Preparing for Unexpected Vet Bills
We’ve Come a Long Way!
Finding a Perfect Match, Twice
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Preparing for Unexpected Vet Bills

by Katie McHenry & Kathleen MacKinnon

It’s every pet parent’s worst nightmare: facing an unexpected vet bill that is thousands of dollars. This often comes out of nowhere, such as an unexpected injury or, as was the case with SPCA NOVA cat Jax, a urinary blockage. If you can’t afford a sudden expense of thousands of dollars, you may be faced with going into debt, searching for a way to surrender your pet to someone else, or, sadly, considering euthanasia. What options do you have?

Jax’s Story

Jax was transferred to SPCA NOVA’s care in April after his guardian rushed him to the vet with what turned out to be a urinary blockage. This condition can be fatal if not treated immediately: toxins can back up into the kidneys and cause kidney failure within 24 hours. Blockages happen more easily in male cats than females. Thankfully, this condition is treatable, albeit expensive.

Jax’s guardian was unable to afford treatment or provide him with lifelong monitoring and care. Initial treatment can run up to $4,000: IV fluids; urinary catheter; medications for pain, to relax the bladder, and to treat a possible urinary infection; urinalyses to monitor the urine; blood work to monitor the kidneys and other vital organs; and at least 72 hours of hospitalization.

Here was Jax – an otherwise healthy and loving 3-year-old cat. The vets overseeing Jax’s care offered to try to find a rescue organization to take him into their care. This is when SPCA NOVA stepped in and took responsibility for Jax. As a nonprofit organization, SPCA NOVA was able to launch a fundraising campaign on Facebook. Thanks to our supporters, we raised just over $2,000 to help pay Jax’s vet bills. Sadly, SPCA NOVA gets requests like this all too often. We don’t have the resources to take in every cat or dog facing these situations. Jax was one of the lucky ones.

Thankfully, Jax is now doing great. After being released from the vet hospital, he received a few weeks of careful monitoring and prescription food to prevent future blockages. After a couple of months in our care, a wonderful couple has adopted Jax!

So what are the best ways to be prepared for situations like Jax’s?

Pet Insurance

Pet insurance has become more popular than ever, and according to Consumer Affairs, the ASPCA’s plan is ranked the most popular. (ASPCA stands for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but is not affiliated with SPCA NOVA.)

Like many pet insurance entities, ASPCA offers a variety of options, including basic coverage, comprehensive coverage and wellness plans, and accident-only coverage (the least expensive option). With the ASPCA plans, you can decide what kind of deductible you want ($100, $250, or $500); what the plan will cover (from $5,000 to unlimited); and how much reimbursement you want (70, 80, or 90 percent). However, these options affect the amount you pay, with the lowest rate coming in around $15 a month.

Numerous other organizations now offer pet insurance, so we recommend finding one that’s right for your animal and your budget. Consumer Affairs offers a comparison of more than a dozen pet insurance companies, as do other resources, such as Mashable, the Canine Journal, 365 Pet Insurance, and The Balance.

In addition to price, pay attention to annual deductibles, when and if rates increase as your pet gets older, and whether a wellness plan is included for what you’re paying. For instance, it might make sense to select a more expensive comprehensive plan than to pay a minimal amount for a basic plan that only offers scheduled benefits.

Another thing to ask about when researching plans is what kind of restrictions there are, especially where age and breed are concerned. According to PetMD, some policies will have a minimum and/or maximum age for enrollment. The restrictions may be different for cats and dogs and also some breeds. There may be exclusions based on specific breeds of cats and dogs that have known health risks (see “Breed-Specific Health Concerns” below for examples). Also, ask if they have restrictions on covering bilateral conditions (things that affect both sides of the body, such as hips or eyes). Some policies may restrict how much they cover for these conditions.

Because each situation is unique, only you can decide what company and plan is right for your pet – and for you. Whatever you decide, be sure to have a plan set in advance, well before it’s needed because no pet insurance company will cover pre-existing conditions, although you can still obtain insurance for future injuries and illnesses down the road. In other words, it’s a good idea to think about pet insurance before your pet has an emergency that results in expensive vet bills.

