Do You Need a Pet Emergency Fund?


So remember that time I said I was done talking about emergency funds?

I lied.

I have two emergency funds, and it seems weird to only talk about one of them.

The emergency fund I’ve already written about is for me, and I’ll use it to cover unexpected job loss and emergency car expenses. I calculated how much I need in my personal emergency fund, and I’m working towards saving it up bit by bit.

The other emergency fund is for my dog.

If I haven’t made it clear that I’m a crazy dog lady, well, consider it clear now. My dog has his own emergency fund. But here’s the thing: more pet owners should be doing this.

Maybe not all of them, but definitely more of them.

Look at that face! Who wouldn't want to save an emergency fund for that face?

Look at that face! Who wouldn’t want to save an emergency fund for that face?


Want to find out if you should join me over here in crazy dog lady land? (It’s great, there are tons of puppy snuggles.) Here are the five questions that can definitively tell you if your pet needs its own emergency fund.

1. Would a vet emergency put a dent in any of your other financial goals?

Some people take a very reasonable stance on vet costs. They set a hard limit on how much they’re willing to spend on a vet bill, and beyond that, they’re polite but firm: it’s just an animal, and I’m not going to spend $7000 on medical care for it.

If you’re one of those people, I salute you! In my daydreams, I am that polite-but-firm dog owner, and I can make rational decisions about vet care.

However, when push comes to shove, I’m the person bawling on the kitchen floor because my baby cut his paw at the dog park and had to get stitches. $700 stitches, might I add.

Maybe that’s why I was crying?

My point here is that I’m an emotional gal. If I was faced with a $3000 vet bill, there’s no way I would look at it calmly and say “Sorry, we have a $1000 limit on vet bills, The Dog will just have to be ok with whatever’s wrong.”

Not a chance.

You wouldn't be able to say no to this face either.

You wouldn’t be able to say no to this face either.


It’s much more likely that I’d find a way to fund the vet bill from other savings accounts if I didn’t have the money in a dedicated emergency dog fund.

So, knowing that, I know that not being prepared for the potentially large vet bills isn’t an option. It puts my other goals, like saving for a house and funding my own emergency fund, at too big of a risk because of my pesky emotions.

2. What’s your worst case scenario, vet-bill-wise?

I don’t want to sound cold or heartless, but when I was younger, I had goldfish, and they never went to see the vet.

Total cost? $0.00 in vet costs.

Then I got a guinea pig, and healthy as he was, he got a few vet visits. I think we took him in for a checkup every few years, and sadly, we went to see the vet when his time had come and he had to be put to sleep go to a farm in the country. That was pretty much our worst-case scenario.

Total cost? Probably around $500 in lifetime vet costs, which, for a guinea pig, seems high.

Then we got a cat.

That cat, man.

She was … let’s say, particular in who she liked, and there may have been a running Victim’s List of people who got on her bad side. That said, we loved her, and she lived a life of luxury. So much luxury, in fact, that she had to have her teeth cleaned. Twice.

We’re lucky nothing worse ever happened, but after a quick Google search, it turns out that some very common cat problems can run upwards of $2000 in emergency surgery.

That’s a worst-case scenario.

Total cost? Possibly over $2000.

And then there are dogs.

Do you see the trend of the bigger the animal, the higher the potential vet bills? Because I sure do.

I knew this going into adopting The Dog, but whoa. Our worst case scenarios aren’t that far-fetched anymore, from thousands of dollars for surgery to remove a half-eaten sock, to another few thousand to fix a torn knee ligament. (To be clear, these haven’t happen to us yet. Key word, yet.)

You think you can trust me not to eat socks someday? You think wrong, human.

You think you can trust me not to eat socks someday? You think wrong, human.


Trust me, having a dog limping in pain in front of me is one of those “TAKE MY MONEY!” situations, where I’m going to pay for the treatment no matter how well I planned.

