Vet bills can add up fast. One cat owner realized that the hard way when she received a $3,500 emergency vet bill. Here's what she learned.

I knew something was wrong with my food-hog cat Beeker when she refused to eat for three days in a row. When she started hunching her back and walking reluctantly, I knew it was time to take her to the vet.

Several days later, I got Beeker back in tip-top shape. She may have been missing a few patches of hair where they shaved her to do their work, but she did come with one other addition: an emergency vet bill totaling $3,500.

We already had about $1,000 saved up for vet bills, but I had to raid two more mini savings accounts: our next car fund and our birthday fund. Coincidentally, it was my husband’s birthday that month – I got him his cat back for his birthday.

As I brought Beeker back to our house with our other cat and an ageing Labrador retriever, I wondered: How much do I really need to have saved up for vet bills?

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I decided to speak with my vet, Dr. Nina Garbino of Raintree Animal Hospital, to find out exactly what to expect when it comes to vet costs for cats.

How Much Should You Save for an Emergency Vet Bill?

Vet costs for cats (and other pets) can add up quickly. Make sure you're prepared for them before you dive into pet ownership. Find out more and be financially prepared for pet costs. #financialliteracy #CentSai #petcosts #vetbills #petcostsWhen it comes to how much to have saved foremergency expenses, Dr. Garbino has a solid recommendation: $5,000 per pet. If you can’t save up that much right away, she recommends at least having a spare credit card that you only use for emergencies.

It’s especially important to have money saved up if your pet is older or if she’s simply full of shenanigans. “Accidents happen all the time,” Dr. Garbino says.

“I’ve known labs that are a year-and-a-half old and they've had two surgeries already to get stuff out of their GI tract.”

While some animals are more likely to need emergency vet services than others, it’s still a good idea to save up money, even if your pet is healthy. “You could have a perfectly healthy animal like Beeker, whom I had just seen a month ago, and then all of a sudden she just comes down with a fever and we don't know where it's coming from. Sometimes it's just random,” says Dr. Garbino.

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Routine Vet Costs for Cats (and Other Pets)

Even in the absence of major emergencies, you still need to take your pet in once in a while. For these expenses, Dr. Garbino recommends planning on spending $150 to $300 a year.

The vet bill could cost even more, depending on where you live and whether your pet needs flea, tick, and heartworm prevention, or whether you simply have an older animal who needs more routine bloodwork done each year.

Why Vet Costs for Cats and Dogs Are Worth It

Spending $5,000 or more on pets is a lot of money, especially when there are a lot of other claims vying for my money (paying off debt or replacing my savings for my next car, for example). So why bother with pets in the first place?

Pet ownership has a lot of health benefits, according to the CDC. Pets help people feel less lonely, improve cardiovascular function, and may even give you a reason to get out and exercise more.

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Don’t believe me? A study on stressed-out stockbrokers being treated for high blood pressure tried an additional therapy: half the group was ordered to adopt a pet, and the other half was left pet-less. At the end of the study, the researchers found that the stockbrokers’ new fuzzy friends were more effective in lowering their blood pressure than the medicine.

Owning a pet can also reduce the risk of allergies and asthma in kids. While I don’t have kids myself, I always had pets growing up, and now I’m asthma-free. I also have a family history of heart disease (who doesn’t?), and I partially attribute my stellar heart measurements so far to my pets.

Clearly, being the crazy cat lady or the doting dog dad has great benefits. Just make sure that you have enough funds to fully take care of your fuzzy pals. We'll never be shocked by our vet bills again. We’ll be boosting our pet health savings for sure!