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dog in vets office wearing protective cone

The essentials

  • Emergencies can be quite costly, so it’s best to be prepared — Understanding the cost of common emergencies can help you set up or maintain a proper emergency fund for your pet.
  • There are several ways to finance emergency care for your pet — These include pet insurance, setting up a savings account, or even financing through a company like Care Credit.
  • If you’re not sure that your pet needs emergency care, consider telehealth first — Speaking to a professional over the phone or online first. It can save you time and money when assessing your pet’s condition.

As a pet parent, you know that illnesses, accidents, and injuries can happen in the blink of an eye. Getting your pet the help and care they need is going to be your priority. But, this can come with some hefty bills. On average, an emergency exam costs $100-$200 and an overnight stay can cost $,1000-$2,000, and this may or may not include diagnostic tests. To help make sure you’re as prepared as possible, we’ve put together some information to help you know what to expect and how to proactively save for a rainy day.

The cost of emergency vet care

The cost of emergency pet care largely depends on the nature of the emergency. Some midnight diarrhea or on-the-go travel issues may not net you as hefty a bill as difficulty breathing or a seizure.

Regardless of the type of emergency, the first step in the process will include some type of triage and an exam. During the exam, the doctor may recommend (or even require) some diagnostic testing including blood tests, urinalysis, X-rays, or even a CT scan. While these tests may be costly, they will save time and help the doctor come up with the most accurate diagnosis and the best treatment plan. Emergency care may be covered by pet insurance. To give you an idea of anticipated costs – here’s what you can expect to pay for different types of emergencies:

Gastroenteritis ($200 – $3,000). The cost of care for gastroenteritis varies depending on the severity of your pet’s illness. Since a diagnosis comes after ruling out other more serious illnesses, some of this cost may come from testing to ensure that what your pup has is gastroenteritis. The treatment may include subcutaneous (under the skin) or intravenous fluids, a prescription diet, and medication to treat symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. This cost of treatment depends upon the route of fluid administration, length of treatment, specialized diet, and cost of medications.

Poisoning ($200 – $3,000). If your dog ingests something toxic like chocolate, onions, raisins, grapes, cleaning products, mushrooms, plants, or rat/ant poison, call the Pet Poison Helpline (855-764-7661) or ASPCA Poison Control (888-426-4435) first. There is a $75 fee to call either of these numbers, but you will speak to a toxicology team who will advise you on whether or not your dog ingested a toxic dose and needs treatment. They may ask you to bring your dog to an ER hospital where the vet will induce vomiting, perform gastric lavage (stomach pump), or use activated charcoal to absorb the toxin. The cost for treatment depends largely on what your dog ate and which treatments they need.

Seizures ($500 to $5,000). Watching your pup have a seizure can be scary. Your vet’s priority will be to help your dog stop seizing and then to figure out why they are having seizures in the first place. Depending on the age and health of your dog, the vet may recommend a CT scan or MRI under anesthesia to determine the cause of the seizures. The cost for treatment will be higher if your vet is performing diagnostic testing. If your dog has already been diagnosed with a seizure disorder or another health condition that can cause seizures the cost of treatment could be lower as your vet may stabilize your pet and offer additional medication or treatment options as indicated.

Severe trauma ($2,000 – $10,000). Severe injuries caused by blunt force trauma, getting in a fight, or being hit by a car can be costly. Your dog may need to have wounds cleaned and stitched, X-rays or other scans, bones reset, or surgery to repair damage to internal organs. It’s hard to estimate the cost of these types of injuries but it’s important to know they can come with some hefty bills.

Cardiac conditions ($250 – $5,000). If your dog is having heart problems, an acute issue could set you back for an emergency exam, blood pressure check, chest x-rays, ECG, echo (ultrasound) of the heart, and medications to manage the heart disease. Heart surgery is rare but sometimes needed for the placement of a pacemaker or to address a congenital heart defect. If your dog is genetically predisposed to heart disease, then it would be wise to proactively plan for cardiac issues.

Broken bones ($1,500 -$5,000). X-rays will be needed to diagnose a fractured bone. Based on the location and severity of the fracture, your pet may need pain medication and a split or could require orthopedic surgery performed by a boarded surgeon. The cost will vary based on the treatment needed to repair the broken bone. This estimate does not include physical therapy or rehabilitation which may be needed for a full recovery.   

