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?