Reader Question: When High Pet Costs Threaten Your Finances

I received a very sad e-mail today from reader Tina:

…A recent crisis with my cat has deeply taxed my savings. [...] I have spent more than $4500 on my pet in the last three months. She developed lymphoma and the initial hospitalization and testing to find out what was wrong accounted for the bulk of the expense. The rest has been spent on follow-up chemotherapy treatments.

I’m curious how you would handle such a crisis (heaven forbid). Do you think you’d ever get to a point where the price was too high to keep your pet alive (assuming doing so will give it a relatively good quality of life)?

I think this is an important topic, but at the same time it’s very touchy because I’ve found that people tend to have very polarized views on pets. Here is a quote from VPI pet insurance founder Jack Stephens:

Pet insurance is a nonstarter for many pet owners, simply because they take a pragmatic approach to their animals. If the cost of treatment got too high, they would choose to put the animal to sleep.

“About half see the pet as disposable. If it got really ill they just wouldn’t treat it,” said Stephens, whose company conducted research on the issue. The other half “were willing to treat, whatever it took.”

Now, I don’t think it’s nearly as black and white as that, as I think most pet owners love their pets to some degree. But the people on the “pets-as-children” camp are often just as militant as the “they’re just animals-not-humans” camp.

Economic Euthanasia
A recent Slate.com article subtitled What I wouldn’t do for my cat also addressed this issue in depth. (The editor’s choice response letters are also thought-provoking.) It refers to refusing care due to cost as “economic euthanasia”. From reading it, cultural norms seem to be shifting. But in the end, I think it still all comes down to personal priorities.

What is the benefit? Are you talking about the cat or dog coming back to 100% health like a broken bone? Or are you paying to extend its life by weeks while lying in pain? There is a time that palliative care is the most humane choice.

Where is this money coming from? Don’t just look at the number, look at what you’d be giving up. At $2,000, is this money that would go to a vacation to Mexico otherwise? A new HDTV? Payment on your nice car? Now, let’s say it means you can’t buy gas for work or food for your kids. Different story.

Give it away? I think most vets can draw their own line as to what is “necessary”. So if you’re not willing to pay, maybe you should let one of them handle it:

Recently, I called our vet, Dr. Timothy Mann of Northside Veterinary Clinic in Brooklyn, N.Y., to ask him what would have happened if we hadn’t opted to pay for surgery.

“We don’t believe in putting animals to sleep because of money,” Dr. Mann said. “If someone can’t afford or won’t pay to save an animal who can be saved, we’ll save the animal and then keep it or find it a good home.”

Also, be sure to contact local rescue groups. They will be happy to take your sick dog, and will find some way to pay for the care. We are signed up for rescue lists for our specific breed of dog, and we would gladly take another one in if the need arose.

Plan Ahead With Pet Insurance
One way to avoid such difficult decisions is to buy pet insurance. Although it can be expensive at around $30 a month, it will definitely help soften the blow of a huge unexpected bill (although it likely won’t cover it all). Alternatively, put away money regularly in a “pet health savings account”. If you put away just $20 a month and your animal experiences issues at 5 years old, you’d already have $1,200 + interest to cover it.

My Own Doggie Evolution
I never had any pets growing up due to a broad parental ban. Not even a goldfish! My wife, on other hand, was always surrounded by animals. Rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, fish, dogs… When we got our first dog from the local Humane Society nearly 3 years ago, I didn’t really know how I would react. Would I love it? Would I ignore it? I must say that our little dude has burrowed his way into my heart. I mean, how can you say no to this buttercream-covered face?

altext

For us, we would give up just about all of our luxuries before withholding healthcare for our dog. We are both in agreement as well, which is great because I know for other couples it can be a point of great tension. Heck, my wife the fashionista would probably wear a potato sack around while selling our car and taking the bus 2 hours to work every day if it came down to it.

However, if it meant sacrificing the health or safety of an immediate (human) family member, I would think twice. By this I mean taking on a dangerous level of debt, or cutting corners in the essentials like nutritious food, health insurance, and safe housing.

But this doesn’t mean I spend my time judging other pet owners for deciding against care due to high cost. For many people pets are not humans, and there is a line to be drawn. But again, if you can’t or aren’t willing to pay please make sure you’ve considered all your options.

Comments

  1. Sorry, but it is a dog.

    While compassion is commendable, let it go.

    If you had an income to sustain it, well that is different.

    I had an animal that I probably should have let go; I did not spend anywhere near that, but given he was already sick I should have let him go.

  2. Chris in Boston says:

    I can relate to a degree. My own cat last summer was found to have lump in his throat that was cancerous.

    This being an 18 year old cat one needs to consider what quality of life would it have? What chance of a reasonable recovery? Can an 18 year old cat even survive surgery? Even the vet tech looked at me with a level of incredulous concern… 18?!?! Years?!?!?! Are you SURE you want to do this?

    Well I spent the $800 for a surgery to remove what they could. The little bastard was really on deaths doorstep for the three weeks following. I had to force feed him pureed wet food mixed with water fed through a syringe into the back of his throat.

