'Pet debt' is real, and you could be susceptible to it

Here's how you can be more than a regular dog mom, you can be a fiscally responsible dog mom

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Um, so, Americans collectively spend a lot on their animals. Like, more than $123 billion in 2021 alone, and inflation is only making that already bonkers number creep even higher. Which is probably why more than 75 percent of owners say rising pet-related costs are challenging—and that a surprise $1,000 vet visit would send their bank account into shambles, according to a recent LendingTree poll.

As an aspiring dog mom, this situation is definitely not going to work for me. I want to be able to spoil my new child with cute stuff (on top of, you know, making sure I can cover their basic medical and life needs)—but I also have other financial goals to crush and Beyoncé ticket money to save. So I asked the patron saints of pets, aka some very smart money experts, how to navigate this cuddly but expensive new world.


Pet insurance is an absolute must
From around $20 a month, it’s not nothing. But it also pales in comparison to the thousands (tens of thousands?) you’ll spend if your pet breaks a leg or, say, ingests your favourite Acne Studios scarf. “Stuff happens, and no one wants to be in financial disaster mode when it does,” says Vivian Tu, CEO of Your Rich BFF.

First, see if your existing renter’s or homeowner’s insurance comes with any built-in pet coverage and/or check what your employer might offer. Nothing? Scroll through to compare plans, and call 800-PET-MEDS to find deals on prescriptions. Some big-box stores like Petco also offer lower-cost insurance, says financial coach Clarissa Moore, founder of Clarissa Explains Money. Oh, and look into liability insurance while you’re at it, because (1) it’s possible your good boy may someday bite someone and (2) one thing about people is they’re going to sue you if they can.

Personal loans > Plastic
If the above tip came too late for you and a mega vet bill just arrived, it’s natural to want to whip out your credit card. Don’t, Tu says. “You’re much better off going to your bank and asking for a personal loan.” Yes, even for what may seem like a smallish amount. Credit cards tend to have sky-high interest rates—often between 20 and 25 percent— compared with as low as 5 percent for personal loans.

The entire process can take up to two weeks, but once you’re funded, you can pay off that invoice in full. “Credit cards are only good if you can pay them off fast,” Tu explains. If you can’t and a bank loan also doesn’t work for you, keep reading.

“Payment plan” is a term you should know
Sit with your finances for a minute and figure out a reasonable amount you could spend each month toward paying off your pet debt. Then call your vet’s billing office and ask if they will accept monthly installments. “You never know how open your vet is to negotiation until you actually ask,” Tu says, so don’t be embarrassed about taking this step. It could be just the thing that saves you a ton of stress.

Community resources are also a thing 
Some animal shelters offer vet loans and grant programs, and a lot of veterinary schools run clinics, Tu says. There are also nonprofits that provide financial assistance, like the Pet Fund and Friends & Vets Helping Pets. Just peep the fine print on the latter because they can involve lots of paper-work. But that’s kind of okay, right? You’re a parent now, and wouldn’t you do anything. 

This piece originally appeared in the February and March 2023 print edition of Cosmopolitan USA.