Low-Cost Vet Clinics

If you’re a resident of Washington, D.C., or the surrounding area (including Northern Virginia) and have an income of $55,000 or less, Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) offers discounted full-service veterinary care via their medical center, which is open Monday through Friday. More details can be found on HRA’s website at However, this option wouldn’t help much if you have an emergency when the center isn’t open.

In Richmond, Va., Helping Hands offers low-cost surgery for dogs and cats, which they provide at a fraction of the cost because they only perform outpatient surgeries and dental work (no diagnostics or overnight stays). Clients seeking surgery at Helping Hands must bring diagnostics with them, such as blood work or x-rays, for the surgeons to review prior to surgery. Clients are also responsible for ensuring post-operation hospital stays with their own vet following the surgery, if needed.


The Animal Welfare League of Arlington has a Veterinary Assistance Program that offers small no-interest loans to pet guardians whose animals need an emergency procedure, but who cannot afford the cost up front. Other shelters may have similar programs.


Some nonprofits, such as RedRover Relief and the Pet Fund (which is focused on non-emergency care, such as heart disease), offer grants. Unfortunately, the grants are often small ($200 on average), and they receive more applications than they can cover, which means your application isn’t guaranteed to be approved.


CareCredit cards work similarly to a regular credit card, allowing you to pay your bill a little at a time over a period of months. There is typically a promotional introductory period with no APR (annual percentage rate) that usually lasts between 12 and 18 months. But keep in mind, if it takes you longer than the designated period to pay off your bill, you might end up having to pay an APR of up to 26.99 percent for new accounts, although you may be able to transfer the remaining balance to a different credit card with lower interest rates. Of course, what is most desirable is that you are able to pay off the CareCredit amount during the no-interest introductory period.


If you’re comfortable asking for help, another option to consider is launching a GoFundMe or campaign or running a Facebook fundraiser to solicit donations from family, friends, and others to help pay for expensive medical procedures for your cats and dogs.


It’s heart-wrenching to think about needing emergency care for your cat or dog, but it’s important to be prepared for when this could happen to you. Thus, investing in pet insurance might be the most reliable and affordable method to ensure that you’re prepared. As with all insurance, make sure you read all the terms and conditions in the fine print so you know exactly what is included and what is not.

 Jax relaxes in his foster home after being treated for an unexpected urinary blockage.
Eve, a Shih Tzu, suffers minor health conditions that are common in her breed. Some insurance companies restrict coverage for purebred animals.
Jax wears a protective cone to prevent him from pulling out his urinary catheter.

Breed-Specific Health Concerns

Following are the top five dog and cat breeds and their breed-specific health concerns.


Labrador Retrievers – Obesity

German Shepherd – Hip dysplasia

Golden Retriever – Skin allergies, heart problems

Bulldog – Respiratory problems

Beagle – Epilepsy


Siamese – Kidney and eye problems, skin disorders, asthma, hip dysplasia

Persian – Breathing and eye problems, kidney problems, heart disease, hip dysplasia

Maine Coon – Heart disease

Ragdoll – Hyperthyroidism, heart and kidney problems

Bengal – Digestive disorders, eye problems, kidney disease, cystitis

Dog information from:
Cat information from: and

President’s Letter

We’ve Come a Long Way!

by Dana Meeker

I am so inspired when I look at how far the world of animal welfare has come. Back in 1992 when the SPCA of Northern Virginia was founded, shelter euthanasia was taken for granted, there were few options available to prevent it, and only a few organizations existed to help so many animals in need of rescue. Since then, SPCA NOVA has been a voice for animals in need.

We began with a small cadre of animal-loving supporters who fostered, nursed to health, championed, and found new homes for animals rescued from horrible neglect and abuse. I recently tallied up the impact. More than 8,000 animals came in from the cold, felt grass under their feet for the first time, or felt a loving touch for the first time in someone’s arms, thanks to our volunteers and supporters. Wow!

That small cadre of animal lovers has grown to a huge community, representing hundreds of organizations, with many dozen just in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia).Indeed, people who move to this area from other areas of the country are amazed at the number of animal welfare organizations here. This growth has opened discussions resulting in innovative and creative ways to involve more individuals to save more animals. Animal transport, dogs’ days out, community cat Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), and neonatal kitten nurseries are just some of the initiatives that are saving lives in the DMV and around the country. We’re not done, though. We need to keep the discussions going, sharing opinions frankly and respectfully, to save even more animals.

