: $90-$120
  • Diagnostics (i.e., radiographs, blood work, etc.): $200-$250 each
  • Outpatient treatment: Starts at $200
  • 24 hours of Hospitalization (including IV fluids and meds, etc.): Starts at $1,200

She goes on to note that larger dogs (over 80 pounds) could be more expensive because they need more of things like meds and fluids. She also warns that if the emergency requires anesthesia and surgery, the cost could easily exceed $3,000 to $4,000 for things like bloat or a C-section.

Pet emergencies may be more expensive than you think

Image: Giphy

How to afford an emergency

When we put our call out for input on this, we asked if there was anything people could do to lower the cost. We even asked about negotiating the price (you can do it with human doctors, so why not?). But the vets noted that they're unlikely to negotiate (at least not as much as you'd like). They don't charge as much markup as human doctors, but they still have bills to pay.

We also asked about payment plans, but that's unlikely, too, it seems. Since you typically only see an emergency vet when you have an emergency, they don't have the relationship with you your normal vet may, and it just isn't good business sense. They have a building to pay for, equipment they need and the supporting employees they pay. And that's fair.

But that's not the end of it. In fact, several of the people who responded (including the vets) did have advice.

Communicate. Dr. Galanis said that it's imperative for owners to communicate with the vet about their finances. They can work with you to find cheaper alternatives without compromising your pet's health when at all possible. She also suggests staying current with your wellness visits and to consider (for medications that apply) having them filled at human pharmacies where they may (or may not) be cheaper. But that's not the only option.

Get pet insurance. Jim Angleton, president of AEGIS FinServe Corp., had several emergency vet situations with his animals over the years. While it's not a product his company sells, Angleton took the time to respond personally in the hopes his own personal experiences could help other pet owners. According to him, pet insurance "is a must and worth every penny." He says his premiums are only $59 a month with a deductible of $500 and that his meds cost much less.

Get specialized credit. Another secret several respondents (including vets) noted was CareCredit. And it's not just for your pets but for you, too. It's built-in financing for medical needs (even your pet's). Lisa Martin, who you might remember from an example above, says her boyfriend had CareCredit and it saved him (and his dog). She's not the only one who recommended it, but she spoke so highly, she had to close with, "And no, I do not represent the company! I am just a huge fan."

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