Pet Emergency Funds: Why You Need One and How to Get Started

One of my closest friends is an avid animal lover. At one point she had 3 dogs, and her routine vet bills were already stretching her tight budget. Then the unthinkable happened – she was out ice fishing with her husband and their dogs when her oldest dog Dexter cut his paw open on a sharp piece of ice.

They rushed him to the local vet where he was treated and sent home to rest. They were grateful that it wasn’t more serious, but with that relief came the stress of how they would cover the bills. Between treatment, after-hours fees and antibiotics, plus missed time at work, they were faced with nearly $1,000 of unexpected vet bills. With no emergency fund in place, they were forced to use their credit card to cover the costs, and ended up paying another $50 in interest before they were able to pay it off.

After this experience, my friend created a special Pet Emergency Fund to make sure she would never be surprised by a vet bill again. This decision came in handy when another one of her dogs swallowed a stick, and when Dexter eventually had to be put down years later. As hard as those experiences still were, she was very glad not to have to be worrying about money during her pets’ time of need.


Why You Need a Pet Emergency Fund

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Dogs are a big responsibility, but our love for them is priceless.

Owning a dog is a big responsibility that comes with significant financial commitments. Between food and treats, toys and vet check-ups, the costs can be staggering. According to the ASPCA, just the routine costs of owning a dog can be upwards of $1,000 per year.

On top of that, most dog owners will experience at least one $2,000 emergency during their pet’s lifetime. Money is the last thing you want to be worrying about when you dog is hurt or ill, so it pays to plan ahead for these unexpected expenses.

Before adding a dog to your family, it’s important to make sure that there is room in your monthly budget for things like food and toys, but you also need to plan for less regular but still necessary costs like vet check-ups and vaccines. A pet emergency fund can not only provide peace of mind in an emergency, but it can also help you spread out the cost of the irregular but expected expenses like vaccines.

When deciding whether you need an emergency fund for your dog, you should consider whether a $2,000 surprise vet bill would create financial strain in your life, or jeopardize other financial goals. If so, an emergency fund is essential to your dog’s health and your peace of mind.

What About Pet Insurance?

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Pet Insurance is becoming more popular.

Pet Insurance is becoming increasingly common in recent years. Although pet insurance can be a great way to ease some of the burden of emergency expenses, relying on your insurance plan to cover all your costs will likely leave your short in an emergency.

Pet insurance plans do not cover all expenses. Plans usually include exclusions for certain conditions or treatments depending on your dog’s breed and any pre-existing health conditions.

You’ll also be on the hook for the deductible – a flat amount or percentage of the total costs that you’ll be expected to pay out of pocket. Once you’ve paid the deductible out of pocket, you will also likely have a co-pay for the balance of the bill – a set percentage that you’ll have to pay out of pocket.

Furthermore, pet insurance plans are typically “reimbursement plans”, meaning you still need to have the funds to pay the bill up front and wait for the plan to refund you. If you have to borrow to pay the bills up front, you’ll have to factor in additional interest costs.

Finally, pet insurance really only helps with vet emergencies. What about other non-medical, last-minute costs? What if you need to be away unexpectedly, and need to pay for boarding, dog sitting or walking services? What if you want to enroll your dog in obedience or agility training? Pet insurance won’t help with these costs, but having a healthy emergency fund can take some of the pressure off.

How Much Do You Need?

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Vet costs can be unpredictable.

For personal emergency funds, I usually recommend that my clients set aside at least 2-3 months worth of income. For a pet emergency fund, you can usually get away with a lot less.

There is no right amount for your pet’s emergency fund. The amount you’ll need will depend on your dog, your circumstances, and your peace of mind. When deciding on a goal for your emergency fund, there are many factors to consider.

Your Planned Uses

The types of expenses you expect your emergency fund to cover will impact your total goal. If you only plan to use it for “true emergencies”, you may need less saved overall.

If you plan to dip into it to cover irregular but expected expenses you’ll need to save more, and continuously top-up the account as you use the funds. Using your emergency fund in this way is a great way to spread out the cost of bigger expenses like vet visits and training fees.

Either way, it’s important to decide ahead of time what expenses qualify for a withdrawal from the emergency fund, and which you’ll be covering out of your regular budget.