Total cost? Thousands – for one of many possible scenarios.

So when you’re trying to figure out if you need an emergency fund for your pet, you need to look at how much their treatments might cost, in the worst case scenario. That’s what you really have to plan for when you’re trying to see if you need an emergency fund.

3. Do you have pet insurance? What’s your deductible and maximum coverage?

Once you’ve (potentially) scared yourself silly thinking about the worst case scenario costs, it might be time to look at pet insurance as an option, unless you have thousands of dollars lying around to fund that pet emergency fund.

A while ago, I thought I was soooo hardcore and cancelled The Dog’s pet insurance, in favour of saving up an emergency fund. I figured that within a year, I’d have as much saved as I had in coverage in the first place, so I’d be all set.

I renegged on this so hard. Three weeks later, there I was researching other pet insurance policies and choosing one that was better suited to The Dog and me. This started when I thought about what could go wrong, all the socks that were waiting to be accidentally ingested, and all the potential vet bills.

It's a good thing he's so cute, really it is.

It’s a good thing he’s so cute, really it is.


The policy we have now has a $200 deductible, and above that will cover 80% of illness and accidents. It tops out at $8000 in expenses each year, and costs me just over $300 for a full year’s coverage.

4. How will you pay for routine vet care?

I’m happy with the insurance I chose, because the intent of the insurance is akin to my emergency fund. I don’t want to rely on it for everyday expenses, but it’s there to take care of situations that could quickly get out of hand.

That said, there are insurance options – expensive ones – that will cover anything and everything your pet needs, from vaccines to annual check ups and more. Once you get into that territory, you’re looking at well over $100 a month, even in months where you don’t have any vet costs.

Even with our relatively pricey local vet, The Dog’s annual check up runs us under $200, including all of his yearly vaccines. For our situation, extensive insurance coverage to pay for regular vet expenses doesn’t make sense, so I pay for these out of pocket. This means that over the summer, I pay for his seasonal tick-and-flea meds out of pocket as well, which seems like a good trade-off for not having a $100+ monthly insurance bill.

If your plan includes paying for out-of-pocket costs on a month to month basis, you’ll need to evaluate how often those expenses come up, and whether you want to save for them ahead of time in your pet emergency fund.

5. Would you cover pet expenses out of your personal emergency fund?

After considering all of this, there’s one easy out you can take, if you’re so inclined. You can decide that any pet emergencies will be funded entirely out of your personal emergency fund, and call it a day.

But! (Isn’t there always a but?)

That decision should factor into how you calculate your personal emergency fund goal. You might need to add on a specific amount to that emergency fund, specifically to cover pet expenses.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned from setting up my emergency fund the absolute wrong way, it’s that lumping too many goals into one account can get confusing. Fast.

So, what’s my pet emergency fund goal?

Looking at all of the above, the most important numbers for me to calculate my savings goals are my insurance numbers. Let’s assume the worst case scenario – I max out my insurance coverage for the year with $8000 in vet bills, over two different issues.

I’ll be on the hook for….

($200 deductible X 2) + [(0.20 X $3800 total bill) X 2] = $1920

I’d also like to pay the annual pet insurance cost out of this account, so I’d like to save an additional $314.75 for that.

In total, to make sure The Dog’s vet bills don’t derail any of my other financial goals, I’ll be aiming for an emergency fund of $2235.00, and if it dips below that, I’ll resume my monthly contributions to get it back up there.

See, now that his emergency fund is taken care of he's all relaxing snuggles.

See, now that his emergency fund is taken care of he’s all relaxing snuggles.

So yes, your pet probably needs an emergency fund of some kind.

There are a lot of ways to make pet ownership fit within your frugal lifestyle, but at the end of the day, being responsible for another life can get expensive. Being prepared to cover those expenses is part of responsible pet ownership, and can save you from the absolute heartbreak of having to watch your pet be in pain.

