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Published: Mar 01, 2024 12 min read

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As much as we’d like to avoid it, pets may need emergency care at some point during their lifetime, and that can be expensive — even with coverage from the best pet insurance companies.

It can pay to know the cost of the most common emergencies to build a little wiggle room in your budget for an emergency vet visit. Read on to learn more.

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How much does an emergency vet visit cost?

The average cost of an emergency vet visit is anywhere from $250 to $10,000, according to CareCredit, a short-term financing service for medical expenses. Initial costs may go towards stabilizing the pet and diagnosing the problem, often using expensive imaging equipment like X-rays and ultrasounds.

After diagnostics, the clinic will draft an estimate of the total cost, half of which is usually due upfront, with the remaining balance settled after your pet is ready to come home.

Here’s where pet insurance comes in: a standard accident and illness policy may reimburse you up to 90% of the bill. This can provide a significant relief for pet owners facing large vet bills, especially if the pet insurance company offers direct payment to vets. In most cases, though, pet owners must pay upfront and then file for reimbursement.

What is considered a “pet emergency?”

A pet emergency is scary, especially when it’s hard to distinguish between a symptom that requires urgent medical care and one that can wait until the vet’s office opens.

Pet owners may be tempted to self-diagnose, use home remedies or take advice from online sources. However, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek professional guidance, either via a phone consultation or by driving directly to a veterinary clinic.

These signs indicate a pet emergency and require a trip to the nearest pet emergency room ASAP, as advised by the American Veterinary Medical Association:

  • Severe or constant bleeding
  • Severe or continuous vomiting or diarrhea
  • Seizures or sudden collapse
  • Eye injury
  • Difficulty breathing or choking, coughing and gagging nonstop
  • Abnormal gum color (pale, blue or yellow tinge)
  • Inability to go to the bathroom
  • Bloat — swollen belly, panting, restlessness and gagging
  • Trauma — car accident, fall, broken bones and open wounds
  • Bite wounds and animal attacks
  • Ingesting a known toxin or poison, such as chocolate or prescription medications for humans
  • Possible ingestion of toxin or poison
  • Heatstroke — abnormal gum color, lethargy, heavy breathing and seizures
  • Hypothermia — shivering, pale gums, sluggishness, dilated pupils and slow heart rate
  • Difficulty during birth — labor lasts more than 24 hours, or the mom struggles for more than an hour to deliver the next pup or kitten

Emergency vet cost

The cost of emergency veterinary care will depend on the pet, the severity of the condition, and the location of the clinic and how it prices its services. After the initial diagnosis — which can set you back between $100 to $600 — the charges can vary significantly. Treatment for a minor wound won’t increase your bill as much as a hospitalization or emergency surgery.

How much is an emergency vet visit without insurance?

Without a pet insurance plan, emergency veterinary fees can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The actual cost depends on the gravity of the medical emergency as well as the tests and treatments your pet needs. Costs vary depending on the size, breed and type of pet as well.

According to MetLife pet insurance, the cost of an emergency vet visit for a dog ranges from $150 to $5,000. Taking your cat to the emergency clinic may set you back anywhere from $150 to $3,000.

How much is an emergency vet visit for a dog?

An emergency visit for a dog can reach triple digits quickly, especially if surgery or hospitalization is needed.

Diagnostic tests such as a blood panel, X-rays or ultrasounds cost the same for dogs of all sizes. However, medication pricing varies by dog size and age, as dosage is determined by weight.

These are some of the most common dog emergencies and their price range:

  • Anaphylactic shock: $500–$1,000
  • Bloat: $1,500–$7,500
  • Intestinal blockage: $2,000–$10,000
  • Trauma: $100–$2,000
  • Stomach issues: $400–$3,000
  • Heatstroke: $500–$1,000
  • Poisoning: $200–$6,000, depending on the toxin

How much is an emergency vet visit for a cat?

We found few differences between emergency visit costs for cats and dogs, except for weight-based treatments and medications, which tend to cost less for cats.

Common emergency issues include:

  • Anaphylactic shock: $500–$1,000
  • Urinary tract blockage: $700–$4,000
  • Intestinal blockage: $800–$7,000
  • Trauma: $500–$4,000
  • Stomach issues: $200–$2,000
  • Poisoning: $200–$2,000
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Cost of common pet emergency procedures

Procedure or condition

Average cost

Exam

$100-$200

IV Catheter

$60-$75

IV fluids

$60-$95

Bloodwork

$80-$250

Urine test

$40-$70

X-rays and ultrasounds

$150-$600

Pain medication

$40-$80

Oxygen therapy

$500-$3,000

Wound treatment

$800-$2,500

Surgery

$1,500-$5,000

Hospitalization

$600-$3,500

Who to call during a pet emergency

The first person to call during a pet emergency is the family veterinarian. If that option isn’t available, get in touch with the nearest veterinary emergency clinic or animal hospital. The vet or technician won’t provide a diagnosis over the phone, but they can advise you on whether it’s necessary to take the pet in and offer first-aid instructions.

