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Help For Low Income Pet Owners

For many Americans, a pet is a much-loved family member. Caring for an animal can be a serious cost, though, especially when life events rock your budget. Many people buy a pet without a clear idea of what care costs, and others may start out with enough but discover that other events have reduced their ability to support their animal companion. Expect an annual cost of at least $500 for a medium sized dog, potentially much higher.[1] Dr. Louise Murray, vice-president of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, states that pet owners should be prepared to face at least $2000 to $4000 bill for veterinary care.[2] Those are substantial amounts, and for many of us, they can be difficult to bear, especially if there's another crisis going on.

Fortunately, hundreds of organizations across the United States assist low-income pet-owners and their companion animals, with many focusing on low-cost, subsidized or free veterinary care, temporary foster care, pet food banks and more. Some of these options might be perfect for you. Links to resources discussed here are at the end of this article.

Preventive Care
Staying on top of vaccinations, parasite control, weight, exercise, diet, and other preventive care measures are an essential part of reducing its long-term health care costs. Detecting potential problems early on can lessen or eliminate later costs, so you should make sure that your companion has regular exams with the vet. Preventive care is also a good idea from an economic perspective: It's cheaper to treat a problem in its early stages, and treatment is more likely to be effective during this time.

Insurance
We all know that emergencies happen at any moment. But sometimes, we forget how real the possibility is until it's happening to us. What do you do when your pet suddenly succumbs to illness or injury, and you have not set aside any money for emergency veterinary costs? Insurance exists for just these types of crises. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) endorses Pet Insurance, which can help you pay for (and even potentially reimburse you for) unexpected expenses for health care.

Low-Cost Clinics
To save on veterinary expenses, you can shop around and compare the costs of various veterinary clinics. However, be sure to check which services are on offer and compare them to what you need. Some clinics are designed to provide very basic care for the pets of low-income or homeless owners, but such clinics generally can't provide advanced diagnostics, treatment, or even emergency care. Maybe a more expensive option might be worth it after all.

PetFinder.com should help you find low-cost care in your local community.

Talk to Your Vet
Plenty of Americans are in low-income situations, and being on a budget is no cause for embarrassment. If you're short of cash, be honest with your veterinarian about your situation and communicate your financial limitations. Your honesty will enable them to help you better; the vet can tailor their care to your parameters, and recommend the most affordable options. Of course, cheaper health care can have a downside. Your vet may decide to limit diagnostic procedures and focus instead on dealing directly with what he or she perceives to be the problem. Skipping diagnostic procedures such as blood tests may result in problems going unnoticed for extended periods.

As with everything, there are pros and cons to budget veterinary care. The cheaper option has its challenges, but it can have a successful outcome. Your vet can best explain the options and risks of your specific situation.

Payment Plans
Be sure to discuss the subject of payment plans with your veterinarian, including alternative financing options and deferred payments. Unfortunately, individual clinics are often reluctant to offer payment plans and deferred payment options. Irresponsible and dishonest customers have taken advantage of veterinary clinics in the past, leaving many unwilling to take risks. That's why you might want to look into plans like the one offered by Care Credit, which offers you reasonable credit for veterinary care.

If you still can't make payment plan arrangements, some organizations may be willing to help you. Your state veterinary medical association will often have a list of local care organizations. For a list of veterinary medical associations by state, check out the AVMA website.

Notes
1. "Annual Dog Care Costs" . PetFinder.com