My hope for you is that your emergency fund never gets used, your pet lives a long, happy, accident and illness free life and dies of old age goes to a nice farm at the ripe old age of 5-years-more-than-you-could-have-expected.

But if you do need it? You’ll be glad it’s there. I know I will be.

I’d love to hear what you think – am I totally out to lunch on this dog-emergency-fund thing? Do you have contingency plans for your pets, or pet insurance? 

Desirae is on a mission to demystify and un-boring financial info for millennials, so that we can all save more money, spend on stuff that matters to us, and still have a latte or two along the way. Money is literally why we can have nice things, and Desirae is committed to helping make sure you know just enough to make the right calls for you. (She’s also committed to her expensive dog, her side hustle, and her retirement fund.)

28 Comments on “Do You Need a Pet Emergency Fund?”

  1. Casey @Waffling

    A few years back my family adopted 3 kittens. Very exciting and fun! There were all the routine bills x3- shots, getting fixed, etc. We planned for those. Then one of the cats got sick. Overnight stays at the hospital ($$$) plus TWO blood transfusions (I think they were $800 a pop). She ended up dying. It was very sad, and very expensive.

    Her sister also had health issues and had to be on expensive pills and vet food (no idea what this cost). She had to have special surgery (I think it was $1200). Plus she had overnight stays too. She ended up being put down as well. All these expenses for both cats occurred with 18 months of getting them

    Thankfully the 3rd kitty has been fine and healthy and is currently a very fat and happy 7 year old cat.

    I dont even know if you can grasp what the worst case scenario is when trying to save the life of a pet you own. All I can say is save up a good chunk, but also be aware that you may need to dip into your human emergency savings too. Pets are not something to be taken lightly- you need to be well aware that things could go wrong and it can get expensive fast. Especially with multiple pets!

    1. Des

      Oh Casey I’m so sorry to hear about your kittens! Although I’m super happy one of them is fat and happy – that’s basically the cat dream. I totally agree that any concept of what the worst case scenario is pales in comparison to actually facing it head on, on every front, including financial. In between my current state and getting The Dog’s emergency fund fully funded, I wouldn’t hesitate to top off any vet expenses from my personal savings account. He’s a member of the family, and that’s just what you do for family. (As someone who volunteers with animal rescue groups, I wish more people were on the same page with us on that!)

  2. Katelynne

    I was scoffing at the idea of pet insurance until I joined pet communities or friends started getting dogs and they had friends who had dogs who ate a stick and then had surgery for 15,000$. Then I realized that that money could be spent in a matter of moments when that shit goes down and your animal still may not be ok. And then you spend every minute walking the silly beast terrified of sticks, balls that are too small, cars, bunnies, etc.

    Pet insurance has actually made me sleep better haha! We have a high deductible so the monthly fees are pretty low (although I may drop it because the last round of vet adventures left us quite shocked how quickly things can pile up) and the company we go with can give you an idea of how much is covered before you make the decide what route to take. AND they pay the vet directly so there’s no worrying about stupid claims forms. #winning

    For regular vet visits, we use the slush in our joint house account to cover the deductible and the regular vet visits stuff. Then as a backup, if anything else happened, we’d take out of our regular emergency fund cause our slush is limited.

    Who knew owning a cute dog would mean this much financial planning 😛

    1. Des

      Right?! Even going into dog ownership with eyes wide open about the costs (The Boyfriend and I got the dog as our *very* expensive Christmas present to each other) it certainly takes a level of planning I didn’t anticipate, haha. As much as everyone warned me about the responsibility and the scheduling a dog entails, the BEST advice was “Dogs are expensive, wait until you can comfortably afford one.”

      That is actually amazing that your insurance pays the vet directly – do you mind me asking which company you’re using? I’m happy enough with ours but would always be open to doing more research! All of the two we’ve tried have had paper claims forms that have to be filled out retroactively. Good, because I get credit card points, bad, because ugh, paper forms.

