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Financial support for pet owners

Pet owners in debt: Where can pet owners find financial support?

Alicia Hempsted
Written by  Alicia Hempsted
6 min read
Updated: 12 Mar 2024

Pets are part of the family, and the worst decision an owner might have to make is to rehome their pet if they can’t afford to take care of them. But there is help out there.

In September 2023, the Competition and Markets Authority launched a review of the UK veterinary sector, motivated by increasing concern over the cost of veterinary treatments and services.

As the cost of living crisis tightens its stranglehold on UK residents, pet owners are facing some extreme costs and may be forced to make very tough choices. In 2023, the RSPCA warned that animal abandonment in the UK was at a three-year high, following on from a 25% increase in 2022.

Now, in March 2024, the CMA has published their main concerns following their initial review and found that many UK pet owners may be missing out on money-saving opportunities.

While for many it's a relief to know their concerns are valid, the issue of pet owners struggling to stay out of debt is far from resolved.

Why is owning a pet becoming so expensive?

It’s no secret that the cost of everything has skyrocketed in recent years, and pet owners are having to pay more across the board to care for their pets. Vet bills in particular are one of the most serious expenses that has gone up in recent years.

In fact, vet bills have become so expensive that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into the vet sector in 2023 to find out what is affecting the cost of veterinary services and what impact this is having on UK pet owners.

The CMA recently identified real issues around a lack of transparency when it comes to veterinary costs and the cost of medicines. Over 80% of veterinary practices assessed by the CMA did not have any pricing information available online, which means there's no way of knowing whether pet owners are overpaying.

This also means that owners can be caught off-guard by expensive treatments and tests, making it difficult to plan for these expenses.

Expensive medicines and prescriptions have also become a big concern for pet owners. While vets are required to tell customers that they can use their prescriptions to buy medicine elsewhere, the CMA found that around 25% of pet owners were not aware of this.

Pet owners that don't know they can shop around for medicines – or maybe feel pressured to buy medicines through their vet – could be paying considerably more than they have to.

Until the CMA release their full report, there unfortunately isn’t much that can be done about these costs, and it doesn’t look like veterinary costs will be going down any time soon.

But it's not just medical expenses that are going up. The cost of most pet essentials have gone up as well. Shrinkflation has even hit pet food recently, forcing pet owners to pay more for the same amount of food.

Everything around pet ownership is becoming more expensive, and when it's a beloved family member's health on the line, cutting costs doesn't always feel like an option.

dog petted by pet owner

Can buying pet insurance save me money on veterinary treatments?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a straight answer to this question. There are a lot of benefits for having pet insurance and in some cases pet insurance can save you money. If something happens to your pet unexpectedly, pet insurance can help you cover some of the expensive veterinary costs that you might not ordinarily be able to afford on your own. This is valuable to have if you don’t have the savings needed to cover expensive emergency treatment. Some policies also offer benefits like a free veterinary advice service to save you from spending money on vet appointments for minor issues.

However, the cost of pet insurance has increased in recent years, and the increased cost of vet treatments is one of the reasons.

If you are struggling financially, it’s very possible that the added cost of a pet insurance policy can put even more strain on your budget. That’s why it isn’t recommended that you buy pet insurance if you are already experiencing financial difficulty.

MoneySuperMarket’s resident pet insurance expert, Saarrah Mussa, had this to say about the cost of pet insurance:

Saarrah Mussa
Saarrah Mussa
Insurance expert

Our expert says

While the outright cost of a pet insurance policy can start at less than £10 a month, pet insurance policy owners are seeing their premiums rise year on year, making it more important than ever to shop around. When renewing it’s always worth doing some quick comparisons to see if you can get a better deal with a different provider.

Where can pet owners find financial support?

If you are struggling to cover the cost of owning your pet, you aren’t alone. There is support out there to help you cover some of the most important costs:

Free vet services through your insurance provider

If you already own a pet insurance policy, your provider may offer veterinary services or advice as an added benefit with your policy. Depending on your provider and policy, you may have access to a 24-hour vet hotline or an in-app chat where you can ask questions and seek advice from veterinary professionals. Check with your provider to find out if this is available to you.

Using these free services is one way to save money on vet bills if you need non-emergency support. They will let you know when it is or is not necessary for your pet to undergo a formal assessment by your vet, which means you can avoid making unnecessary claims if all you need is a bit of guidance.

Vet payment plans

Some veterinary clinics offer payment plans if you cannot afford to pay for necessary treatment upfront. While this won’t change the cost of your treatment, it can make paying large vet bills easier. If this is something you are considering, it’s important that you ask your vet about this before you need to bring your pet in for a treatment.

PDSA offer free or low-cost veterinary treatment

If you are receiving benefits and live within the catchment area of one of PDSA’s pet hospitals or Pet Care scheme practices, you may be eligible to receive free or low-cost veterinary treatments. This scheme can also cover the cost of necessary medications.

These benefits are offered at specific PDSA Pet Hospital locations but there are other practices participating in the Pet Care scheme that allow you to pay a small monthly amount in exchange for low-cost treatment and support. Use PDSA’s eligibility checker online to find out if you qualify.

Blue Cross offer emergency vet treatment

Owners receiving certain means-tested benefits can get free urgent treatment from Blue Cross animal hospitals or pet care clinics. One of the requirements for this is that you are located within the catchment area of one of their facilities, but pet owners outside of the catchment area can still receive support through Blue Cross’s Veterinary Care Fund to help cover some urgent treatment costs.

Visit the Blue Cross website to find out if you are eligible.

Dogs Trust offer support for dog owners facing homelessness

Owners at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness can receive support from Dogs Trust. They can cover 100% of the cost of preventative treatments as well as emergency treatments for dogs.

Visit the Dogs Trust website to find out more and register with them.

Cats Protection cover the cost of neutering

If you are receiving certain means-tested benefits, have an annual household income of less than £25,000, or are a full-time student away from home, Cats Protection can help you afford neutering and microchipping your cat. At participating vet clinics, you can have your cat neutered and microchipped for only £10.

They also offer a fostering service for owners fleeing domestic abuse that need a temporary home for their cat.

Visit the Cats Protection website to find out more.

Find your nearest pet food bank

A number of UK charities have pet food banks set up across the country. These are free to use and some of these charities will go the extra mile to help you find a pet food that is right for your pet if they have any specific requirements.

Some of the main organisers of pet food banks are:

Support in England and Wales:

Support in Scotland:

Support in Wales and South Wales:

You may need to meet certain requirements to use these pet food banks, so visit the organiser’s website to check that you qualify. If there are no food banks for pets in your area, it is also worthwhile checking food banks for people as well as they may have some products for pets too.

Local animal support charities and groups

There are a lot of small animal welfare charities that don’t have nationwide fame that may offer services in your area. Some charities offer reduced-cost vet treatments and some even provide you with donated items such as beds, toys or treats for your pet. It’s worthwhile to check online if there are any local to you that may be available.

Social media platforms like Facebook can also help you get in touch with online groups for pet owners who swap and give away pet care items they no longer need. If you don’t meet the requirements to receive support from any of the above charities, these resources can at least help save you a bit of money.