It is always good advice, and in fact one of the core responsibilities of pet ownership, that you should make sure before you get a pet of any kind that you can take care of them and can afford to pay for everything that they need for the entire duration of their lives. However, with the best will in the world, sometimes even the most conscientious of pet owners will fall victim to fate; redundancy, loss of their job, ill health causing them to be unable to work, or finding out that a condition that is diagnosed in their pet is not covered by their insurance policy. If you find yourself in the position of needing veterinary treatment for your pet but are unable to pay or struggling to cover the costs, what can you do? Is there any help available, and what happens if your pet is in pain or suffering, and you simply don’t have the funds to get them treated? Read on for some advice.
For the pet owner who is faced with a sick or suffering animal and no means of paying for their treatment, being told ‘you shouldn’t have got into this position in the first place, you are irresponsible’ is probably the most unhelpful and un-empathic thing they can hear. However, it would be remiss of us not to mention in the first instance that you simply should not get a pet to begin with if you do not reasonably expect that you can take care of them and pay for any treatment that they might need. You should not get a pet with the expectation that you will be able to get financial help or be able to rely on any third party to help you to pay; the responsibility to pay for your pet’s treatment falls on your shoulders, and yours alone. Even if you are on a low income, and perhaps especially so, insuring your pet and paying a monthly premium can help to cover the costs of any emergency; as can making a regular payment into a layaway scheme with your local vet, to offset the cost of future treatments.
If your pet suddenly becomes very sick or gets seriously injured and you simply do not have the money to pay for veterinary treatment on the spot, you must take your animal to the vets anyway. Veterinary surgeons are obliged, as part of their RCVS registration and the pledges that they made upon training and qualifying to become a vet, to provide emergency treatment to a minimum level that will ease pain and suffering. This may mean administering treatment to a very basic level for a short period until an alternative can be decided upon, or by euthanizing a seriously injured animal that is suffering without respite. You should always be upfront and honest with your veterinary surgeon about your ability to pay for your pet’s treatment. Veterinary surgeons are animal lovers, but they are not charities, and they are only obliged to provide basic, short-term care for a suffering pet, not to bankroll ongoing treatments. If you are honest with your vet in times of need, you may well find that they are more than willing to work out a budget and repayment scheme with you for extended treatment, or be able to point you in the direction of charities and organisations that can help to fund the needed treatments.
There are several national organisations that provide support and funding or veterinary help to pet owners in genuine financial difficulties, and often various small independent local operations as well. Most charities have very firmly set criteria as to their eligibility process, who they can help and to what extent, and some of them will require you to register your pet as part of their scheme before treatment is required. Few charities will provide financial support for foreseen and preventative costs, such as vaccinations, but some will assist people on low incomes to help to pay for spaying and neutering.
The PDSA Vet Care scheme is available to people who live within the catchment area of a PDSA animal hospital, or a veterinary practice that accepts the scheme. Most areas will have at least one practice that partakes in the scheme. In order to be eligible for assistance, you must be in receipt of either council tax benefit or housing benefit, and live within the defined area covered by a PDSA affiliated practice. You will also be expected to make a contribution towards the cost of the treatment given, and many practices will only allow you to register one pet for treatment under the scheme. Unless it is an emergency, you will also generally be expected to have your pet registered under the scheme before treatment is needed. More information on the PDSA Vet Care scheme can be found here.
The Blue Cross is a pet care charity that also operates a range of animal hospitals that provide means-tested discounted treatments for pets whose owners are on a low income or otherwise unable to pay. Most of their clinics and services operate within the London area, including a dedicated pet ambulance service, although there are also animal hospitals in Southampton, Felixstowe, Tiverton and Bromsgrove. The Blue Cross also offers services such as discounted vaccinations, microchipping and spaying and neutering at their hospitals. If eligible, you can register up to two pets with The Blue Cross for treatment. More information can be found here.
The RSPCA has a range of clinics and practices across the UK, offering low cost veterinary care to people in need. Each clinic or practice has its own guidelines as to eligibility, so contact your local branch for advice. More information about the RSPCA’s veterinary and financial aid services can be found here.
The Dogs Trust helps people on low incomes, including homeless people, to cover the cost of spaying and neutering, and in some cases, subsidises veterinary care for dogs. More information is on their website.
UK Cats Protection may provide financial assistance with the cost of spaying and neutering cats, but they do not operate any other financial assistance schemes for veterinary care. To learn about the Cats Protection’s scheme to assist with the cost of spaying and neutering, click here.
Many small, independent charities operate in various areas of the UK, and may be able to provide you with financial assistance or advice on getting treatment for your pet. Ring around your local pet charities for advice, or ask your vet if they have any suggestions.
Remember, pet charities have finite funds, and are always stretched to the limit in terms of the need for help versus their ability to provide it. Seeking financial help or treatment from a charity should only be done as a last resort; and if at all possible, you should make a contribution of as much as you can towards the cost of your pet’s treatment. All of the charities and organisations listed above actively welcome donations towards the cost of the work that they do; can you afford to make a small donation now to help pets in need across the UK?
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