      Also, my heart is just so warmed that your dog has such wonderful responsible owners who plan for vet expenses and have insurance. ALL of the warm fuzzies! You’re the best.

      1. Katelynne

        I’m using Trupanion! It’s great because they do a pre-approval for the vet so there’s not guessing what’s going to be covered or not. I love it.

        And thanks! That’s super kind! You guys sound like you’ve got a great plan too! So weird to have medical expenses, I’m so thankful we don’t have to pay human medical costs in Canada.

        1. Des

          I KNOW! Oh my god, when we went in for the first few vet visits that’s all I could think about. I can’t imagine having to pay out of pocket for human health care expenses like that. I have a whole new perspective on our medical care system thanks to our vet bills – and I’m altogether much happier with wait times, haha, because I just think about the costly alternative!

  3. Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless

    Ok, so I admit I didn’t know until I read this that there was even such a thing as pet insurance. I had pets growing up, but I’m pretty sure my parents just paid their vet bills out of pocket (I should check on that). We had one cat who was constantly getting into the type of trouble that resulted in anesthesia and surgery, and in retrospect I’m realizing that that must have been incredibly expensive.

    I can’t have any pets right now, in part because of my lease and in part because I’m gone about 12 hours a day and I don’t think it would be fair…but I would loooooove to get a dog someday when I am better able to care for one. And when I do that, I will be back checking out this post again so I can think through my options. 🙂

    Can you tell us your (super cute) dog’s name, or does he prefer to remain anonymous as well? 🙂

    1. Des

      Hahaha since I doubt anyone will actually be able to trace The Dog’s name back to me (well, outside of the people who will see these pictures and immediately recognize him) I can officially introduce him as Jacob 🙂 We can’t take any credit for the name, since it’s what we adopted him as, and we didn’t have any better ideas. When we were looking at dogs, we agreed that we’d only rename a dog if it had a really ridiculous name, like Britney. You can’t call out “Britney!” at the dog park and not get some weird looks. Some names are just not dog names, you know?

      Also, I feel like pet insurance might be a newer thing? Maybe it just appeals to millennials who have pets but not giant bank accounts, haha. My mom and I had a cat growing up too and she never had insurance, so maybe this is just a newfangled millennial thing. That said, with the amount of stuff dogs can get into, maybe it’s just a dog thing. (Apparently insuring cats is wayyyy cheaper, because the vast majority of them are totally chill and don’t eat socks.)

      1. Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless

        Yay, hi Jacob, nice to meet you! 🙂

        Ah, that makes total sense that pet insurance might be a new thing. Seems like something that everyone should have. Hmmmm…I think I will write to Obama and see if he can tack it onto the Affordable Care Act as an addendum.

  4. Jillian

    I think it’s very important to save for pet emergencies. I personally haven’t created a separate account, but I’m pretty good about only using my emergency fund for true emergencies.

    That said… I can guarantee I would spend everything on my baby dog 🙂 I should probably look into pet insurance again.

    1. Des

      That’s exactly the realization that jump started me back into looking at insurance, lol. Since I’m saving (aggressively) for a house down payment, I realized that soon enough, I’ll have a sizeable balance in that account that I wouldn’t hesitate to spend on the dog if he needed it! So insurance suddenly sounded a lot better.

      So many kudos for having a solid emergency fund too, and being a responsible pet owner who plans for this stuff! My heart is the most warm looking at all of the comments from responsible pet people.

  5. Alyssa @ Generation YRA

    I think your plan for a pet emergency fund is on point, especially if pet ownership falls into a category of something you value! 🙂 My fiancé & I do not have any furry friends yet, but we are seriously considering adopting a dog soon! In my mind – pet insurance is absolutely the way to go (especially considering all of the astronomical costs for accidents that happen to pets & what their vet bills entail). This was a great break down for me to consider, especially if pet adoption will be in our future soon!

