Pets require healthcare just like you and me, and just like you and me that healthcare can be shockingly expensive—especially as your cat or dog gets older and acquires more issues. We collectively spend more than $135 billion on our animal friends, and a lot of that money goes to visits to the local veterinarian, where a routine examination costs an average of $60-$100 depending on where you live and how many pets you have. But that cost skyrockets if your pet requires more than just an examination. Anything that requires a few tests and treatments can quickly run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
If you’re currently not sitting on a spare thousands of dollars (or even a spare dozens of dollars), and you’re not sure how you’ll afford care for your cat or dog, there are resources out there that can get you free vet care.
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Your first and easiest option for free veterinary care is telemedicine. Conducted via chat or an app on your phone, you can interface with a licensed veterinarian, describe symptoms, and receive advice—and in some cases, prescriptions on the spot (there might be a cost for any medications you get, though).
It’s important to know that many states legally forbid vets from making diagnoses or prescribing medications without an in-person visit. This is slowly changing in the wake of the telehealth boom, but you should understand the law in your area before you rely on a pet telehealth service.
Still, you can get 100% free vet advice this way from:
Chewy. Chewy’s Connect with a Vet program offers a variety of free services as long as you have a basic Chewy account, which is free to set up. Anyone with an account can chat with a vet from 6 a.m. to midnight ET. If you’re an autoship customer (meaning you get automatic deliveries of pet food or other supplies on a set schedule), you can set up a video call for free (otherwise you can pay $19.99 per 20-minute call). Chatting with a vet is never going to be as effective as a physical examination, but this can be a great option if you just need some questions answered or need to determine if your pet’s behavior is something to be concerned about.
PetIQ. PetIQ maintains a free Veterinary Helpline (1-800-775-4519) that anyone can call. You can describe your pet’s symptoms or behavior to a veterinary professional, or simply ask questions, and receive advice and guidance at no cost. Again, this is no substitute for a full examination, but it can be very useful for dealing with minor problems—or determining if the time has come to smash that piggy bank emergency fund for Fido.
Many veterinary schools offer low-cost and free vet services as a way to give their students hands-on, real-world experience. These programs vary from school to school (and often vary year-to-year depending on funding), so you’ll have to contact schools in your area to find out if they are currently operating any free clinics. For example, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine operates a monthly free clinic in Knights Landing, Calif. You can find a list of accredited veterinary colleges here.
There are many free (or very low-cost) veterinary services out there, though they tend to be scattered and usually require proof of income before offering cost-free services or financial assistance that can reduce or eliminate the cost of your pet’s care:
Pet Help Finder offers a search engine that will show vet services in your area that offer financial assistance or payment plans; many of these will offer free services if your financial situation qualifies. Just narrow your search by the services you need and your location.
Findhelp is a database of local free and low-cost services. After entering your zip code, you can search for veterinary services and filter the results to show free services in your area.
ASPCA, Humane Society, and Nonprofits. The ASPCA and local Humane Societies operate cost-free animal clinics for cats and dogs in some areas of the country. Local nonprofit organizations often offer free veterinary clinics, like this one in Newark, N.J. Since these are often patchwork services that depend on funding and donations, you’ll have to search in your local area to find out what’s available.
It can be a challenge to pay veterinary bills, especially when an emergency hits. With these resources, you might be able to take care of your cat or dog without having to splash out at all.