Costs of Common Vet Emergencies

There are countless reasons that your dog may require emergency care, and it’s impossible to predict what type of crisis you’ll face and how much it will cost.

You can prepare yourself as best as possible by doing some research on common vet emergencies and average costs. This article from Preventative Vet gives a comprehensive breakdown of the costs of different emergency vet treatments. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Gastrointestinal Issues: $500-$5,000+

Common GI issues like food bloat, gastroenteritis and obstructions are some of the most common reasons for emergency vet visits. Costs can skyrocket if your pet requires surgery or an extended stay at the vet’s.

  • Toxin Ingestion: $250-$5,000+

Many things are toxic for dogs, and the cost of treatment can vary widely depending on what they’ve ingested. You could be looking at as little as $250 if your dog eats chocolate, and as much as $5,000 if they each grapes or medication.

  • Trauma: $250-$8,000+

Some of the scariest emergencies can also be the most expensive. An infected wound may only cost a few hundred dollars, but if your dog is hit by a car or suffers heat stroke, you could be facing thousands in vet bills.

Your Dog’s Breed, Health and Personality

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Different dog breeds can be prone to certain medical issues.

Your ultimate savings goal will depend heavily on your particular dog and your lifestyle.

Certain breeds are more prone to certain medical issues, and your own dog may have pre-existing health issues that could require long-term treatment. Older dogs typically have more health issues than younger dogs, and larger dogs can be more expensive to treat than small ones due to increased medication needs.

Knowing your dog’s health history and breed tendencies can help you prepare and plan ahead for potential future issues.

Your lifestyle and your dog’s personality will also impact your savings goals. If you and your dog spend a lot of time being active in the outdoors, you may need to plan for more first-aid treatment and preventative vaccines. If your dog is hyper and difficult to control, they may be more at risk for injuring themselves.

Your Pet Insurance Coverage

Even with pet insurance in place, you’ll need to plan ahead to cover your share of the expenses, as well as your insurance premiums.

Be sure that you clearly understand the terms of your plan, especially any coverage exclusions or treatment limits, to avoid surprises and claim time.

Clearly know your deductible and co-pay so that you can calculate your share of any potential vet bills.

How Much Do You Need?

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It can be hard to know exactly how much to save for emergencies.

Although there is no hard and fast rule for how much you need in your pet’s emergency fund, I recommend starting with at least $2,000, since most pet owners will experience at least one emergency of this scale during their pet’s lifetime.

Even if you have pet insurance, you’ll need to have funds available to cover the deductible and co-pay, as well as cover the upfront costs while you wait for reimbursement. This formula from Half Banked can help you calculate how much you’ll want to have set aside:

(Deductible X 2) + [(Co-pay % X total bill) X 2] = Emergency Fund Goal

For example, if your plan has a $200 deductible and a 20% co-pay, you’d want to have at least $1,200 in your emergency fund to cover two major $2,000 emergencies.

($200 deductible X 2) + [(0.20 co-pay X $2,000 total bill) X 2] = $1,200 Goal

Where Should You Keep Your Emergency Fund?

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Keep your pet’s emergency fund separate from your daily banking.

Once you’ve decided to start an emergency fund and calculated your goal, where should you keep these funds? It’s best to keep pet emergency funds separate from your own so that you can clearly and easily see how much you have for each goal.

Open a separate savings account for your pet emergency fund. Consider online-only e-savings accounts which typically pay higher interest rates and have lower fees and account minimums. Having your emergency funds at a separate institution than your day-to-day banking makes it harder to raid your savings – out of sight, out of mind.

Since these funds are for emergencies, you want to be sure that the money will be there when you need it. Keep the funds easily accessible in cash; don’t tie up the funds in investments to avoid delays in accessing your money, and to make sure market downturns won’t leave you short when you need to access funds.

Where Do You Get the Funds?

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Find creative ways to earn money for your emergency fund, like dog walking.

You have a goal, you’ve set up your e-savings account, and now it’s time to grow your emergency fund.

Setting up automatic transfer is one of the easiest ways to build your savings. Small transfers of $25 or $50 per paycheque will add up quickly, and you won’t even notice the missing money. At $25 bi-weekly, you’ll have $650 by the end of the year; at $50, you’ll have $1,300. If your savings account pays a decent interest rate, your savings could see an additional boost of 1-2% each year.