    1. Des

      Oh yay adoption! Adopting is so hands-down the way to go, and that’s how we got The Dog – we would do it again in a heartbeat! Honestly, I’ve wanted a dog since I could talk, lol, and while I’m glad I waited until the right time, I’m SO happy we have him. Even with the unexpected expenses and vet bills, he’s absolutely worth it to me. If you do have any questions going through the process I’m happy to chat more about it!

  6. Taylor @ Freedom From Money

    This is so interesting! (and I thoroughly enjoyed the latest installment of your emergency fund related thoughts 😉 ) I grew up with pets and LOVE them. I fully believe that they are a part of the family. I currently live with my sister while my partner is in LA for a year getting a post-grad degree. My sis has a cat who I adore, so I get all of the of the fun like cuddles and petting without any of the responsibilities, hah. For now, it’s a perfect situation. I don’t think I’ll be ready for a pet for quite a few more years. In addition to the financial implications, I also travel a lot because my parents live across the country and my in-laws live across the world (London). So I’m not quite ready to navigate all the responsibilities that come with pet ownership! haha. But I have so much respect for how seriously you take pet ownership. AND YOUR DOG IS ADORABLE. So glad you he’s part of your family 🙂 I’m sure he is worth every penny!

    1. Des

      Thanks Taylor! And serious kudos for being realistic about the demands of pet ownership – plus having a live-in cat that you can snuggle anytime is a wonderful alternative! If I was in a different situation and didn’t have a dog yet, I can guarantee I’d live with roommates who had pets. Hands down, no question. I’ve done it before and it’s great! It’s like visiting a baby. You get all the fun stuff and none of the responsibility, lol.

      And NBD, just trips to London to visit family. Just international jet-setting, no big deal, lol. That’s awesome! I’m sure it might be hard sometimes for your partner to be far away from family, but at the same time – a built in reason for international travel is one bright side!

  7. ARBM

    I have two cats, I call them Big Cat and Little Cat on my blog… and neither of them have pet insurance, but so far they have been pretty good at keeping out of too much trouble… They seem to be more likely to end up in cat jail (the pound) than getting injured or sick… I do have a category for pet expenses in my budget and try to keep a fund of around $200 in there for regular vet visits or flea treatments or whatever else might come up, but that’s definitely not enough for a real emergency. I don’t really have a full emergency fund for myself yet, but with Big Cat getting on in years (and with my clear emotional attachment to my buddy), I should probably work on a pet emergency fund too!

    1. Des

      Oh I love that! Big Cat and Little Cat, haha. So cute. My cat was named Kitty in “real life”, because we called her that while we tried to pick a name and it just… stuck. Soooo creative, I know!

      The one bonus, if you do look into pet insurance for Big Cat, is that it should be pretty reasonably priced – at least in comparison to dog insurance!

  8. Our Next Life

    I *love* that you brought up this topic. It’s so important! I’m sure you’re inspiring people to plan well for expenses that come along with (wo)man’s best friend!

    Earlier this year we lost one of our dogs to congestive heart failure, which is common in small dog breeds. And I actually surprised myself through the year-plus time when she was sick. That little dog was my BFF, and I really did think I’d be the type of pet owner who spent whatever it took, said yes to every treatment, and didn’t even look at the quotes. But, shockingly, I was actually very clear-eyed about it all, in part because I realized that I didn’t want to put our dog through a lot of things that we could never explain to her. So when the vet proposed a bunch of tests, I was able to ask, “And what are we likely to learn from those tests that would change her course of treatment, as opposed to just keeping her on the standard meds?” The answer: not a whole lot. There was a tiny chance she could need a slightly different medication regimen, but most likely, we were doing the right thing. And the cost of those tests wasn’t just financial (and expensive!), but would also take a toll on our sick doggie, who wouldn’t understand what was going on, and would be super stressed out about it.