For suspected poisoning — ingestion of chocolate or toxic plants, for example — pet owners can call the 24-hour hotline of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. We also recommend keeping a pet-friendly first-aid kit in your home to be used under veterinary guidance.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, that kit should include:

  • Phone numbers of the nearest emergency clinic, your regular vet and the Animal Poison Control Center
  • Instructions on how to use the kit
  • Gauze to cover wounds
  • Cotton balls to treat wounds
  • Adhesive tape and non-stick, self-adhering bandages only (don’t use adhesive bandages meant for people)
  • Hydrogen peroxide, milk of magnesia and activated charcoal (always check with your vet before administering these)
  • Digital thermometer
  • Eye dropper
  • Muzzle, leash and stretcher to stabilize and transport your pet

How to prevent pet emergencies

Prevention is the best course of action if you want to keep your pet healthy and safe — and protect your wallet. Here are some steps you can take to minimize pet emergencies.

Pet-proof your home

Pets, particularly puppies and kittens, are too curious for their own good — that’s part of what makes being a pet owner so fun. But it can also lead to emergency situations.

Follow these guidelines to pet-proof your home and avoid preventable emergencies:

  • Keep potential hazards like toxic houseplants, medications and cleaning supplies off-limits.
  • Secure and cover all trash bins (kitchen, bathroom, office).
  • Store makeup, medications and other cosmetics out-of-reach.
  • Place food and snacks on secure and high shelves.
  • Secure any dangling wires from electrical devices like televisions and lamps.
  • Check for and close off any nooks and crannies inside cabinets or behind appliances.
  • Always check the dryer before turning it on (kittens are known to hide inside the drum).
  • Use pet-proof gates to seal off specific areas like the kitchen and the bathroom.

Establish a regular meal and exercise routine

Even pet food can pose a risk for dogs and cats that overindulge. Overeating can lead to bloat (also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV), a condition that can be fatal in a matter of hours. To prevent this, try to schedule feedings twice a day instead of just once, and avoid exercising your pet immediately after each meal.

Be mindful of your pet and its surroundings

When pets venture outside, there are other precautions to consider.

For dogs, basic obedience training and using a secure leash and collar with an ID tag can minimize the chances of a car accident. Other considerations include walking during the early morning or late afternoon if the weather’s too hot and avoiding close encounters with other unknown, unleashed dogs.

With cats, outdoor safety is a bit more complicated. Cats can be more independent than dogs, and they love to explore on their own, which can expose them to dangerous situations. Some owners opt to keep their cat indoors at all times — especially if they live in a high-traffic area — while others prefer to let the cat roam freely.

To keep an outdoor cat as safe as possible:

  • Get a well-fitting collar with an ID tag
  • Consider a microchip
  • Get them neutered or spayed
  • Stay up to date on vaccines
  • Bring them in at night

Be proactive with your pet's preventive care

Staying on top of annual checkups (and following your vet’s advice on proper courses of action) will help catch conditions early on and may prevent unexpected emergency trips.

You can budget for your pet's preventive care and pay as you go. If you have pet insurance, you can also purchase a pet wellness plan that includes physical exams, vaccinations, deworming, heartworm treatment, parasite prevention and pet dental care.

It's worth doing a cost analysis before committing to a pet wellness subscription, however. Depending on where you live and the cost of vet care in your area, the annual cost of a wellness plan may be higher than what you would pay out-of-pocket for preventative care.

What to do if you can't afford emergency vet services

The cost of emergency vet visits can carve a deep, unexpected hole in your wallet. If you can't afford to pay for these services, consider the following funding alternatives:

  • Try to work out a discount or payment plan with your vet
  • Visit low-cost clinics run by local veterinary colleges
  • Seek financial aid from nonprofits and animal welfare organizations like RedRover, The Pet Fund and Bow Wow Buddies foundation
  • Use a credit card or CareCredit, a low-interest financing option for medical expenses
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How much is an emergency vet visit FAQs

When is it time to put a dog down?

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As heartbreaking as it is, euthanasia may be the most compassionate decision when a dog's quality of life is compromised and there are no viable treatment options. This can happen as they reach old age (especially if they have a chronic illness) and may look like a persistent inability to eat, drink, sleep and move comfortably, along with general unresponsiveness to their owner and surroundings.

Consult your vet if your dog shows any of these signs. The emergency vet euthanasia cost starts at $50 and increases depending on your pet's weight and the provider's location.

What can I give my dog for pain in an emergency?

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Human painkillers like Tylenol and Advil are not safe for dogs. Pet-safe pain medications, specifically developed and FDA-approved for dogs, can only be prescribed by your veterinarian.

If your dog shows signs of pain such as drooling, muscle tightness or twitching, lameness, stiffness or reluctance to play, contact your vet immediately. After a thorough examination, the vet can prescribe appropriate medications, which may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, opioids, Alpha 2 antagonists and local anesthesia.

Do vets accept payment plans?

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It depends. Veterinary clinics don't usually offer payment plans but might make a special arrangement for patients with a long-standing relationship with the clinic.

Officially, vet clinics accept the following payment options: cash, debit, or credit cards and CareCredit, which is a short-term financing option. With CareCredit, qualifying pet parents can pay large vet bills over six to 24 months, with a promotional interest-free period.

Summary of Money’s How much is an emergency vet visit

Emergency pet care may set you back $150-$5,000 although more complex procedures like surgery will increase the price. Costs vary significantly by case, and most pet owners won’t know the full cost of the visit until the emergency vet clinic drafts an estimate.

That said, there are a few ways to plan and prepare for these high veterinary expenses. Consider pet insurance early on, set up an emergency savings account or open a CareCredit line to finance pet healthcare expenses. If these options aren’t possible, research nonprofits and animal welfare organizations that might be able to provide financial assistance.

Most importantly, keep up with routine care and always be mindful of your pet’s surroundings.

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