    As the days turned into weeks he slowly made a remarkable recovery. He’s been a happy little cat and I am so glad I spent the money to give him this one chance. He’s very much acting like his normal self now. My little buddy that follows me wherever I go, always on the prowl for food, and still very much acting like a much younger cat! I am very happy to have given him this extra time to enrich our lives.

    Unfortunately the lump has returned and is now something you can feel under the skin in his neck. Sadly, I know the end is near. I won’t put him through that process again, especially now at 19 years. He will live out a long and happy life at home, and when it becomes unbearable to see him struggle to eat, or he takes a downturn from the effects of the cancer on his other organs, we will sadly put him down. Knowing however that he led a long happy warm life, and truly was simply the best little cat in the world.

  3. Mr. Stupid says:

    I’ve found there’s a simple formula for figuring out how much you should spend on taking care of a sick pet:

    Amount to spend = whatever my wife says

    Household harmony is more important than money, and my wife ain’t dumb — she knows there are limits to the lengths we will go to save one of our dogs. We just haven’t found that limit yet.

  4. Drew Miller says:

    That dog is cute! You better not let it die!

  5. A rescue will not “be happy to take your sick dog and find some way to pay for the care”. Rescues don’t always have the time, space or resources to take care of your problem. Rescues are a great resource and they should always be contacted as a last resort, but they are busy trying to save the thousands of homeless dogs already sitting in shelters facing death; they should not be recommended as a back-up plan for someone that doesn’t want to deal with their responsibilities.

    Many rescues will not take owner surrenders. You must first take the pet to a shelter and hope that a rescue is contacted, hope that they have room, hope that they consider your pet adoptable, hope that they have the money to address whatever issues your pet may have, and hope that they get there on time. In some cases of injured, sick or old animals it is better to take them for euthanization yourself. Otherwise they may spend their remaining days in a inhospitable shelter run, with no medical care, only to be euthanized anyway, alone and scared.

    In certain parts of the country rescues may be less crowded and more accommodating, and a purebred dog will be easier to place in a breed-specific rescue, but that does not make it okay to recommend that people turn their back on this life that they took responsibility for. If someone took an animal into their home, they are responsible for that life, and they should follow it through to whatever end may come.

  6. I came to a realization after my family spent too much to save a dog that was past her time. Lady had a tennis ball size growth/cyst/tumor (since she was dead we did not have the biopsy done) on her leg. We had one vet tell us she couldn’t do anything because “Lady” wouldn’t survive the anesthesia. Naturally being in love with the dog, we went to seek out a second opinion and found a vet that would perform the surgery. The first vet was correct, less than 30 minutes after the surgery she was dead. So $700 later we had the same result as a $50 euthanasia. This got me to thinking, if thousands of healthy animals are euthanized every day because they don’t have the money to house and feed them why are we spending huge amounts of money on sick dogs? $700 would probably save many healthy animals but failed to save even one sick dog. It’s pure selfishness that causes us to spend ridiculous amounts of money on sick animals.

  7. I have a female Golden Retriever. She picked me out as her master at 5 weeks. I’ve had her since she was eight weeks. She has been a great friend to me, and I can give her credit for me being here today. She is now eleven years old and is showing the signs of her age. There are lumps all over her body. Most are fatty deposits, some are cysts. Every time a new one appears I get it examined and lab work is done to determine what it is. She ate a corn cob in February and had to have it surgically removed. Just this year, I’ve spent over $4000 on her medical care.

    Other than her lumps and her propensity for eating things she shouldn’t, she is in fine health. The vets are all amazed at her general health at this age.

    My dog, Dharma, is a part of our family. I’m not saying she is human, but if she is a part of our family then she should get the same treatment any other family member would get.

    Having said that, she cannot communicate to us what her wishes are regarding under what circumstances she’d like to keep living. So I will not invest a lot of time or money into keeping her alive if doing so is unlikely to result in any type of life worth living. This is the only point that diverges from her getting the same treatment that any other family member would get. My human family members can make that decision for themselves and communicate it. Dharma cannot. I have to make what I believe to be the best decision for her.

    I dread the day that I have to make that decision.

  8. Ken in GA says:

    This is a hard one that raises a lot of issues about our view of, and relationships to, animals.

    We recently had to put down our dear cat that had been with us for almost 16 years, a long good life indeed. Although it was the right thing to do at the time, it still troubles me that he just wasn’t able to curl up in his favorite chair or underneath his favorite tree and pass on on his own. It makes me wonder if our willingness to increasingly use human medical applications to treat animals is just in fact keeping them here a lot longer than nature ever intended — ultimately resulting in having to take that last heart-breaking trip to the vet when nature will be denied no more.

    Sadly, I feel that the veterinary profession — to some extent — has become something of a racket, more concerned with maximizing revenue the delivering professional care. And we pet owners are a disadvantage in that we can be told anything and have no frame of reference in which to evaluate it. At one point in our cat’s life we changed vets, as the annual visits for shots and a checkup to the affluent suburban location we were using became an ordeal costing us in the hundreds of dollars. It was insisted to us that he needed blood test, heart tests, teeth cleaning, etc. We were lucky to find an old fashion, no-nonsense vet who administered the basic shots and exam for a reasonable price. When the little guy started to go downhill (tumors around the liver and kidneys), our vet honestly explained all the options to me, both in medical and financial terms. He advised us against “heroics” that would only prolog our cat’s suffering and cost a bundle to boot.

