What if you can’t afford to take your sick pet to the vet? Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

What happens when people can’t afford to pay for their sick pets? Listen to this week’s podcast to hear about the various options.

Veterinary care can be expensive, just like human medical care. Everyone assumes that this is because vets rake it in, but it’s important to note that if vets offered their services for free, this would only result in around 20-25% reduction in the costs to owners. In other words, 75-80% of the price paid goes to cover the overheads and other costs, from staff to buildings to diagnostic equipment to laboratory fees to medicines. Added to this, VAT has to be added at 13.5% to vets’ fees, so the government gets a chunk of what pet owners pay too.
So the bottom line is that it takes valuable resources to give pets the medical care that thy need when they fall ill or have an accident.
For many people, this is one of those unfortunate but necessary facts of life: when your pet falls ill, you just need to scrape together the buttons to somehow manage to afford it. (I had to do this myself recently when my cat fell ill: I had to spend over €1700 at UCD veterinary hospital on CT scans and surgery to treat her for a complex illness.) But what about for people who are already living on the financial edge; what are they supposed to do when a pet falls ill?

There are five options

  1. Charity clinics

    Blue Cross mobile clinics http://www.bluecross.ie/mobileclinic.html and some other animal welfare groups around the country offer a service for people who can’t afford the vet. The Irish Blue Cross provides an evening mobile clinic service for needy pet owners throughout Dublin. The busier-than-ever mobile clinic service attends ten weekly destinations and is dependent on the goodwill of volunteer drivers, helpers and vets. At least 18,000 treatments and vaccinations are carried out at the mobiles each year. The service is intended for genuinely needy pet owners unable to afford private veterinary fees.
    As back-up to their mobile clinic work, a full range of low-cost surgeries and procedures, including vaccinations and microchipping is available at the charity’s Inchicore small-animal clinic. All that’s required is that pet owners must be genuinely needy in order to avail of services at the small-animal clinic, similar to the mobile clinics
    Cabra West
    BallyfermotTesco Shopping Centre car park
    Clinics operate from 6.30pm – 8pm. Clients are advised to arrive early. Last registration is 7.30pm.
    Mobile clinic consultation fee includes examination and basic medication €25
    Please note that if your pet requires additional medication, there will be an additional fee and our vet will advise you of this in advance.

  2. Private vets working to tight budgets

    Vets are well aware that many people struggle to afford their fees. While the ideal diagnostic and treatment plan may not be affordable, it is possible to work around a budget. E.g. some conditions may have bronze, silver and gold approaches.  If a client is well known to a vet clinic, payment plans can sometimes be negotiated and agreed. Sadly, many vets have experiences of people not following through with such plans, so they may be reluctant to embark on them, especially if there is no prior relationship with the clinic and the pet owner is not known to them. The bottom line is that owners need to be up front with vets about their financial situation. Vets are always happy to do up estimates for treatment in advance and owners are free to shop around: there are no set fees in the vet world, and it is a free market. Vets’ fees vary from place to place, and different levels of service are available at different prices

  3. Pet insurance

    There are several insurance providers – for a monthly sum as little as €8, a dog or cat can be insured. Then if they fall ill, the insurance will cover the lion’s share of the vet’s costs. It’s very important to read the details (so-called small print) of any policy that you sign up to . There is no point in having insurance that doesn’t pay out when you need it, so check the exclusions, etc before handing over your money.

  4. Crowd funding

    This is a new trend: people write up the story about their pet, and appeal for financial help on social media. While this can work well, it is open to abuse: is there really a sick pet in the background or is it all fiction?

  5. Economic euthanasia

    This is the ultimate in sadness; when a pet is euthanased because the owner cannot afford the treatment. Owners – and vets – will do their utmost to avoid this scenario, but the truth is that sometimes there is no other option.

Pet queries from listeners

Pete answered the usual wide range of questions from owners about their own pets. You can hear his answers in the podcast.


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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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