What to say when pet owners can't pay for veterinary care

Most pet owners want the best care for their pets. Erase the embarrassment factor for clients on tight budgets with these five tips to talk about cost.
source-image
Jan 01, 2014
By dvm360.com staff

Have you ever found yourself in a predicament where you can't afford something you want? If you're lucky, it was at home when you watched a travel show and realized you couldn't afford an around-the-world trip. You probably weren't embarrassed about not being able to afford this luxury. Well, what if you couldn't afford something you really needed? Even worse, what if that thing was for a member of your family? Would you feel guilty? Hurt? Embarrassed? Angry? This may be how our clients feel if they can't afford the care their pet needs.

When they can't—or won't—afford care

Yes, I agree that oftentimes people make poor decisions, getting a pet when they have little or no discretionary income. Yes, I know it makes us angry to see an owner pull up in a Cadillac SUV and then tell you to put their family pet to sleep because they can't—or won't—pay the $400 veterinary bill for treatment. I understand it makes you want to pull out your hair when people breed pets, then when an emergency in pregnancy occurs they can't—or won't—offer medical care and complain that they're going to lose money. I know you've lost the ability to chuckle at the little digs about how an exam room or wing should be named after their family. Really, I get it, and I've seen it too. But for the purpose of this discussion, let's focus on this: We can't change the situation, so let's learn how we can deal with it and implement some protocols to prevent these situations.

1 Start with a plan


Don’t make this MISTAKE
It's easier to discuss money before we perform the service. Start with treatment plans, or estimates. If pet owners know the cost ahead of time, they can decide whether it fits into their personal budget before you put in the time and work.

Start by creating some standard treatment plans in your software for the services you perform most. You can even make an "ADR" (Ain't Doin' Right) treatment plan to include an exam, lab work and maybe radiographs. Make sure you don't forget to add a medication line to the plan, and always offer a low and high range.

Of course, this isn't the perfect fix, and the pet's needs won't always be the same. But offering some idea of cost is better than offering nothing.

2 Collect a deposit

Next, if you're admitting a patient—especially with a new client—collect a deposit. This ensures that you'll be paid for services. This is also the time you'll find out who can't afford the treatment plan. There will still be clients who nod, agree and even sign the estimate. Then at checkout they'll say, "I don't have any money." Yes, I know what you're thinking: Do they go to Walmart and get to the cashier and say, "I'll be back on Friday to pay when I get paid"? No, but they will do it to us over and over again.