    Although I certainly believe the basics — rabies shots, worm and flea treatments, etc. — should always be taken care of, I think in some ways we have gone “too far” in trying to interfer with nature. I’m glad we had our little guy for 16 years; I just hope his quality of life was worthwhile toward the end.

    A few days ago our neighbor’s old dog — who had no apparent health issues — somehow got out of their fenced backyard, went down the street to say goodbye to his oldest buddy — another neighbor’s golden retriever, and then laid down and passed on. I wish it was so easy for all pets.

  9. It’s good to remember too that vet bills are negotiable — and some vets charge completely different amounts for the same treatment. We found out that our vet wanted about $1,500 for a treatment, and the vet around the corner would do the same thing for $500. Our first vet wouldn’t negotiate at all and made me feel guilty for not doing the treatment as soon as possible. The same vet was eager to get my dog on worming medication that he would need every month for the rest of his life even though he never had worms. I wouldn’t use their office again.

  10. I don’t have a pet currently because I don’t have a yard and don’t have time to be home enough to walk and play with it, but I love dogs and would never have mine put to sleep just because I couldn’t afford to pay for treatment. I would definitely go the adoption route.

  11. Well, I spent about 2 grand on my pet Rat back in the day. We had him neutered (much more complicated than on a dog or cat, it’s Microsurgery and they have a more complicated anatomy), and had 2 tumors removed. He died when he was 2 years and 1 day old.

    I think it really does boil down to quality of life. If you can’t improve that, then it’s probably not worth spending thousands of dollars. Some vets will even make a house call to put the animal down in familiar surroundings.

  12. In an evolutionary sense, domesticated animals have generally traded there autonomous ability to breed, hunt, and migrate for the comfort, safety, and dependability of the human home. We got vermin control, farm duties and companionship out of the deal. The key to the scenario is that the animal’s highest calling is now to satisfy the primary requirements of their keeper. If an animal’s illness is now placing a burdonsome load of financial and emotional stress on the owner, the paradigm breaks down, and maintaining a false relationship out of a sense of duty or guilt on the human’s part would be more damaging to the dignity of the animal than a humane death.

    Just one mans opinion.

  13. “The same vet was eager to get my dog on worming medication that he would need every month for the rest of his life even though he never had worms. I wouldn’t use their office again.”

    Was the vet recommending heartworm preventative? That has nothing to do with whether a dog has had worms before. Heartworm preventative is easy and cheap compared to the treatment if the dog contracts heartworm. One pill a month could save you a lot of heartache.

    Some people choose not to vaccinate or medicate their pets due to new research about possible side effects, but they make that choice fully educated about both sides of the argument. To choose not to treat a pet out of frugality amounts to abuse.

  14. Our dog broke both her radius and ulna in a fall down the stairs after we had her for one week. Surgery was required. The local animal hospitals wanted about $3,500 on average.

    However, we checked out the veterinary schools at the University of Missouri and Kansas State University, and found they could do the same surgery for $1,800.

    So, my advice is to check out vet med schools. May be able to bring your price down a lot.

  15. I spend all my money on people. Boy are they a handful!

  16. TechJosh says:

    I don’t know what the blue book value is on an ’88 Calico but I’m pretty sure if it gets in any major accident its pretty much totaled.

    ok, I can’t take credit for that joke… credit should go to my uncle: http://www.donfriesen.com

  17. Went through this last fall. Sadly, our 2.5 yr old Weimaraner was sick beyond our ability to help her (acute lymphocytic leukemia). We spent about $2000 to try to fight it, and within a month of discovering her disease, we decided the fight wasnt one we could win, and we couldnt do her much good trying. Her age and the speed at which it came on is much of why we spent what we did. We have no kids, and the disposal of the income wasnt something we were going to miss terribly. The 3 really good weeks we got out of it was worth it for us – more so than a week in some fancy hotel.

  18. The comments about turning a dog over to a rescue group are irresponsible and show a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of breed rescue group.

    The purpose of a breed rescue group is to find new homes for HOMELESS dogs. Occasionally, breed rescues take in a homeless animal that requires extensive medical treatment and the volunteers go to extraordinary lengths to raise money to pay for it.

    Rescue groups are not equipped financially (or otherwise) to accomodate pets who are being abandoned because their owners cannot afford their vet care. These groups have limited resources and their priority is saving the lives of animals who would otherwise be euthanized. Choosing to spend $5,000 to fix the hips on one poorly bred labrador retriever could mean many healthy labs would stay in in shelters and be euthanized.

    I understand your point that if one has a choice between an expensive operation for a dog and food on the table, then we all choose to feed our kids. BUT suggesting that groups designed to re-home animals will be “happy to take your sick dog” is blatantly untrue.

