Pets are often considered part of the family. As such, you want to take care of them like family.
Last summer, I adopted a beautiful gray and white cat named Emma. She’s loving, playful, and adventurous. We can’t imagine our household without her. At the same time, I now fully understand what people mean when they say that getting a pet can be a huge responsibility — especially when it comes to your finances.
Since Emma is pretty young, I didn’t expect any expensive health issues to arise anytime soon. As a result, I made the bad decision to forgo building up a pet emergency fund.
Then one day I received a call from my sister. She wanted to see if I could drop her and her dog off at the vet because the dog was terribly sick. I stuck around at the vet to be supportive.
After speaking with the doctor, we found out her dog had protein-losing enteropathy (PLE), which is defined as the loss of protein from the intestines due to disease. The dog had almost no protein in his body by the time we brought him into the emergency vet, and he had to be switched to a special diet and put on medication.
My mom and sister didn’t hesitate to pay for treatment, food, and medicine. But it set them back about $1,200, and they didn’t have a pet emergency fund.
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My family’s pet health scare motivated me to start setting aside some savings for Emma. You’ll want to approach setting up a pet emergency fund just like you would for a personal or family emergency fund.
How Much Should You Save in a Pet Emergency Fund?
When determining how much you’d feel comfortable saving in a pet emergency fund, consider the type of animal you have. For example, you may not need to save as much if you have a guinea pig as a pet. Add up the cost of annual shots, tests, and vaccines.
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Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City, told Money Under 30 that, “Owners will likely incur at least one $2,000 to $4,000 bill for emergency care at some point during their pet’s lifetime.”
With that in mind, it would be wise to set aside at least $1,000 to $2,000 in your pet emergency fund to start. If that sounds like a lot of money to you, start small. If your pet is young and less likely to develop health issues in the near future, use that time to your advantage to build up your fund.
When my husband and I first established out pet emergency fund, we contributed $250 each for a grand total of $500. It's relatively small, but it’s better than nothing.
Also see if you can do some extra work at your job or pick up a side hustle to speed up the savings process.
Where Should You Put Your Pet Emergency Fund?
I like to store my pet emergency fund separate from my regular emergency fund and other targeted savings accounts. By keeping my savings separate, I can ensure that I’m spending the funds solely on pet expenses.
I’d recommend keeping your fund in a high-yield online savings account so that it can earn interest. You can always connect the account to your personal checking account so that you can easily transfer the money over whenever you need it. I like to use Capital One 360 because it allows you to open multiple savings accounts, but Ally and Discover also offer good options for online savings with competitive interest rates.
What About Pet Insurance?
Sixty-eight percent of U.S. households own a pet, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Unfortunately many of them forgo pet insurance. Pet insurance can come in handy for health-related expenses — from illnesses and accidents to hereditary conditions.
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Some of the top pet insurance providers include Healthy Paws, Pet Plan, and Pets Best. What I like about pet insurance is that monthly premiums are affordable ($10 to $40 for cats and $20 to $60 for dogs) and deductibles can range from $50 or to $500.
That said, always read the fine print. Some companies offer a per-incident deductible, which means that you would have to meet your deductible each time your pet receives care. Some insurance options are also costlier for older animals or require that you enroll your pets before they reach a certain age. You’ll also have to consider any pre-existing conditions your animal may have and carefully research options and compare quotes to see if pet insurance is cost effective.
The Bottom Line
It all comes down to knowing your pet and your financial situation. You may find that a combination of a pet emergency fund and pet insurance works best. If you’re able to build a large-enough emergency fund, you may not need or want to spend money on insurance premiums or worry about meeting deductibles.
The key is to prioritize your pet’s care just like you would for yourself and other family members, and to be prepared when any health emergencies arise.