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Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope

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Pets are considered beloved members of the family and like any member of the family, their health and wellness are important — but expensive.

According to the American Kennel Club,1 some of the costs of owning a pet annually (in this case a dog) include:

  • Food – $120-$900 per year
  • Grooming – Up to $1,400 per year
  • Health services – $700-$1,500 per year
  • Toys and treats – $35-$250 per year

Let’s not forget about other things like boarding services, collars, crates, dog walkers, emergency vet fees, leashes, pet insurance, supplements and training — and carpet cleaning, sofa reupholstery, and other shenanigans-related costs.

As of 2024, the cost of owning a pet is on the rise. Rover.com, the world’s largest online marketplace for loving pet care, recently released its fifth iteration of the True Cost of Pet Parenthood Report for dogs and cats and found that annual costs for dog essentials ranges from $1,000 to $5,225 a year with a median monthly cost of $260.2,3 

Many pet owners can go into debt because of their pets, which may lead them to decide against pet care altogether. 

According to Marketwatch,4 nearly 33% of pet owners without pet insurance said they’ve avoided taking their pet to the vet to prevent a high bill, compared to just 22% of pet insurance holders.

Pet owners may even be tempted to abandon their pets at a shelter or turn to euthanasia. All of these stressors beg the question: How do you find a free veterinarian clinic or a free vet visit for your pet? 

Whether you are searching for a low-cost vet, a free dog clinic, or a free cat clinic, here are some ideas on how you can find a free vet exam, including a free emergency vet visit, for your furry family members: 

Where to get a free vet exam

Where to get free pet medications

Will pet insurance keep costs down?

Where to get a free vet exam

Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

If you are interested in where to get a free vet exam, there are some organizations and programs that offer free or low-cost veterinary services. Some examples include local animal shelters, nonprofit shelters, and veterinary schools, many of which use a lower-cost pricing model.

Local animal shelters

Animal shelter employees with a pug. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

Depending on where you live, some local animal shelters may offer free or low-cost veterinary services. However, each facility varies in what services they offer. 

For example, the Tree House Humane Society in Chicago5 refers to itself as a Veterinary Wellness Center (VWC). While not a full vet clinic, they do offer limited services to dogs and cats, including exams, testing, neuter and spay surgeries, and vaccinations — the basics and essentials of vet care.

Lower pricing is available for those who need government assistance, while general public pricing is also available for all others. Again, this will vary by city, state, and shelter. Most animal shelters have locations and appointments that can be made online or over the phone.

Depending on the service, a deposit may be required upon booking an appointment. For example, the Tree House Humane Society requires a $10 deposit for vaccinations and $25 for neuter/spay surgeries.

Nonprofit clinics or shelters

Vet clinic workers examine a cat. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

If you are searching for a low-cost veterinarian, check out nonprofit clinics or shelters in your area. Pet Help Finder6 is powered by Open Door Veterinary Collective, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and helps pet owners find financially friendly pet resources, such as:

  • Boarding services
  • Pet food assistance including food pantry and supplies
  • Pet supplies
  • Spay and neuter clinics
  • Vaccines
  • Veterinary care and services

Simply go to the website and select from three categories: veterinary services, food pantry and supplies, or boarding and services. Then select your city, state, and zip code. From there, you will be able to select from a list of free veterinarian clinics near you to help you locate a low-cost vet.

If you need boarding services for your pet, there are less traditional options like Trusted Housesitters and Home Exchange, where people stay in your home to watch your pets while you travel.

Veterinary schools

A veterinarian student with a dog patient. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

Veterinary schools are usually less expensive than animal hospitals and clinics, since procedures are performed by students but supervised by a vet. 

Veterinary colleges and schools may even have a veterinary teaching hospital on campus, like the University of Illinois,7 which provides services for cats, dogs, exotic animals, horses, and large animals. 

Some institutions may offer free emergency vet services and emergency assistance programs. Check out the American Veterinary Medical Association's list of accredited veterinary colleges for a location near you.

Mobile vet clinics, pet stores, and vet clinics in less populated areas may be less expensive or offer a free vet exam or a low-cost vet visit.

Free spay and neuter clinics

Dog wears a cone after spay/neuter surgery. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

If you are looking for a free vet exam or a free vet visit, you may also be wondering how you can find free spay or neuter clinics in your area. Organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offer low-cost spay and neuter programs in various cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Western North Carolina. You can visit their website to see if they offer a free vet near you or at least a low-cost veterinarian option.