    Posting this information and the link to the breed rescue group page at the akc does your readers a disservice because they will find that the groups are not “happy” about taking a sick dog. It will also create greater stress and work for the volunteers who work for these groups.

    I respectfully suggest that you edit this post—or at the very least contact some of the rescue groups you have linked to and ASK them how they feel about this type of situation.

    YOU HAVE ALSO MISSED an obvious place to return an unhealthy dog—the breeder. A good breeder will take back a dog at any point in their life for ANY reason.

    PS While there are many dogs who rack up huge vet bills because of accidents and random illness, many are born with defects and health problems caused by irresponsible breeding. Perhaps you could write a column on how to think ahead and save money by choosing a healthy pup.

  19. jon
    there are tons of adoptable children and kids in india and africa that could really use a home. i hope you dont plan on having any biological kids, that would be selfish

  20. Ted Valentine says:

    I think my limit is about $500 on my dog.

    gt your analogy is off base. You can’t equate people and dogs. We should do more to help people before spending thousands on pets. We live in a world where typical pets in the USA have better food and shelter than much of the world.

    My opinion is Tina would have made a better decision to put her cat down, give remaining $4450 to the American Cancer Society and get a new cat scheduled for termination at the pound.

  21. gt,
    Have to agree with Ted Valentine on this one. To the best of my knowledge we aren’t euthanizing children in India or Africa. If we weren’t euthanizing animals either it might make sense to prolong the life of a sick pet. But instead we are choosing to prolong the life of sick animals and euthanizing healthy ones which makes absolutely no sense.

  22. I don’t currently have a pet, but I grew up on a farm with lots of pets and livestock. As a society we treat our pets too much like humans. Too me this shoots that something deep down is wrong with us. We are obviously trying to fill a void inside with something that doesn’t quite fit. What are missing? Human interaction. We drive to work alone. Work in sterile cubicles…alone. Live in apartment buildings alone (we never know our neighbors)…or we live in giant houses in unwalkable neighborhoods with a spouse if we are lucky. Our friends live a 2 hour plane ride away. Anyone know what we are missing?

  23. >Also, be sure to contact local rescue groups. They will be happy to take >your sick dog, and will find some way to pay for the care.

    That is a pretty irresponsible suggestion. One step further and you could suggest that a person save money on spaying and just keep giving the puppies or kittens to a shelter. They’ll surely find the resources to take care of your disregard for your own pet.

    Either put the pet down, pay for proper care, or have your pet live with it. Don’t offload your problem onto society.

    -Wes

  24. The irony and apparent hypocrisy of the western societies’ affair on pets is that often human lives are valued less than some precious puppies or kitties. The $$$ is the ultimate judgment of how one being is treated regardless of whether he/she/it is human or not.

    Remember the drop dead black elderly feasted by a pack of dogs in New Orleans? I was amused to watch a local news piece later on when a helpless kitty cat stuck in a pipe was rescued by the brave and handsome firefighters (i wonder what’s the bill the city government will get when this “heartwarming” incident is over). What’s most amusing is not the story itself, but the reaction of the news broadcasters. Their genuine “uahhhh…. ohh….” sound was sharply contrasted by their emotionless illustration on the Katrina story.

    So, is there really a line between human and animal? Not really. There’s a line between the have and have-nots among other things (such as skin colors.)

  25. I grew up on a farm where pets were disposable (often died from tragic accidents involving combines, etc).

    Now that we have a dog in our house (she’s a family member and our whole home life pretty much revolves around her), I can’t imagine putting her down as long as she has a certain quality of life.

  26. I watched a friend deplete her life savings and borrow a huge sum of money to keep her very ill cat alive for just a few more months. The cat was alive, but living in terrible pain, constantly drugged up, and barely able to move the whole time. I know that my friend needed to feel like she had done all she could for the cat. And that was admirable. I couldn’t help thinking, though, that both she and the cat would have been better off with euthanasia.

    In that instance, like in many I hear of, I think it is the vet that is taking advantage of people who love their pets and want to keep them alive just a little longer. My friend’s vet should have been up front with her and made it clear that none of these things would save the cat. The vet should have recommended euthanasia. Instead, I think the vet just saw a paycheck.

  27. When animals get old and sick, and spending money on them will just extend their lives (and prolong their suffering) but not restore them to health, the kindest thing is to let them go. Ultimately, when a pet hits its “expiration date” – pet owners know what I mean – choosing to keep them alive with a very poor quality of life is more selfish than helping them to move on.

  28. I wonder how the ‘numbers stack up’ on children?

    On the other hand, prefer to earn more to cover my expected costs. A nice example is in one of Robert Kiyosaki’s books (rich dad, poor dad guy): he wanted Ferrari, so his wife said “spend the money to buy a business instead and use the income to fund a lease on a Ferrari” …. some of the best advice ever written in those few words!

    You want a pet? Start a business on the side … then you can afford to keep the pet alive!

  29. Just an aside question, has anyone tried the high yield checking account from charles Schwab?

    I would like to hear some reviews from you guys.

