Sick cats can be very expensive. There are some costs that can’t be avoided. Others you may be able to avoid, or at least reduce.
Here are some of the tips that I know for keeping the cost of care as low as possible:
Stick to Essential Treatments
Every disease is going to come with a slew of recommendations for things to try. Some of those things are absolutely essential for treating the disease your cats has. And some of those are going to be a giant waste of money and effort. When the diagnosis is new you’re going to receive a lot of information about things you need to do, things you probably should do, and things that “Joe on Facebook” recommended because “it worked for his fifth cousin’s girlfriend’s neighbor’s iguana so it’s probably safe for cats.”
Knowing what is essential can be very hard. Some diseases, like kidney disease, have comprehensive website that covers the specific list of essential treatments. Other diseases may not be as well documented in cats. If you’re unsure what to do, you may want to search for the International Society of Feline Medicine guidelines for treating the disease.
**The guidelines are in a part of the website only accessible to veterinarians. But, if you do an internet search for “ISFM Guidelines <name of condition>” (example: ISFM guidelines hypertension) you’ll find a downloadable PDF for it.
These guidelines documents are written for veterinarians, but you should be able to understand them well enough to figure out if you’re covering all the essential treatments.
Get Supplies Cheaply
Getting supplies from pretty much anywhere other than your vet’s office is going to save you a lot of money. You can check out my Saving Money pages for tips on how to get medications and supplies cheaply.
Avoid Unnecessary Prescription Diets
In some cases the prescription diets are absolutely necessary. In other cases there are many commercially available foods that can safely be used at a fraction of the cost.
If you’re unsure if you can avoid prescription diets, start with the prescription option and then take your time in finding an appropriate substitute for it.
If you do need the prescription foods you can often find these at online retailers like Chewy for less money than through your vet. Chewy also has “autoship” discounts so you can save even more. Their autoship is very easy to work with and you can change/cancel shipments at any time. Chewy ALWAYS reminds you about a shipment several days in advance so you don’t get surprise orders.
I do NOT recommend ordering prescription diets through Amazon or similar retailers. Amazon has a demonstrated history of having counterfeit items listed on their site. While pet foods are unlikely to be among the counterfeit items, it is still safer not to trust them as a food or medicine supplier.
Save on Cat Litter
Some diseases, like kidney disease or (uncontrolled) diabetes will make your cat pee a whole lot more than they used to. That means you’re going to be going through litter a lot faster than you used to as well. Many chain stores, like Target, have better deals on litter than you’re going to find in pet stores.
Chewy and other online retailers also offer litter and generally have good prices.
If you’re using a wheat-based litter and you like doing things yourself you can also make your own litter at a fraction of the price.
Check the shipping policy for every online retailer you use. Do everything (within reason) to reach that free shipping threshold. Some stores have free shipping at $49, other stores don’t have free shipping until $100 or more.
If you can’t get free shipping with one retailer, see if another retailer has the same product and if you’d be able to reach free shipping with them.
Check for Promo Codes and Sales
Any time you purchase something online check to see if there are promo codes you can apply to your order to save money. And, be sure to check for sales too.
I make it a habit to always check the clearance/sale section of any site before I place orders. I never know what I’m going to find, but I have lucked into some really good deals on items I was going to need to purchase soon anyway.
Also, remember that a sale is only a good deal if you can afford it. Do your best to avoid buying things you can’t afford simply because they’re on sale right now. Sometimes a sale will cost a lot more in the long run than waiting and purchasing an item at full price.
Discount Pharmacies & Donated Meds
Anytime you need new medication for your cat, check to see if it’s available from a human pharmacy or an online pet pharmacy. If you need the medicine right away you can get it from the vet, but you’ll want to get refills elsewhere.
Ask your vet if they have any donated medicines. Sometimes vet offices receive donated medicines from animals who don’t need them anymore and can give them to you for free.
Check out the Saving Money pages for more information on getting medications cheaply.
Get Your Refunds
Learn the return/refund policies of places you shop at and always get refunds if you need them. For example, Chewy sells canned food by the case. If your cat stops eating the food (or never eats the food in the first place) tell them and they will refund your whole purchase price.
If anything you order is damaged in shipping, reach out to the supplier and let them know. They’ll often either refund what you paid or they’ll send free replacements.
Use Low-Cost Clinics
Check local, low-cost spay/neuter clinics to see if they have the ability to do routine blood and urine tests and compare their prices to your regular vet. You can always get labs at the cheap vet then take them to your primary care vet to review and for altering your cat’s treatment plan.
If you see a specialist vet for any reason, you can use your primary care vet to run most, if not all, blood and urine tests. Then, just take the results to your specialist vet for them to view. This is often a lot cheaper than using the specialist vet for tests.
Be sure the vets are coordinating efforts so that you’re getting exactly the tests you need done if you use other clinics for cost savings.
Look into different financial assistance options. Finding Financial Assistance has a list of national options, but be sure to check with local clinics or animal rescue groups to see if there are any local programs they know of. Apply early if you think you need it.
Payment Plans and Financing Options
Ask your vet about payment plans and financing options. Some vets take CareCredit, and some vets will make custom payment plans for the cost of care. You won’t really know what your options are until you ask.
Make New Friends
Specifically, make friends with the front desk staff at your vet clinic. They’ll often be able to direct you to free and low cost resources, so being friendly with them can help a lot. Plus, you’re probably going to be seeing them pretty regularly, so it helps to be on good terms.
Get the Most From Vet Visits
Read these tips to get the most value out of each vet visit
Avoid “Vet” Visits
Not everything that takes place in a vet’s office requires a “vet” visit. Your vet can often answer basic questions over the phone or by email at no charge. When doing blood or urine tests you can often schedule these with a tech instead of the vet. Some clinics will even offer free tech visits for many services.
Those are the things I know of. I’m in a position where the cost of care hasn’t been a problem for me, so I’ve not used any of the financial assistance programs, but I have used all the other tips listed.
My cats also have health insurance, though some have exclusions for specific diseases. Insurance isn’t always a great choice, because you have to be able to afford the insurance premium, the total cost of the vet care up front, and then be able to wait for the reimbursement from the insurance company.