How To Be Dog Expense Debt Free

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*Updated: November 26, 2022

Got dog expense debt? If so, you’re not alone. There’s no doubt that dogs can be expensive. Heck, pet costs in general are expensive. However, the joy they bring to us and our families is priceless. I know my dog, Henry is part of my family. He certainly brings me joy. He’s often my entertainment center.  Still, I realize just one vet visit can result in families going into debt. Have you gone down that dark dog expense debt hole? It’s an overwhelming thought.

A recent ForbesAdvisor survey showed that as little as a $1000 vet bill would throw pet parents into debt. Our dogs are family. This can cause almost paralyzing fear. What can be done? Do you have a plan to overcome huge dog expense debt?

Today, let’s drill down on this issue like your dog with a bone.

woman hugs husky on beach
Budget tip: 

Being in debt or not having my dog, seems like a no-brainer to me. I'd take debt every day of the week. But there's a way to take care of Henry in a responsible way with an emergency fund without going into debt. Especially as the economy is suffering from inflation, it could be overwhelming if there was no preparation or plan if something did happen.

Another great tool is Pet CreditCard. With this card you generally have 24-months interest-free period to pay your bill. Addititionally, I also really like pet savings accounts. (I know, I've said it a few times). But they give me control. Pet health insurance is also a great option if you can get it for your dog. Whatever plan you take to clear your pet debt and prevent it, you'll be grateful and your dog will love it too.

Is there any help paying my dog’s medical bills?  

Perhaps you’ve already incurred some vet medical bills for your dog and have debt. There may very well be financial help for you. It will depend a bit on your situation.

Humane Society 

The first place to look is the Humane Society. They have a list of organizations that can help with veterinary bills based on breed, condition, and state. Although, most organizations are nationwide.

Your vet

Ask your vet’s office about local organizations that will help with medical bills. For example, my current vet provides free veterinary care to low-income and homeless pet parents.

Local shelter

Your local shelter should also be able to provide a list of organizations that will help with vet bills.


You can start a GoFundMe account. However, if you do make a GoFundMe account, remember to do everything possible to make it as verifiable as possible. You could do this with photos of such items as a letter from your vet, your dog at the vet, a copy of your medical bill, a description of your pet emergency, and any personal information about your dog or you as a dog owner. Or anything else you can think of to legitimize your account. Often people will see GoFundMe and think they are legit. You will need to work a bit hard because of this stigma.


If you’re not familiar with Waggle, they work with established veterinarians to provide pet care to needy pets

Yes, dog medical expenses often come unexpectedly 

According to a 2022 survey by LendingTree 47% of pet owners have gone into debt for their pets. Also, revealed in this survey was that 42% of pet owners turn to their credit cards over pet insurance, cash, or pet savings.

Interestingly, as of this survey more than half of the survey participants had experienced at least $500 in dog debt. Meanwhile, just slightly less than half surveyed had pet insurance. Yet, almost half of the survey participants expected to pay for unexpected dog expenses with a credit card. That could be overwhelming for a dog parent.

Note: The breakout for cat owners was nearly identical.

A surprise vet bill can mean debt

According to a recent Forbes Advisor survey, due to current inflation, 42% of pet parents said they would go into debt with an unexpected vet bill of $1000. Honestly, this could be one dog attack, a car accident, a tooth exaction, or a swim in a contaminated water source. That’s how close people are to going into debt over their dogs and pets. This is a bit unnerving.

Moreover, 55% who participated in this Forbes Advisor survey stated that they pay for their pet medical bills with a credit card. That’s their pet safety net! So, if these pet parents have a dog vet emergency they’ll whip out their credit card and pay an additional 15-20% interest. Yikes!

Additionally, nearly 80% of these survey responders didn’t have any pet insurance for their fur kids. Furthermore, 30% said they wouldn’t look into pet insurance due to the current economic inflation.

Can a debt collector take my dog?

It’s amazing that pet parents worry about debt collectors taking their dogs. But it’s a concern. Rest assured in the eyes of the law, dogs and pets are considered personal property, like a purse. I know, I think it’s ridiculous too. But the good news is that according to all the lawyers on AVVO (and my personal lawyer contacts), no, a debt collector will not take your dog or pets. The only time it might be a concern is if your dog is a celebrity and worth a lot of money. Even then it’s up for debate.

