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Published: Jul 19, 2023 11 min read
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As much as we’d like to avoid it, pets may need emergency veterinary care at some point during their lifetime, and that can be expensive — even with coverage from the best pet insurance companies.

To help avoid a financial disaster, take some time to learn how much some of the most common procedures cost, and build a little wiggle room in your budget for an emergency vet visit.

In this guide, we cover:

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How much does an emergency vet visit cost?

The average cost of an emergency vet visit is $800 to $1,500, 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 up to 90% of the entire bill. This provides a significant relief for pet owners facing large vet bills, considering how much is pet insurance. That said, pet owners still need to pay out-of-pocket and then file for reimbursement.

What is considered a “pet emergency?”

A pet emergency is scary, especially when it’s hard to know the difference between a condition that needs urgent 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 unknown online sources. Still, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek a professional, either by phone consultation or driving directly to the clinic.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, these are the signs of a pet emergency, and warrant warrant a trip to the nearest pet emergency room ASAP:

  • Severe or continuous bleeding
  • Severe or continuous vomiting or diarrhea
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Seizures or sudden collapse
  • Eye injury

Emergency vet cost

With most veterinary care, the emergency vet costs depend on the pet, the severity of the condition, 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, but hospitalization or an emergency surgery are serious expenses.

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. On the other hand, diagnostic tests such as a blood panel, X-rays, or ultrasounds cost the same for dogs of all sizes. (See the chart below for more info.)

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 — $800–$7,000
  • Trauma — $500–$4,000
  • Stomach issues — $700–$3,000
  • Seizures — $500–$5,000
  • Heatstroke — $1,500–$6,000
  • Poisoning — $200–$5,000

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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Common pet emergencies, illnesses and procedures

Common pet emergency costs
Procedure or condition Cost
Gastroenteritis $200-$3,000
Poisoning $200-$3,000
Seizures $500-$,5000
Severe trauma $2,000-$10,000
Cardiac conditions $2,000-$10,000
Broken bones $1,500-$5,000
Allergies $200-$250
X-ray $75-$400
Blood work $200-$2,500
Ultrasound $300-$600
Urine test $25-$100
Ear or Eye Issues $120-$150
Overnight hospitalization $600-$1,700
Multi-night hospital stay $1,500-$3,500
Sources: This Old House, BetterPet

Who to call for a pet emergency

The first person to call is the family veterinarian, and 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 recommend 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 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

Buy pet insurance with wellness coverage

Yearly vet checkups can help keep your pet out of the hospital. Purchasing a pet wellness plan and pet insurance coverage that includes preventative care can help cut back on unexpected emergency vet fees. Preventive care includes complete body exams, vaccinations, deworming, heartworm treatment, parasite prevention and pet dental 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 even prevent a trip to the animal hospital down the road.

To ensure your pet’s health and your peace of mind, getting coverage for your pet is important. Learning how to buy pet insurance and make a pet insurance claim are important steps that can save you a lot of money on emergency vet fees.

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 some emergency situations.

Potential hazards such as toxic houseplants, medications and cleaning supplies are best kept off-limits. Also, knowing the whereabouts of your purse or backpack can prevent your pet from devouring the last bits of overlooked chocolate candy, a snack that’s toxic for both cats and dogs.

Even pet food can pose a risk for dogs and cats that overindulge since overeating can lead to bloat, which is a life-threatening condition. To prevent this, try to schedule feedings twice a day instead of just once, and avoid exercise directly 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

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

First, try to work out a discount or payment plan with your vet. If that doesn't work out, consider low-cost clinics run by local veterinary schools.

You can also seek financial aid from nonprofits and animal welfare organizations like RedRover, The Pet Fund and Bow Wow Buddies Foundation. These are just a few of many organizations nationwide that provide financial assistance to pet owners, with some offering grants of up to $2,500 for veterinary care.

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How much is an emergency vet visit FAQ

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 at stake, and there aren't viable treatment options.

A dog's quality of life diminishes as they reach old age, especially if they have a chronic illness. This 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.

Do vets do payment plans?

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Yes and no. 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 cash, debit, or credit cards and CareCredit, which is a short-term financing option. With CareCredit, qualifying pet owners can pay large vet bills over six to 24 months, with a promotional interest-free period.

Should I leave my dying cat alone?

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Yes, but only if your cat is seeking solitude. For some cats, companionship is a source of great comfort and they want you to stay nearby. Whether they're hiding or staying close to you, their comfort should be the main priority. Offer them special treats, set up a warm and cozy sleeping area, avoid loud noises and give them the necessary pain medication.

How much is an emergency vet visit without insurance?

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If an unfortunate situation leads to a veterinary visit and any pet insurance plans don't cover you, the emergency veterinary fees can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. The actual cost will depend on various factors, including the gravity of the medical emergency as well as the tests and treatments needed.

Does pet insurance cover surgery?

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A pet insurance policy covers surgery for accidents or illnesses outlined in your policy, such as a car accident, bite wound or cancer. Providers won't cover surgery or treatment for pre-existing conditions, and some elective procedures like spay and neuter surgeries may not qualify for reimbursement either.

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

Pet emergency care may set you back $800-$1,500 on average, 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 help.

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