If you are unable to pay for the treatment of your pet you need to know who can help and what your legal rights are. You don’t want to hand over the responsibility of your pet to a vet clinic and then be faced with handing over ownership of the pet if you can’t pay for ongoing costs, do you?
Can the vet keep my dog for nonpayment?
The answer is yes. Veterinarians have the legal right to keep your dog in their possession for a reasonable period of time until you pay for their care. However, there are limits on how long a veterinarian can retain your pet, and what he or she must do to ensure that you know where your pet is.
Every state has a set of laws called the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which describes the legal relationship between merchants, such as veterinarians, and consumers. Under the UCC, they have the right to sell your dog and keep the proceeds if you do not pay them for services rendered. That right is called a “retainer” or “lien”, and it applies only to services that were performed during the current visit to the veterinarian.
Your vet could not decide one day to sell your dog because you owe him money for treating it five years ago!
However, once your dog gets sick again and needs veterinary care, your vet could again decide to sell it if he doesn’t get paid. Your dog’s medical bills from past visits have no bearing on this decision.
What do vets do if you can’t pay?
Some dogs are downright expensive. Consider the case of Chevy, an English bulldog from upstate New York who needed a $6,000 surgery to correct a birth defect. The family couldn’t afford it, so they surrendered him to the vet’s office and signed over ownership to get him the treatment he needed.
There are many reasons why people can’t or won’t pay their vet bills, but surrendering your pet is often one way that vets can recoup their costs. The most common scenario involves an owner bringing in a pet with a life-threatening illness or injury. They don’t have enough money to pay for treatment, but they don’t want the animal to die either. When presented with these options, some owners opt to sign over their pet and let the clinic decide what happens next.
The situation is complicated by laws that allow clinics to sell animals for research purposes. If a pet is signed over with no strings attached, then the clinic can legally sell it to someone who wants it for medical testing or other experiments. Obviously, this isn’t what most owners will want for their pets.
What to do if you can’t pay your vet bill
First, don’t panic. The situation is not hopeless. Instead, ask the vet if they offer any payment plans or financing. Some vets offer reasonable payment plans that extend over 6 to 12 months with zero interest. Others work with companies that specialize in pet financing.
If you can’t find a reasonable payment plan, then negotiate directly with the vet for a lower price. Ask for a discount for paying cash upfront. It never hurts to ask for more than you expect because this could yield substantial savings if the vet is willing to negotiate.
Financial assistance for paying vet bills
Veterinary bills can be steep, especially if your pet needs emergency care. If you find yourself in financial trouble, don’t give up — there are options for people who need help paying vet bills.
If finances are a concern, the first step is to talk to your vet and see if they can work with you. Ask about payment plans and discounts for payment in full. Some vets even offer free treatment for pets whose owners are truly strapped for cash. Vets want to help their patients and can often work something out if you’re upfront about your situation.
Charities and other public funds
There are a number of charities that may be able to provide financial assistance towards vet fees such as the Blue Cross and PDSA. Some animal welfare organizations can also provide assistance in certain circumstances.
RedRover Relief provides financial assistance grants and additional resources so pet owners and rescuers can care for animals who need urgent veterinary care.
The Pet Fund
The Pet Fund is a registered 501(c) 3 nonprofit association that provides financial assistance to owners of domestic animals who need urgent veterinary care.
The Brown Dog Foundation
The Brown Dog Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to individual pet owners who need urgent care for their sick or injured pets.
The Humane Society
The Humane Society provides a state-by-state directory of programs that may be able to help with vet bills. The list includes national programs as well as local groups.
This is a credit card program designed specifically for health care expenses including veterinary care. With this program, you can finance all or part of your pet’s treatment as long as the veterinarian accepts Care Credit cards as payment. You can apply online or at the clinic when you take your pet in.
If you have an American Express card, this may be an option for you. They provide a line of credit for the payment of veterinary services up to $35,000 (for medium and large practices).
Grants or loans
Some organizations, such as the Pet Fund, offer grants to people who need help paying vet bills. These grants are limited, but it’s worth applying if you qualify. You may also be able to get a loan to cover veterinary expenses.
Many people turn to crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe when they need help covering large expenses such as veterinary bills or their pet’s medication costs.
Conclusion of vet keeping a dog for nonpayment
The vet can legally keep the dog until the fees are paid. If you do not pay those fees, the vet can take the dog to a shelter or euthanize it.
Since you have not paid the bill, and since your dog is currently receiving care at their facility, they can claim that the dog is being kept in lieu of payment.
If you refuse to pay or cannot pay and the veterinarian believes that the dog will die without continued hospitalization or other treatment, then they can euthanize him.
If you want your dog back, talk to your vet about making a payment plan so that you can get him back.