Without humane education, however, animals will continue to be abused or neglected. Pets will continue to be relinquished because their guardians don’t know where to turn for help or information. SPCA NOVA has always given freely the benefit of our experience. In this issue we tell you about Jax and the importance of planning for medical emergencies. We give you some tips to help you determine if a cat you’ve seen outside needs help and where to turn to ensure that cat gets the care they need.

We also hope you’ll visit our redesigned and updated website. We’ve made it more mobile-friendly and tried to make it easier for you to find what you need. We welcome your feedback.

As we wind down this year, which has flown by, I want to thank everyone who helps us help the animals, giving of their money, their time, or just their kind words of support. Our work is hard, and sometimes sad – a hug goes a long way.

Please consider making a year-end gift to SPCA NOVA to help the animals. Volunteer with us in some capacity – foster, help at adoption fairs, or perform administrative functions. Or perhaps a furry friend is in your future, because adopting is another way to help. No matter how you choose to help, we appreciate you!

Have you visited our updated website? It’s now mobile friendly.

Finding a Perfect Match, Twice

by Lyda Gould

In 2016, Janet Petri and David Jacoby adopted Jenna, now Jenny, after seeing her first on our website and then at an adoption event at Weber’s Pet Supermarket. At the time, one of their dogs had just passed away and they were looking specifically for a beagle/basset hound companion for their 15-year-old dog, Bob, who is the same breed. Though they were actually there to visit with another dog, when they saw Jenny in person, David was adamant that she would be the dog they took home, even though she wasn’t the same breed as Bob.

Jenny & Bob

Jenny and Bob immediately bonded, sharing a bed from the start. Jenny had come to SPCA NOVA from a Maryland animal control facility with entropion in both eyes (inverted eyelashes), and it took a few surgeries to fully correct. However, that didn’t stop Jenny from mothering Bob right away, who had his own eye issues. After seeing Janet clean Bob’s eyes every day with a cotton ball, Jenny took to licking his eyes every morning. Also, when it was time to get a treat, she would show Bob her treat, encouraging him to get up and go get his treat, too. In fact, she wouldn’t eat her treat until he had his.

When Bob passed away, Janet and David felt that Jenny was not happy without someone to mother. This led them back to SPCA NOVA to find a companion for Jenny. They spoke with SPCA NOVA President Dana Meeker and Lisa Reid, who manages Ragged Mountain Dogs where our dogs are kenneled. Being mindful of Jenny’s maternal instincts, Dana and Lisa selected Lucy (then named Luna). Janet says, “They couldn’t have selected a better dog.”

Lucy & Jenny

We know Lucy had a seizure soon after her birth. She had an irregular gait and appeared to be visually impaired, if not blind, which SPCA NOVA attributed to the seizure, or whatever had caused the seizure. But none of that stopped Janet and David from welcoming her into their home. In fact, they decided to take her to an ophthalmologist who remarkably reported that her eyes were in perfect condition and suggested that her problem might actually be neurological.

Surprisingly, once Janet returned to the ophthalmologist’s to pick her up, Lucy’s disposition suddenly did a 180. Where before she had been timid and uncertain, she quickly brightened in Janet’s presence and began to trust her new family. Janet believes this is because Lucy realized she wasn’t being left behind.

Today, Lucy enjoys hiding her treats from Jenny and copying everything that Jenny does. If Jenny is told a command, Lucy follows the command. If Jenny jumps a 12-inch post, Lucy attempts to jump the post – even though Lucy is much shorter and not as athletically inclined as Jenny has proven to be.

Lucy still has her moments. Janet says, “Lucy is afraid of the vacuum cleaner. When I run the cleaner, Jenny lies with Lucy for comfort, and we couldn’t have asked for a better hook up.”

Perfect Matches

Over many years, Janet and David have had many wonderful pets. Janet’s seasoned advice to those considering pet adoption is to “look for a dog that meets [your] needs and be cognizant of the dog’s needs when [you] adopt.”

Finding the perfect match is essential to a successful adoption. Fortunately, the efforts made by everyone led to just that for Jenny and Lucy. Janet says, “We couldn’t be happier.”

Jenny needs a friend to mother, so Lucy was adopted after Bob’s passing.
Bob and Jenny, who immediately bonded after Jenny was adopted, share their home with a cat as well.