Can I  count my medical dog expense debt off my taxes? 

Generally, it seems no. But there are a few exceptions. You’ll want to review with your CPA to see what will apply to your needs. There appear to be a few exceptions you can ask your tax expert about. These will include:

  1. Service dogs
    If your dog is a service dog, you might be able to count any and all expenses you have during the year.
  2. Working dogs too
    Maybe you don’t have a service dog, but you have a dog that guards your sheep or place of business. You might be able to count the expenses you incur during the year for your dog as well.
  3. Show and competition dogs count
    If your dog is a show dog or competes in agility or some other sport, you might be able to count all expenses on your taxes.
  4. Foster dogs
    These dogs will fall under the non-profit that you are fostering your dog with and they should know all the details for your taxes. However, you should be able to count all foster dog expenses on your taxes under 501(c)(3).

Again, I’m not a tax expert and strongly recommend you talk with a CPA in your area to find out what tax deductions you can take for your dog on both the federal and state levels.

What about a personal loan for my dog debt?

I generally don’t encourage taking out a loan, unless it’s your last resort. However, if you have lots of personal credit card debt spread over multiple accounts along with other debts, it might be a good option. Although, you may have a difficult time qualifying for a personal loan. You’ll have to sit down, crunch the numbers, and figure out which option is best for you. If you are confused, then I strongly suggest you consult a CPA.

NOTE: Be wary of debt consolation companies. They will generally charge you a large fee for something simple or for something they are qualified to do in the first place. Go to someone with qualifications.

Is there a way to pay down the dog expense debt I currently have acquired? 

You may have been using credit cards to pay for your dog’s medical and overall expenses and now have a huge credit card debt. This is certainly overwhelming. The way to attack your dog’s debt is by writing it all out. How much you owe to each and what the monthly payment is for each account listed. Pay off the smallest amount. Apply that amount to the next smallest and keep rolling it up until your dog debt is gone. Dave Ramsey refers to this as the Debt Snowball. While he doesn’t zero in on dogs or pet debt, it works perfectly in such a case.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you have spread your dog debt expenses over three credit cards and you’re currently making the minimum monthly payments.

1. $300 Visa – $30 payment

2. $500 Discover – $50 payment

3. $2000 MasterCard – $60 payment

In this example, you make the minimum payment with everything but the smallest amount. That’s the Visa amount of $300. Since your goal is to be dog expense debt free, you focus on this amount. You may even take on a side gig of walking dogs, pet sitting, or pet errands. As a result, you easily earn $330 for the month and wipe out the Visa debt in a month. No more Visa interest.

Next, you roll the amount you earn $330 over to the Discover bill and add it to the $50 minimum payment. That bill is paid in another month. Finally, you move on to your huge MasterCard bill and drill down on it. You add your $330 plus the $60 minimum to it and in a few months, it’s paid as well. You may even add a few extra dollars to the MasterCard payment as you earn more from your side gigs. Or you could sell something you’re not using, like an old dog crate. In just over eight months you’ll be completely dog debt free. Woo-hoo! Or maybe I should say Bow-Wow!

NOTE: If you have other debt, you can use this same Snowball system to pay those bills as well.

How can I stay out of dog debt?

Now that you’re dog debt free you will want to stay that way. Wondering how I’ll bet. Well, of course, there are no guarantees in life, but there are a couple of good safety nets for your dog:

Pet insurance

I realize not all dogs and pets will qualify for pet insurance. Henry’s pet insurance premiums were quoted high because he’s a rescue, his breed is not certain nor is his age. So, it wasn’t affordable for me. You could run into something similar due to your dog’s breed, age, or pre-existing conditions. Don’t worry. There’s still a safety net available.

Dog savings account 

One of my favorite pet safety nets is a savings account. Even if you have pet insurance, it’ll help with what’s not covered. It’s definitely a good addition to your dog’s healthcare preparation.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to keep your pet healthy and active. Don’t avoid annual vet check-ups and hide your head when it comes to medical care. Be proactive. This will allow you to often take measures to prevent more costly health issues.