    So, not to bore you with a long story, but I think there’s more to weigh when thinking about medical care for our pets than just the cost. (And thank goodness vets are much more accustomed to talking cost than human doctors are — I’ve never felt judged by a vet for asking about prices and different options.) But we should all know that we have every right to ask what things cost, ask how effective different options are relative to others, and think about how much some treatment might traumatize our pets.

    Thanks for bringing all of this up!

    1. Des

      Oh my goodness, not a boring story at all, thank you so much for sharing it. I am so, so sorry to hear that you lost one of your dogs. No matter how much warning or preparation there was, that is always a no-fun experience.

      You clearly have so much love for your pets, because that is an amazing way to look at it, and one I’m going to remember for when that time comes: will invasive testing or treatment just add extra stress for my best buddy? It’s the most loving way to look at it, especially because for older pets, it’s important to remember that even if you do all the testing and surgery and invasive stuff, the story is going to end the same way eventually. I just can’t overstate how much I love that you put the quality of life of your pup at the top of your priority list. Seriously, I am touched, and impressed, and just think it’s the best way possible to handle that situation.

      Thank you so much again for sharing that – I know it’s not fun to relive that kind of experience but I found it so valuable, and I’m sure other people will too.

  9. Jodie

    Everyone I know thinks I’m a weirdo for having an emergency fund for my cat. Its so nice to see my beliefs validated by someone else, although in all seriousness I don’t really care that others think I’m weird.

    I had considered pet insurance but looking back at how little I had paid the vet over the years it just didn’t make sense. From that month on I added the equivalent monthly insurance payment to Moose’s account until I reached my $1000 goal last month. I feel that will be enough for any emergency procedure she might need but am also willing to pull some money from my emergency fund if necessary. Of course this is also dependent on the quality of life she would have after any procedure because I wont keep her around for my selfish joy if she can’t have the life I want for her.

  10. Reio

    I agree with this a lot, I personally adopted a 2 year old cat, although there is nothing wrong with him and he’s super healthy, I have aimed to have an emergency fund of $1,000 for him, sure this may seem low but it’s a start and it’s better to be prepared for worse case scenario. I always tell people even if the bill costs more then what you have saved up at least you have pay for most or some of it in cash before digging into credit cards or other saving funds.

    1. Desirae

      That is awesome, and not low at all – I think it’s amazing that you acknowledged that you needed to save for it, and my emergency fund for The Dog is still only kicking around at $1300, since I have to balance my contributions to it with so many other goals. Slow and steady wins the race, and your point about something being better than nothing is so good!

      PS. Yay adoption!

  11. Beth

    Hi, could I ask which insurance provider you use? My provider just changed the price (up by $50 per month), the deductible and the co-pay, making it… not worth it at all. I’m looking to switch!

    1. Desirae

      Yeah, for sure! I was with Pet Secure originally, but that was the one I found was really high priced for what I was getting, so I made the switch to PetPlan, which I like as far as what I get for what I’m paying. Here’s their website – I hope this helps!

  12. James Bergman

    I think that it is a really good idea to have a pet emergency fund. It is just the smart thing to do. Murphy’s Law states that when your pet veterinary emergency will happen as when you have the least money in savings. So, it is best to plan for the unexpected expenses, and if nothing bad ever happens, then you will just have extra money for later.

    1. Desirae

      Exactly! I have so many friends who have worked in vet clinics and let’s put it this way: they ALL had pet insurance and pet emergency funds, lol. I figure with what they know, they’re probably doing it right!

  13. Emma

    If you ever get guinea pigs again make sure to get two, not one as they are social animals 😉 You were lucky with the vet bills being so low! My boy has currently got lumps that may or may not need to be removed. But the cost of the tests has already drained my bank account haha! I guess we’ll see.
    Ulgh I’m going to have to set aside money each week for a vet find and try to build it up to at least $2000 just in case. I’m also considering getting a credit card only for vet emergencies that cost more then my vet fund.

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