    Thanks,

  30. Wow, talk about timing. This past weekend was very traumatic for my family. We had to make the decision to put our dog to sleep after electing a “try” at surgery to remove a tumor. The surgery attempt cost $1400 but we felt it was worth it to give him a shot at a remainder of life that would exceed a couple months. It was determined during surgery that the tumor was affecting one of his main arteries connected to the heart so it wouldn’t have made a difference if the surgery was successful. Knowing what I know now, I could have saved quite a bit of that money but we made the decision as a family to give our family pet a shot at life. That I don’t regret.

  31. .22 bullets are less than $.05/ea. Cheaper and more humane than subjecting your pet to a huge number of medical procedures.

  32. I like the suggestion to put money away monthly, just in case. Seems like a logical alternative to pet insurance assuming you don’t have a really sickly animal. Ultimately, when you choose to take home a pet you’re also choosing to pay the bills that will inevitably arise. If you can’t pay for the occassional treatments that are required you really should reconsider acquiring the pet in the first place. I also appreciate the context of the response, is it a routine fix for a curable ailment or is it simply prolonging the inevitable passing of the animal…

  33. Jon should be praised for bringing up this topic.

    This is seriously a ‘walking-on-thin-ice’ topic with the cat lovers out there.

    Excellent post Jon and something we really need to discuss. Even for me – who only has tomato plants as pets (pests?)…

  34. Seeing as how we feel we need to treat animals fairly and as almost human I suggest this pet charter:
    1. As all cats and most dogs are feral creatures they should not be confined to small closed spaces with limited outdoor activities
    2. As all animals have the inherent right to life, liberty, recreation and health they may not be spayed or declawed
    3. As all animals have the inherent right to self determination they may not be forced through obedience school
    4. Cats’ self evident right to hunt birds shall not be abridged
    5. Dogs’ self evident right to roam in packs, bark at each other, sniff eachother’s backsides, chase naturally occurring fast moving tail pipes shall not be abridged.

    etc. etc.

    My point? Though, most pet owners wouldn’t recognize or admit it, their pets are already objects of whim (which I do not object to). Healthcare is no different. Want to pull the plug? Pull it. You’ve already controlled every aspect of their being to suit your whim. Might as well control their non being…

  35. I for one am very glad that people go through lengths to treat their dogs with cancer and other diseases. Because lots of human chemotherapeutic agents work on dogs, pharmaceutical companies can expand their market and charge less for both dogs and humans. I think it’s good for everyone.

    Some of these treatments can only extend life shortly, but some work better than others. Sometimes, euthanasia is the best answer. But usually the vet won’t know unless the necessary tests are done and those tests (which can run into the thousands) are probably worth it IMO.

  36. gt – Hmm… by the same “dying children in Africa” analogy used above then my cell phone, tennis racquet, and all my other non-essential expenditures are also killing kids. You must feel very guilty all day long.

    Ted – I agree that if you wish to equate your current cat’s life with another cat’s life, that is your prerogative. I also think it’s perfectly natural to prefer a life you are attached to already and helped shape.

    acoward – I really have no idea what you are talking about. Human kids get circumsized, kept in daycare or sat in front of a TV, or enrolled in private school all the time. Do kids have a self-evident right to do whatever they want without discipline or boundaries?

  37. My dogs are part of my family as well, however, I consider it selfish to string a sick dog along with a poor quality of life in order to make me feel better about myself. This all really has to do with eliminating the guilt the we would feel for putting our pets down, no matter how right the decision is.

  38. I would agree that inability to let go plays a role, just as with humans. I have an Advanced Directive not to prolong my life artificially past when I make my own decisions, but my dog does not.

    I think people probably project their own values on their pets – if they would fight to the last breath, then they think their dog would. Whereas I put quality of life higher than length of life.

  39. I don’t think people should punt their sick dogs on overtaxed shelters, but if they are really going to pay $100 to euthanize them (or 50 cents for bullets, I suppose) instead of paying for a $500 procedure, shouldn’t they at least try to find an alternative? If the group doesn’t take it, at least you tried. If someone else is willing to help, I say let them.

  40. It would definitely depend on our financial situations and the relationship we had with the pet. Neither of us is a pet-as-family-member type, so I expect that we’d have the pet put down in financially serious situations. If we could afford it, we’d probably treat.

    What I would pay for: I had a parakeet growing up who had a malformed bill that overgrew and was crooked. She needed it trimmed every 3 months or so because it cut into her skin and she couldn’t eat right otherwise. That cost maybe $200/year I think. Our family wasn’t in financial straights so we did it.

    What I wouldn’t: Same bird developed tumors at the top of her legs (common among parakeets, we had several die this way). The options were—attempt treatment (expensive, low chance of success, old bird, more pain for her), make comfortable (put food dish on the bottom of cage and care for her until she expired), or euthanize (expensive unless we did it ourselves). We did our best to make her comfortable because a thousand dollars of surgery just didn’t make sense in that case. Nobody could handle breaking her neck (a comparatively humane option) and the doctor said euthanasia would be pretty expensive.

    On the other hand, for a child we’d do everything possible. Despite the cost.