If you want to turbo-charge your savings, there are many creative ways to add lump-sums to your emergency plan. Consider taking on a side-hustle until you reach your goal. Share your expertise and skills online with sites like Upwork and Fiverr, or sell your homemade products on Etsy or at local markets. You can use your love of animals and take on some dog-sitting or dog-walking work through Rover or WagWalk.

Even once you’ve achieved your goals, continue making regular contributions to keep the account well-funded and replenish any withdrawals. It’s always better to have more than you need.

When Should You Use the Funds?

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Plan ahead so you know when it’s okay to use your emergency fund.

Emergency funds are meant to be used, but you should be clear on what constitutes an “emergency” before you dip into your stash.

Does your emergency fund cover less urgent but irregular expenses like vaccines, insurance premiums and training fees, or do those expenses come out of your monthly budget? Is your emergency fund only for “true” emergencies or to cover insurance deductibles or top-up available funds?

You should decide ahead of time what the funds are meant to cover, and when it’s acceptable to withdraw funds from the account, so that you won’t have to make these decisions during a crisis.

It’s also important to ensure that you have money in your account or room on your credit card to pay the initial fees for emergency care. If your emergency fund is with another bank, it may take 3-5 days to transfer funds to your account. Even if you have good pet insurance, most plans are reimbursement plans, meaning you’ll need to pay for services in advance and wait for a refund from your insurance company.

Finally, make sure to replenish the account after an emergency. Even once your plan is fully funded, keep up with your automatic transfers to ensure the account is always being replenished – if you ever have “too much” in the fund, you can always transfer the excess to another account or goal.

Keeping your emergency fund at a separate bank can make it harder for you to bend the rules, preserving your fund for real emergencies.

Back-Up Plans

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Protect yourself and your dog while building your emergency fund.

What if an emergency happens while you’re still building your emergency fund? It takes time to build up a fully-funded emergency plan, but a crisis can hit at any time and wipe out your growing savings. Don’t be discouraged – that’s what it’s for! Focus on the emergency at hand, and once you’re past the crisis you can get back to building your savings.

But what if you don’t have enough to cover all the costs? There are many other options to help cover emergency bills.

Most vets will work with pet owners to create a payment plan that works for your budget. Talk to your vet about options before an emergency arises.

Pet insurance is a great way to share the burden of emergency care. While you’re building your emergency fund, consider a more comprehensive policy with a lower deductible and co-pay. Once your savings goals are met, you can reduce your coverage or cancel the plan altogether.

Although not the ideal way to fund an emergency, a line of credit or credit card can be a last resort way to pay for emergency care. Companies like CareCredit offer loans specifically for emergency vet bills, but beware of high interest rates and be sure to have a repayment plan.

Organizations like not-for-profits, shelters and vet schools can offer lower-cost care and financial assistance for pet owners who cannot afford their pet’s emergency care. A great article on PennyHoarder lists nearly 40 different care funds that pet owners can apply to for help with their pet’s emergency bills.

Fundraising websites like GoFundMe can help you connect with other sympathetic animal lovers to raise funds for your pet’s care. Just remember to “Pay-it-Forward” – once your emergency fund goal is met, consider donating to organizations that help other down-on-their-luck pet owners.

Pet Emergency Funds for Peace of Mind

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An emergency fund gives you peace of mind to focus on your pet’s health and happiness.

Owning a dog is a major responsibility that comes with significant financial commitments. Since most pet owners will experience at least one $2,000 emergency during their pet’s life, it’s essential to plan ahead for these emergencies to make sure you’re not caught short in the middle of a crisis.

Pet Insurance can be a great way to share the cost of vet care, but you shouldn’t rely on it to cover all of your expenses. Between exclusions, limitations, deductibles and co-pays, you’ll need to have some funds set aside to pay your share of the costs, as well as pay the bills up-front while you wait for your plan to reimburse you.

Setting up a dedicated pet emergency fund with a savings account at a separate bank is a great way to ensure there is always money available during a crisis. Regular contributions of just $25-$50 can set you up to reach your goal within a few months, and you can take on side jobs like dog walking and online work to reach your goals faster.

The last thing any dog owner wants to worry about during a crisis is money. By planning ahead and setting up a Pet Emergency Fund, you’ll have the peace of mind to be able to focus on what matters – getting your dog they care they need.
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