Some places may even host free spay and neuter events. For example, the city of Chicago’s Animal Care and Control hosts a clinic twice a month from May to July that offers free spaying and neutering services, as well as various vaccinations and microchipping, for dogs and cats. 

Some of these events will only service the first 100 dogs/cats to show up, so plan accordingly. 

Major cities may also offer a list of low-cost spay and neuter clinics around town. Check your local government website to see what is available nearby.

Free dental clinics for pets

Taking care of those pearly whites is not only important for human members of the family, but for dogs and cats as well, and if you are looking for free dental care for pets, there may be some options. 

Pet Dental Services9 (PDS) offers anesthesia-free dental care for dogs and cats under the supervision of licensed veterinarians throughout the country. With 100+ locations around the country, PDS is a quality option for quality care. Though services are not free, pet owners may be able to find some low-cost options. 

You can also check the Animal Humane Society Veterinary Centers for low-cost dental services like dental cleanings and extractions.

Keep in mind when booking dental services that most clinics and organizations price teeth cleaning by the size and weight of your dog or cat. This is because smaller pets need less anesthesia (that is, if you need to book an appointment for a cleaning that requires anesthesia). 

Dr. Bethany Hsia, DVM and co-founder of CodaPet, a network of licensed veterinarians that provides in-home pet euthanasia and cremation services, says that some local chapters of The Humane Society offer affordable dental care services for pets. 

“In addition, some animal shelters partner with veterinarians to provide discounted or free dental care as part of their community outreach programs,” Hsia says.

Free emergency vet

Free emergency vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

Emergency vets can be hard to come by, let alone a free emergency vet. If you are unsure what qualifies as emergency veterinary care, you can always call your primary care vet to describe the symptoms your dog or cat is experiencing. 

Some veterinary colleges, animal shelters, and community clinics offer emergency assistance programs for animals on a limited basis.

Emergency vet payment plans

Unfortunately, not all emergency vet hospitals offer payment plans, but some do. It simply depends on the individual practice and its guidelines, but if you need some assistance to help cover emergency vet bills, there are a few options:

  • Negotiate a payment plan with your veterinarian if available. Some veterinarians also work with third-party billing services, which allow you to pay over time.
  • Get a second opinion (if it’s not an emergency situation, of course). This may give you the option to work with a low-cost vet or one that offers payment plans.
  • Look for an animal shelter, community clinic, or veterinary college near you that offers discounted services for pets. 

Dr. Hsia also suggests CareCredit, a credit card specifically designed for health care expenses, including veterinary care. 

“It offers payment plans with low or no interest for a certain period,” she says.

Free vet services

Vets examine dog. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

You may be able to find the following free vet services at the locations mentioned above or by searching for free vet care in your area.

Vaccinations and routine check-ups

An orange tabby cat receives a vaccine. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

The American Animal Hospital Association8 (AAHA) recommends all dogs receive core vaccinations, which include:

  • +/- Parainfluenza
  • Adenovirus
  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Rabies

These vaccinations may be given on their own, like the rabies vaccine, or as a combination vaccine, where two or more vaccinations are covered in one shot. Some of these vaccines also require booster shots, usually every 1-3 years depending on the vaccine.

Puppies can usually begin getting vaccinated at 4-5 weeks old, but here is a vaccine recommendation schedule from the AAHA to see when your dog can start getting vaccinated.

Cats also need vaccinations. These include:

  • FCV (Feline calicivirus)
  • FHV-1 (Feline herpesvirus-1)
  • FPV (Feline panleukopenia)
  • FeLV (Feline leukemia)
  • Rabies

Kittens can usually start getting vaccinations around 4 weeks old, but you can use this lifestyle-based vaccine calculator to learn more about what your cat may need and at what age.

Low-cost pet euthanasia

Pet owner holds her dog's paws after euthanasia. Broke but your pet is sick? Free vets are hard to come by, but there’s hope if you need free pet care.

As of 2024, U.S. News & World Report10 reports that euthanasia services usually begin around $50-$100, though the cost varies widely depending on the size of your dog, the facility you use, and where you live. These services can climb as high as $1,000 depending on the type of provider or service you use.

Dr. Hsia says emergency hospitals are the most expensive locations for euthanasia.

