Published in the February 1 – 14, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

With the joy of pet ownership comes the burden of paying the bills. Most of us can budget and plan for the costs of acquiring the pet, the initial supplies and monthly costs associated with food, etc. But when it comes to veterinary costs, it comes as an unwelcome surprise to many.

During the initial phase, you can expect to invest some money in puppy/kitten vaccines, flea medication, heartworm medication and updating vaccines if you have adopted an adult pet. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that a pet adopted from a shelter or rescue has had all the necessary vaccines. Most (although not all) will give the necessary vaccines for the age and the time frame that the animal has been there. This does not necessarily mean that everything has been completed.

During your initial exam with the veterinarian, you can obtain prices for different maintenance medications (flea and heartworm) and budget for such expenses. It tends to be the unexpected trips to the emergency vet and sick visits that cause financial hardship for many pet owners. A case of vomiting/diarrhea or pancreatitis that requires blood work, x-rays and medications may run $500-plus. A pet that has eaten a foreign body (such as a rock, toy, sock, etc) and needs surgery with hospitalization may have several thousand dollars worth of veterinary bills. A foxtail removal that requires sedation may come with a bill up to $400 once the pet has been sent home with medications.

Be proactive when you notice something out of the ordinary with your pet. Daytime costs are much less than after hours expenses at an emergency facility. Anytime that you notice your pet has an issue, don’t wait … call and have him evaluated. It is very common for people to call at the end of the day saying that they have watched their pet vomit all day. Now that person is stuck going to the emergency clinic, where everything is significantly more expensive.


Some pet owners keep an emergency fund for each pet to help with unexpected costs. The amount people set aside varies, but the point is to have something set aside for these emergencies. Emergency clinics require payment at the time of service and do not take payments. You would likely have at least a portion if not the entire estimated cost prior to any work being performed. This is a common practice. Charging expenses to a credit card is an option; however, a growing number of veterinarians will also accept Care Credit, a credit card that can be used for pets as well as at your own doctor or dentist’s offices. Typically, if the amount qualifies, Care Credit offers six months with no interest to pay off your bill.

Pet insurance is another option to help with expenses. The insurance is most beneficial if purchased when the pet is first adopted and before any issues at all are documented. Read your policy carefully, as most will have a waiting period before coverage will take effect. Keep in mind, however, that insurance works on a reimbursement basis. You will still have to pay the facility for the services and the insurance will reimburse you if the services are determined to be covered.

Owning a pet has many benefits but it does come with its costs. Be financially prepared for your pet. Do some research to determine how much to budget and set aside some extra for these unexpected expenses.

Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay received her undergraduate degrees in biology, biochemistry and Spanish from the College of Notre Dame, Belmont. She graduated from U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.