  41. Putting my 11 year old cat to sleep was a terrible terrible thing to go through.

    It was always my theory that cats got old, they got sick, you took them to the vet, the vet told you what was wrong, and then you decided whether or not it was worth it to keep the cat alive given quality of life, etc.

    Here’s a different scenario – my cat was clearly sick, laying on the floor and crying. I took him to the vet. they wanted to keep him overnight. I signed off on $650 of charges for the overnight. They ran bloodtests and kept him there, and had no idea what was wrong. In the morning I went to pick him up, after an x-ray, and the total was now $950. I told them I couldn’t afford any more, they didn’t know what was wrong, but I couldn’t pay for anything and so I took the cat home.

    He started eating again and I thought he was fine. three weeks later he was crying, lethargic, and not eating. I talked to the vet and they told me that the next option to figure out what was wrong would be an ultrasound – $600.

    I made the hardest decision and had him put to sleep, I think cats have a way of knowing when they’re ready to go and without sounding like a mushyperson, sam seemed ready to go. $150 later I was without kitty. I think it was the right choice – I’m barely scraping by having just graduated from college & living in an expensive expensive city. I didn’t have the money to afford that – luckily sam got sick right on my birthday, I had just gotten birthday money and it all went to the vet. I had never contemplated the idea of having to put a pet to sleep without knowing what was wrong, it was the unknown that made it even more dificult than i thought. but I’m rambling now – I really thought I had it figured out before it happend to me.

  42. Ed the Vet says:

    I am actually graduating from vet school in four weeks. I empathize with most of your opinions but am abhorred by a few (CRS, I’m talking to you).

    Some vets out there are really good, while others are bad. My advice is to not make blanket statements about veterinarians based on a few bad apples. We are a diverse group of people who make an oath to ‘first, do no harm…’. The majority of us follow that principle.

    I am very sorry for Tina and the choices she has been forced to make. The prognosis for lymphoma is poor with a median survival time of one year with treatment. The goal of veterinary chemotherapy is not to cure, but rather to achieve an adequate quality of life for the animal as long as possible. This means that the owner has to make an extremely tough decision.

    I have seen owners who have declined treatment and chosen euthanasia. I have also seen owners treat their dogs and see them maintain an adequate quality of life far longer than any of my colleagues have anticipated. Let me tell all of you personally that I have never judged an owner for not electing to pursue chemotherapy for their animal. It is a horrible decision to have to make and every time I’ve had this conversation with an owner, I tell them ‘there is no right answer here…’

    As for veterinary insurance, I don’t necessarily recommend it. I think it is better to put that money away in an high-yield savings account. Placed in a similar situation, I would dip into my emergency fund. Would I spend $4500 like Tina? I honestly don’t know.

    And as for turning over your dog to a shelter or rescue, it’s simple economics. There is no way that a rescue will spend 4500+ to manage a cat’s lymphoma when that money could be better spent on finding 20 other animals good homes (sorry, Jonathan, but I think you’re outside your area of expertise on this one).

  43. I would agree that $4,500 for lymphoma from a outside group for a cat is unlikely. I am definitely less familiar with cat groups as well. But how about $500 for a broken leg? The vet interviewed above said himself that he would cover a $1,300 urinary tract infection stay.

  44. I cancelled my pet’s policy with VPI Insurance. $30/month doesn’t buy much coverage. I also had a rider attached for cancer, since I’ve read that something like 80% of all pets will get cancer eventually (if they outlive everything else, in other words). But, that $360+ in payments per year started sounding silly to me after I tried to file the first claim for a UTI. Very little of the office visit and treatment was covered–I think there was a deductable I paid that pretty well paid for the whole vet bill. I could put that $360/year into a savings account specifically for this purpose and be ready if/when my dog needs it.

    I would never euthanize for any reason besides quality of life. Would my dog’s quality of life be severely affected by the condition? Would she be in pain? Could she still feel well enough to be herself? I would never let her suffer.

    But, money is not what’s really important on this Earth. Family and friends are (even the furry sort–and, I don’t mean the type you see in speedos on the beach).

  45. Leslie Raymond says:

    This is definitely a question loaded with emotion from both sides – and just like with having kids, if you’re not a pet-owner/animal lover you won’t have the same opinion as someone who is. The good thing is, non-pet owners don’t have this decision to make, so some of the really rude commenters on this post will never have to deal with it. (And boy, there are some real prizes in the list of comments – yikes I don’t want to meet up with these folks in a dark alley.)

    I grew up with a wonderful cocker spaniel, who got sick late in life, he needed one surgery and lived for several years after that before his quality of life deteriorated and we had him put to sleep. After the cocker, there was a German Shepard who also lived a long wonderful life before she began to suffer and we had her put to sleep. My parents now have a golden retriever mix, because for them, life is not complete without an animal to love.

    Currently, I have two cats – one is 12 and the other is 6 and I rescued them both – one straight from the street and one from the Humane Society. I dread having to make the decisions again about their health, but I have to tell you, even if I had the money I’d spend it only if it made sense to extend their life and I was doing it for them and not just so I could postpone the inevitable for a few weeks/months. It’s all about quality of life, in my opinion. If I didn’t have the money but the operation made sense, I think, like your wife, I’d beg, borrow, steal, sell stuff, etc. to keep my furry family members with me.