“Some low-cost options include local animal shelters, humane societies, and some veterinary schools. Some pet charities provide financial assistance for pet owners facing financial hardship to help cover the cost of euthanasia.”

If you are searching for the phrase “low-cost pet euthanasia near me,” there may be a few options. 

For example, the Animal Humane Society11 offers end-of-life euthanasia for $90, while places like the Anti-Cruelty Organization of Chicago12 suggest a $50 donation for euthanasia services, which will be used to provide care to the animals in their shelter.

You can also ask local animal hospitals, clinics, or veterinarians if they offer low-cost pet euthanasia services.

Where to get free pet medications

Free pet medications can be hard to come by, though there are some low-cost pet medication options for your dog or cat. Websites like GoodRX offer pet prescription options where users can compare prices from local pharmacies, major online pet medication retailers, and other sources to help find the lowest prices for all your pet medication needs. 

Another option is BuzzRx, a free prescription discount service that allows pet owners to save on pet prescriptions that can be filled at human pharmacies (e.g., Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, etc.). Users can download their card online or with their app, which can help users save up to 80% off prescription medications at 60K+ pharmacies nationwide.

Other companies, like 1-800-PetMeds and Chewy, offer online coupons where you can save on basic subscriptions like flea, heartworm, and tick medications.

If you need prescription help for the human members of your family, check out our post on free or cheap prescriptions.

Will pet insurance keep costs down?

Your entire family is most likely covered by health insurance, which begs the question, Do you need pet insurance, and who should consider pet insurance anyway?

One of the major pros of pet insurance is that it gives you financial protection over major vet bills — but not routine care. Think of things like a broken bone or a cancer diagnosis. If you do not have pet insurance, you will be responsible for paying for those vet visits out of pocket, and that can add up.

Pet insurance premiums depend on factors such as the age and breed of the pet, coverage limits, and deductibles. A typical pet insurance policy with a $100 deductible will require a monthly premium of $63.05, though deductibles can range from $200, $250, $500, and $1,000. 

The average cost for monthly health insurance is around $15-$90 per month.

Pet insurance offers a range of annual limit options ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, while others may be $10,000 to $15,000, and yet still some companies offer unlimited coverage options. Keep in mind that the higher the annual limit, the more you will pay in monthly premiums.

Do some basic math to decide if insurance is worth it for you. As with any insurance, the house always wins, and you may end up paying more in premiums than you receive in benefits. 

For example, if you have a pet insurance policy with a $500 deductible and your vet bill is $1,000, you will be responsible for the $500 while your pet insurance provider will pick up the remaining $500. 

If pet insurance is $50 per month, you would pay $600 annually in premiums + a $500 deductible, or $1,100 before benefits kick in. 

If your pet is young and healthy, it may make more sense to save $50 monthly towards future vet expenses, which may or may not be needed.

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SOURCES

  1. “How Much Will You Spend on Your Dog in His Lifetime?” Jan Reisen for American Kennel Club. Jan 28, 2019. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/how-much-spend-on-dog-in-lifetime/
  2. “The Cost of Dog Parenthood in 2024,” The Dog People, powered by Rover.com. https://www.rover.com/blog/cost-of-dog-parenthood/
  3. “The Cost of Cat Parenthood in 2024,” The Dog People, powered by Rover.com. https://www.rover.com/blog/cost-of-cat-parenthood/
  4. “2024 Pet Insurance Survey: Fearing Costs, 30% of Pet Owners Have Avoided the Vet,” Kristina Zagame for MarketWatch. Dec 28, 2023. https://www.marketwatch.com/guides/pet-insurance/pet-insurance-survey/
  5. Tree House Humane Society. https://treehouseanimals.org/
  6. College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Teaching Hospital. University of Illinois. https://vetmed.illinois.edu/hospital/veterinary-teaching-hospital/
  7. “2022 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines,” The American Animal Hospital Association. https://www.aaha.org/resources/2022-aaha-canine-vaccination-guidelines/
  8. Pet Dental Services. https://petdentalservices.com/
  9. “Dog Euthanasia: How Much Does It Cost To Say Goodbye?” by Fiona Tapp for U.S. News & World Report. March 11, 2024. https://www.usnews.com/insurance/pet-insurance/dog-euthanasia-cost
  10. “End-of-life services,” Animal Humane Society. https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/resource/end-life-services
  11. “End-of-life services,” Anti-Cruelty. https://anticruelty.org/end-of-life

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