Last updated: 11 August 2020
The best way to ensure you get help with vet costs — especially unexpected bills — is to have a suitable pet insurance policy in place in advance.
Having cover in case your pet needs an expensive emergency operation or treatment for a pre-existing condition could end up saving you thousands of pounds, or even your pet's life.
When you need help with vet bills, UK insurance providers can work out much cheaper in the long run than paying up front. With vet bills rising, even basic policies can save you thousands and cover the cost if your pet falls ill.
You pay a monthly or annual amount, known as a premium, for a policy that can pay for a range of costs, including help with vet bills. Some also cover:
Third party liability if your pet damages someone else's property
Compensation for the death or loss of a pet
The cost of advertising for a lost pet
Boarding fees if you are hospitalised
Compensation if you have to cancel your holiday if your pet gets ill
Each policy includes different cover options and a maximum amount it can pay towards vet bills in a year.
If you expect to need regular help with vet bills, UK insurance providers can usually offer policies with a high maximum payout and a wide range of cover, though these will often come with higher premiums.
If you need help finding a policy, here is how to choose the right pet insurance.
If you are on a low income, are retired or receive certain state benefits you may be able to get help towards the cost of veterinary care from a dedicated animal charity. For anyone needing help with vet bills on benefits, UK charities provide a variety of helpful services.
Some of the animal charities worth contacting are:
The PDSA treats animals that belong to owners who get financial help from certain state benefits like Housing Benefit or Council Tax support.
Usually the PDSA provides free vet care if on benefits, but ask anyone whose pet receives free treatment to make a voluntary donation towards the cost, as the charity does not receive any government funding.
The PDSA have their own vets which provide both emergency treatment and ongoing/prescription care in designated areas of the UK.
For more information and to check if your pet qualifies for free treatment, call the free PDSA helpline on 0800 731 2502 or visit the PDSA website. You will need to register your pet before they can receive treatment.
The Blue cross runs four animal hospitals and five mobile clinics across London and Grimsby. They also have five pet care clinics located outside London. These offer free veterinary treatment for pets whose owners are on a low income or get certain means-tested benefits.
Visit the Blue Cross website to check if you live in an area covered by the Blue Cross, and whether you qualify for free veterinary care.
The Dogs Trust offers financial help towards the cost of neutering to dog owners that live in certain areas of the UK, have a low income and receive certain means-tested benefits.
Dogs Trust also support homeless dog owners through their Hope Project.
Cats Protection offers financial assistance towards the cost of neutering but do not pay out for any other veterinary care.
Visit the Cats Protection website to check if you qualify for financial assistance.
You cannot get any help with vet bills from RSPCA headquarters, but some RSCPA branches (which are run independently) do offer financial assistance to those on a low income or retired pet owners.
The USPCA is a Northern Irish animal charity whose primary focus is on preventing animal cruelty.
They also offer help towards some veterinary services, including free micro-chipping at certain times of the year.
Contact your local USPCA centre or call their helpline on 028 3025 1000.
Vetfone is a 24 hour vet helpline similar to NHS Direct, but for pets. It provides advice from a qualified RCVS registered veterinary nurse over the phone.
The telephone service isn't free, but is often cheaper than booking an appointment with a vet. It can also be a useful service if you are unsure whether your pet needs to see a vet, or if your normal veterinary practice is closed.
You can either choose to pay a fixed fee of £12.50 or opt to have your call charged at £1.53 per minute plus network extras. Visit the Vetfone website for more details.
If you do not qualify for help with your veterinary bills from a registered animal charity, speak to your vet because they may let you pay in instalments to spread the cost.
Whether you can do this will depend on your veterinary practice and the total cost of the treatment your pet needs.
While spreading the cost this way can give you more time to pay, you should check that there are no costs involved and that you're not paying any extra for the privilege.
If your vet doesn't allow you to pay in instalments then it is worth checking with other vets in your local area before giving the go-ahead for treatment.
If you do not qualify for any help towards your vet bills and your pet needs expensive veterinary treatment, you could consider spreading the cost using a cheap credit card.
The easiest way to do this would be to use a long term 0% purchases credit card which would then give you plenty of time to repay the cost over many months.
However, if you don't have time to wait for a new card to arrive in the post, you could pay using an existing credit card and move the balance over to a 0% balance transfer card.
If neither of these options sound suitable, there are other ways to spread the cost of an unexpected bill. Read our guide for more details.
But remember, borrowing money you cannot afford to pay back could leave you in serious debt.
One of the best ways to keep your costs down in the long term is to make sure you are using a veterinary service offering the best value for money.
If your pet needs treatment it can be worthwhile asking several vets for an upfront quote, to cover the full cost of treatment and subsequent ongoing care.
While price is not the only determining factor when choosing your vet, doing this can help with vet bills and at least allows you to compare the upfront costs and make an informed decision.
If your pet is in good health it can make sense to check the cost of routine healthcare, including neutering and vaccinations, at several vets before deciding on which to register your pet with.