Pet Wellness Guides > Do You Have to Pay Vet Bills Upfront? - Pet Insurance Review

Do You Have to Pay Vet Bills Upfront?

Posted: 06/05/2023 | BY: Jenna Bruce | Categories: Pet care , Top Tips , Vets

Do you have to pay vet bills upfront? It’s a question a lot of new pet parents ask and it’s an important one. After all, our pets are precious members of our family and we want to be certain we can pay for their care should they become ill or injured.

If you’re new to pet parenthood, you may not know just how expensive caring for pets can be. As an example, a study by veterinary students from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine found that the average cost of owning a dog is roughly $23,410 over the course of the dog’s life. Now much of that cost will be for things like food, bedding, toys and boarding. But veterinary care will also factor into the cost of pet ownership. 

Synchrony’s Lifetime of Care study reports that yearly health-related expenses for a dog range from $534 to $1,285 and $374 to $965 for a cat. This doesn’t take into account the possible need for emergency vet care. It is the unexpected accidents and illnesses that result in pet parents being hit with a bill for thousands of dollars. But in these scenarios, are you really expected to pay this entire bill upfront?

Do You Have to Pay Vet Bills Upfront?

How Much Do Emergency Vet Visits Cost?

A single trip to an emergency vet clinic costs, on average, between $850 and $1,500, with some procedures costing much higher. Costs are primarily based on your pet’s medical emergency. For instance, a dog who sustained a cut on his paw at the beach and requires a few stitches and an antibiotic will incur a small emergency vet bill, perhaps for a few hundred dollars. Compare that to a dog who ingested a sock and requires emergency life-saving surgery to remove the blockage. This second scenario will also require hospitalization for a day or more and can cost $5,000 or more.

The following are a general list of emergency costs. Keep in mind these will vary depending on your location, species, size and specific emergency:

  • Exam: $100-150
  • Basic blood work: $80-200
  • Basic imaging (x-rays or ultrasound): $150-600
  • Hospitalization of 3 to 5 days: $2,000-3,500
  • Emergency surgery: $2,000-5,000

Dogs and cats that need cancer treatment can incur even higher vet bills. CareCredit reports that average costs range from $2,500 for surgery to $15,000 for a bone-marrow transplant.

Why Do Emergency Vets Cost More?

There are quite a few reasons why emergency veterinary medicine costs so much:

Nights | Weekends | Holidays

One of the biggest reasons you’ll get hit with a bigger bill at an emergency clinic is because the staff is there to help pet parents during off hours, including nights, holidays and weekends.These are difficult shifts to cover, especially for people who have families, so it’s natural to want to compensate them to attract talent to these positions.

Do You Have to Pay Vet Bills Upfront?

Advanced Training

The vets and vet techs at these emergency animal hospitals have gone to school to be trained in certain specialities and hold board certifications in emergency medicine and critical care. Even in people medicine, a heart specialist or oncologist will typically command a higher salary than a general practitioner.

Advanced Diagnostics

Specialty hospitals offer more in the way of diagnostic testing and advanced life-saving procedures. These facilities have equipment that regular vet offices don’t have access to such as ultrasounds, MRIs, CTs, and oxygen cages.

All of these factors, and more, are why you will pay more at an emergency clinic than you will at your regular vet’s office. 

What Constitutes a Pet Medical Emergency?

New pet parents sometimes wonder what constitutes a medical emergency. This is something that’s really important to know. You want to be certain you get your fur baby the right kind of care at the right time. But also, knowing an emergency vet bill will cost a great deal, you don’t want to bring your baby to an ER clinic when your regular vet can handle the situation.

Generally speaking, the following guidelines should help you recognize when a trip to the emergency vet clinic is in order:

  • Bleeding ( especially urinating or coughing up blood or blood in the stool)
  • Eye injuries
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating
  • Difficulty breathing or choking
  • Possible ingestion of poison, toxin or foreign object
  • Loss of consciousness, seizures, or staggering around
  • Broken bones or the inability to walk or move
  • Severe pain or distress of any kind
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • Heat stress
  • Not drinking water for more than 24 hours

Pet Insurance Can Help You With Those Bills

Do you have to pay vet bills up front? Yes. Unlike human medicine, an emergency animal clinic will generally not begin treatment until at least a significant down payment has been made, with the balance due upon discharge.

This can be challenging for many pet owners who don’t have large savings. How can they afford to get their fur baby life-saving help?

While there are a few pet insurance companies that will pay the vet directly, the majority will not. This is why it’s a good idea for pet parents to have a dedicated credit card, like Care Credit, to pay the bill immediately, and then have a pet insurance plan that will reimburse you for up to 90% of the bill. Why make monthly payments – with high interest rates attached – when you can have most of that vet bill paid back?

Once a claim has been submitted to your insurance provider, you can have a payment direct deposited into your bank account in as little as 24-48 hours. You can then pay most of your credit card balance off. This is simply the smartest way to pay for emergency vet care these days.

The bottom line is, caring for a dog or cat is a big financial responsibility.  Your best bet is to ensure the best preventative care to avoid serious health conditions. In case of emergencies, have a line or credit or an emergency fund available and enroll your pet into a health insurance plan so you can recoup most of your bill.

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  1. “How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Dog?”
  2. Pet – Lifetime of Care Study, August 2021,

The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.

The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.

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