  46. I think the ultimate question is whether spending the money would improve the quality of life for the pet. You could spend thousands because you feel you have to do everything possible, but if the pet is suffering during the treatment and the quality of life after treatment does not improve, then you have done nothing except prolonging the suffering of your loved one. Pet owners need to be objective during this tough time, and the objective is the comfort of the pet. If you love your pet, you can’t be selfish.

    I’ve probably spent more than 40K during the past 11 years on my baby. Suspected liver shunt, did several tests so $$$. Found out epilepsy instead so $$ for maintenance Rx and periodic blood tests. Plus little illnesses here and there. Then a big one: Spent approx 4K on his pancreatitis, he recovered fully so it was money well spent. Switched med to KBr so the periodic blood test cost went up.

    When he reached 7 yrs, we started twice yearly physicals. And before this New Year, a diagnosis of slipped-disc ($600) turned into nightmare. Woke up and one leg was useless. So after consulting with reg vet, had MRI and also had to do CT because of interference from the microchip. That totaled 2.5K. Then saw vet neurologist. Diagnosis: he was paralyzed because of compression of the spinal cord. Excellent prognosis from vet neurologist, so 4K of surgery later, he is now feeling the best he has in years. Got the bounce back in his steps. His quality of life improved, so I had no regrets spending more than 7K on him in less than 2 months.

    Now, he is in treatment with a vet ophthalmologist for extremely dry eyes (tears production at 2 instead of normal 15+). He was diagnosed with minor cataract too, but I’m treating the dry eyes first and will see if the cataract surgery is going to be worth it for him to go through the pain and risk of anesthesia vs the resulting clearer vision. I mean, he will be 12 yrs next month, and blurred vision might be a livable condition for him. I rather he be safe with blurry vision than to subject him to anesthesia again so soon after the spinal surgery, which of course was more necessary as he couldn’t even stand.

    During this whole time while seeing one vet after another, I didn’t even think about the money. Had the vet neurologist said prognosis not good after surgery, I would not have put him through the spinal surgery. Nor would I put him to sleep. I would help him adjust and get him one of those doggy wheelchair. He is our family and we just treated him as such.

    I just don’t think affordability should be an issue. Would anyone put a human child down because you can’t afford the treatment? Once you committed to bring a pet into the household, you are as committed to that pet as if you bring a child into this world. There shouldn’t be a difference in how one treats a pet and a human child: both are helpless and dependent on the parents for survival.

    True that a dog or cat is only animal, but aren’t human also animal? We evolved from ape! And you can’t get unconditional love, honesty and loyalty guaranteed from a human child!

  47. Ed the Vet says:

    I think Mia should receive an award for the care and empathy she has provided for her animals. However, I believe that you cannot make an analogy between a pet and a child. Are you just as close to your pet as to your child?

    As for the $500 broken leg scenario, it would have to be a simple fracture that a local veterinarian would feel comfortably repairing. Otherwise, it would require an orthopedic surgeon at a specialty practice or vet school where the total cost would probably be around $2000. At a vet school, it would be hard to subsidize that cost. It really depends on the individual vet and what they are willing to do.

    It is a similar csae for the $1300 UTI. This condition is more commonly seen by local veterinarians as opposed to specialists. As a result, it is up to their individual discretion and would probably be more likely to be repaired pro bono than a fracture.

    However, I’m not sure how many veterinarians consistently perform pro bono procedures. After a time, it will definitely hurt their bottom line. The furthest I’ve seen some vets go is to do all-day volunteer spays and neuters at their local shelters on the weekend.

    Finally, please compare the cost ot animal care versus human care. A veterinary CBC costs $50-90, whereas a human one costs several hundred. The same goes for every aspect of human medicine. How much does chemotherapy cost in a human? Much more than $4500.

  48. These are truly the issues of full bellies. Our incredible prosperity creates situations that would have seemed absurd extravagances to predecessors from almost every age.

  49. Ben, I never understand when someone brings up this argument. Would you have us all go back to living in mud huts, no electricity, no plumbing, less hygiene, no modern medical care, limited diets, etc.?

    It seems when people bring up this point, they imply they would rather see us return to that state of living, rather than see us place any value on an animal’s life beyond being a source of food.

    I glad our society has evolved to the point that many of us have compassion for animals.

    Forgive me if I am interpreting you post incorrectly, but this type of statement always comes across the same way to me.

  50. Choosing between luxuries.

  51. It isn’t an argument more of a wistful observation. And what about it isn’t true? History and Anthropology studies are my background. So no I’m not pining on for simpler (more brutal) times, I just think that we are often not very honest with ourselves when we say we’d do anything for our pets. Raw survival and ruthless savagery exists in all of us, it merely needs to be brought to the surface by abject need. Not needs like Roth IRAs and a sensible autos, but basics like food and security. I’m saying that although we all fancy ourselves quite civilized and sophisticated we are only a global disaster away from regarding our pets as food sources rather than loved ones.