Related articles: 

Summary of how to be dog expense debt free 

It’s unnerving to think about how quickly an unexpected vet visit or diagnosis can send a pet parent spiraling into debt. Additionally, it’s unsettling to learn that so many people are unprepared for a steep vet bill and would simply turn to their credit cards. Once debt occurs, it can be difficult to crawl out of it.

As a result, that’s why a plan is so critical. Many organizations will help low-income pet parents pay their vet bills. If you are unable to find help in this manner, then I recommend tackling your debt head-on. Yes, you can do it! Once you are in dog debt free make a plan so you don’t go back into pet debt. We all learn from experiences. I like to say life is a journey of lessons learned. However, you don’t need to go into dog debt to know you don’t need it. Get a plan today and always be dog debt free.

woman hugs her black lab mix happy to be dog expense debt free

Have you ever been in dog debt? How did you get dog debt free? 


10 thoughts on “How To Be Dog Expense Debt Free”

  1. Our cats are all insured! Insurance or savings is the way to avoid big debt your dog is injured. Many people could not do the savings thing as you can’t do that on a limited budget you would need to spend it too much. But insurance means you are always covered.

    • I agree, Marjorie. If you can acquire pet insurance, that’s always beneficial. Sometimes it’s not possible. Even with pet insurance, the addition of a pet savings account is very helpful. You just never know what will happen on any given day.

      I’m glad to hear you have pet insurance for your cats. That’s truly wonderful! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  2. What a great, helpful post Terri! These are wonderful organizations to turn to when you need help with vet bills you can’t afford. I definitely recommend Waggle as a reputable organization that can help folks faced with difficult vet bills they can’t afford to pay.

    • I agree, Cathy. These are great organizations that can help pet parents when they need a financial leg up paying for their vet bills. Often pet parents aren’t aware there is help and take other options. My goal is to give people options so they keep their fur kids with them, which is where they belong. Thanks for your continued support!

  3. Layla is covered for all vet visits and most medications so I do not have to worry about that phew but I do know of organizations that help when needed plus in San Francisco there is a free vet organization that goes to the different parks to take care of the homeless peoples dogs which if you are low income you can go to also

    • Wow! San Francisco really has their act together with being able to help pet parents. It sounds like it could be a role model for other communities. Or at least the organizations within San Francisco. I’m so happy to hear Layla’s vet bills are completely covered. What a relief! Thank you for sharing what is going on in San Francisco.

  4. All great tips. With having five Siberian Huskies at once from puppy age, I definitely understand dog debt! We were fortunate that we were a working family and even with the surprise surgeries and expenses that popped up, and one dog diagnosed with Canine Epilepsy after he turned 3, we were able to cover their expenses. Our vet also gave us a multi-dog 10% discount (if say their annuals were at the same time), which doesn’t sound like a lot, but with five dogs it can amount to a nice savings…and every little bit helps. I do LOVE your pet savings account idea. That is a really great thing to do…start one right away (like we do for Christmas clubs or Vacation clubs)…it really would come in handy!

    • I agree, you definitely have to have a plan with dogs and pets. Either a good salary or a job that provides pet insurance. Then pay into a pet savings account. Or some combination of that which works for you. Every pet parent must realize that just like with human kids medical expenses will happen with fur kids. So, it’s best to prepare for it and start planning when you start thinking about adding pets to your family. I love that your vet was so great about providing discounts for multiple pups. That is very helpful. I always encourage people to ask for a discount. Some vets will offer a sliding rate based on your ability to pay. Or will offer a financial plan to pay. But the first step is to ask. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and your continued support.

  5. We raked up a large debt over Jasmine’s medical expenses quickly, in spite of having savings account for that. It dried out fast. Ever since, we have had pet health insurance for our dogs, though it’s not all that cheap either. I think that is the most fool-proof approach.

    • I certainly agree that pet insurance is a valuable tool if you can obtain it for your pets. Either way, some kind of safety net, like a dog savings account will provide a bit of help if you have no other options. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Here’s hoping we all have great pet health in the coming days, weeks, months, and years. 😊💖🐶


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