When you bring your pet to the emergency vet for treatment, it’s OK to ask questions about prognosis and the cost of treatment. Remember to stay as calm as possible and remember that the vet staff is doing everything they can to help you and your pet.

How to pay for an emergency visit

When your pet does have an emergency, chances are you will need to make a payment or a credit card deposit for them to receive care. The staff at the emergency room should be able to help you navigate your options and here are some of the most common ways to pay for your pet’s treatment: 

Invest in a pet insurance policy — Pet insurance is a growing category, and many mainstream insurance companies are starting to offer it. Like the health insurance you have, there are different plans but you can expect to pay a monthly or annual premium as well as a deductible. The amount of your deductible and the amount of reimbursement you’ll receive can vary between plans and the insurance company you choose. So, you may want to do some research before purchasing to ensure you understand what and how much the plan covers. It is important to purchase pet insurance early on in dog ownership, because any pre-existing condition may not be covered.

Build an emergency fund — If you don’t want to pay the premiums associated with health insurance or your pup isn’t eligible to be covered for any reason, you may consider building an emergency fund and adding to it regularly. As you can see in this article, emergencies (and even routine medical needs like dental cleanings) can be costly. Preparing for whatever life throws at you will prevent you from having to make big decisions based on the funds available.

Consider financing options, like Care Credit — Care Credit is a financing option that will allow you to pay off the balance from your pet’s care over time. This way, the vet’s office will have the funds needed to cover your pet’s emergency care and you won’t be facing a huge mountain of debt all at once. However, you must qualify for Care Credit based on your credit score and if you qualify, you will be approved for a certain amount of money which you will need to pay off in a certain time or you will be charged a high-interest rate.

Work out a payment plan — Some veterinary practices may allow you to pay a deposit for your pet’s emergency care, then pay the remaining balance over time. This is becoming less common as there is a risk to the veterinary practice of people skipping out on payments. If you do not pay your bill, then the veterinary hospital will likely send you to collections.

Other factors to consider

In addition to the nature of your pet’s emergency, many other things can impact the cost of their care. These include:

  • Location. The cost of care for your pet can depend on where you bring them for care. Regardless, your pet should be cared for by board-certified veterinarians that specialize in different areas of veterinary medicine. Some facilities may also have an intensive care unit (ICU) with oxygen cages and advanced medical equipment including a CT scan and MRI.
  • Breed. Some breeds, like those that are considered brachycephalic (i.e. pugs, American bulldogs), will need additional precautions taken when they receive care. This is especially true when undergoing anesthesia. This may increase the cost of care if your pet is one of these breeds.
  • Specialty. If your pet needs to see a specialist in an emergency like a cardiologist or oncologist, the cost of care will be greater than if they were seeing a general practice emergency vet.
  • Patient status. The severity of the emergency will dictate the cost. If your dog has eaten something toxic, treatment likely will be less costly than having emergency surgery for a blockage or to relieve a case of bloat.

When to visit the emergency vet

While you may always want your pet to receive timely treatment for any issue, large or small, it is important to understand what is an emergency and what can wait. Things like difficulty breathing, seizures, internal bleeding, unable to hold down food or water, black tarry stools, blunt force trauma, and severe vomiting can all be true medical emergencies and should be treated as such.

Consider using telehealth

Telehealth is a great way to determine the severity of your pet’s condition and determine if they need to be seen immediately. When you use telehealth, a veterinarian, tech, or experienced professional will ask about your pet’s symptoms and medical history. This will help determine if you need to bring your pet in immediately or if they can wait until normal business hours to see their regular veterinarian.

The telehealth person may also tell you what to look for to see if your pet’s condition is deteriorating or if there is an increase in the severity of their issue. If those things happen you may want to call back and coordinate getting your pet seen at a vet hospital as soon as possible!

🚨 Get your pet medical attention immediately if you notice that they are having trouble breathing or they are bleeding profusely.

No matter how conscientious you are as a pet owner, emergency vet visits can happen so it’s best to be as prepared as you can. Having a plan in place will help you to feel calm and in control while your pet is getting the best medical care possible. Remember that the medical staff is doing the best they can to help your pet be kind and patient with them.