  52. Ben… beautifully put. I have never and will never “own” a pet. That kind of relationship has always puzzled me. When the affluence is gone, seriously, what value will you put on that piece of meat sitting next to you at the campfire?

  53. We’re planning on getting a puppy soon, and this book has been an enlightening read:

    http://www.oldcountryvet.com

    For fun, crack open the phone book and try calling a vet who has an office in an “upscale” part of town. Ask them the price for a common procedure.

    Now, call a vet who has an office in the “poor” part of town. Ask the price for that same procedure.

  54. Ben, well put.

    Jonathan, it sounds to me like you are equating pets to children. I think the very premise of this discussion is a good indicator that this is not the case. I don’t think you can interchange “pet” with “child” in this discussion and still hold the same position. For example, imagine the title of this post: “Reader Question: When High Child Costs Threaten Your Finances”. (I think that at first glance most visitors would presume your child is going to an ivy league college you can ill afford…)
    Simply put, this discussion is about Tina’s decision to euthanise her pet, given her considerations – financial, emotional or otherwise. This is not about the Tina and her cat’s discussion and weighing of the pros and cons of this decision. It’s Tina and Tina alone making the decision, pretty much as she’s decided everything else for this pet before to suit her needs. As such she should not feel bad or guilty about euthanising it or not spending a dime on it. It is, after all, only a pet and not a child.

    Tina, don’t feel guilty!

  55. SavingsBuff says:

    Ken-
    I have to agree with Ben, and perhaps you’ve not thought about the broader implications of the statement you made: “Would you have us all go back to living in mud huts, no electricity, no plumbing, less hygiene, no modern medical care, limited diets, etc.?”
    Are these not the living conditions faced by a majority of the world’s population every day, at least in part?
    Perhaps our society has been fortunate enough to be “above” worrying over our next meal, or living a schedule dictated by the sun, while hoping not to acquire a highly communicable (and often fatal)disease acquired due to poor sanitation and lack of basic health services, but we are indeed the fortunate minority.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into making domesticated animals suffer just because humans in other regions do–but I think it is something valid and worth mentioning in the debate. Shouldn’t (at least) the compassion we show animals extend to other members of the human race who face untold suffering every day?
    I believe that the choice to treat or not treat an animal is that of the owner alone, but the choice to treat is definitely a privelege of wealth not known by many today or in the past and should be acknowledged as such.

  56. Ben, but that will always be the case. I don’t disagree with you, I just don’t understand what impact that has on the situation.

    Should we not not do what we can for our pets when we have the ability to do so simply because if a global disaster struck we wouldn’t be able to do the same thing for them?

    I agree, we go the extra mile for our pets only because we can. But that statement is self-evident. I could say the same thing about taking a nice vacation, eating a gourmet meal, living comfortably in 100 degree heat thanks to electricity and air conditioning, enjoying good wine from the other side of the planet, and on and on…

    Should we not do these things now simply because we may not always be able to should some disaster strike? It comes down to doing what you can given the situation. Right now, I’d pay the medical expenses for my dog if whatever procedure or medicine required would allow her to have a decent quality of life. If I lived in a mud hut with not a penny to my name and had no other option, but to put my dog down to prevent her suffering, then that is what I would do.

  57. Interesting discussion, but some points seem to be off target.

    Although I agree that a pet is a luxury, my puppy gives me much more love and happiness than my I-pod, cell phone, or any other luxury that I have in my home. Also, some people, like myself, don’t have children, and probably never will, so our pets are our children. It’s easy to say “how can you value your pet more than kids” but without human kids, I don’t think this argument is valid for me.

  58. SavingsBuff,

    I don’t see where I’ve disagreed with Ben. I fully understand that most of the world does not have the standard of living that many of us do. I also understand that we are one major disaster away from our civilization and society collapsing.

    But neither of those are reasons for not treating a sick family friend assuming one has the means and desire to do so.

    As Ryan succinctly said a few posts above: “Choosing between luxuries.”

    The luxury of treating a pet is no less valid than the luxury of taking a vacation, paying for cable, buying a new HDTV, going to nice dinner, seeing a movie, etc.

    Thankfully we are each allowed to choose which luxuries, if any, we enjoy.

  59. mariusz pudzianowski says:

    I made sure that my wife has no interest in having pets! Neither do I. People who live in the city think that pets are somehow their birthright. Screw em. I wouldn’t let the vet bill go above $500; Kill it.

  60. Ken – i don’t now how many times i have to say this, i’m not saying what anyone should or shouldn’t do with ther prosperity. Liberty is very important to me personally. i’m simply pointing what i find to be a striking irony. perhaps you and i find it self-evident, but i gather that most people don’t or at least don’t like to think about it. out of courtesy i’ve pretty much left my specific opinions about the value of such indulgences to myself.

  61. I have a cat that came down with a fungal disease (cryptococcosis). I did some research and found out that with treatment (medicine given for about a year) a cure was almost 100% certain. Cost me about $2000 in 2001. The cat recovered and hasn’t been sick since, she is sitting on the floor here as I type this. I would do it again.

    I also had another cat that was sick with kidney failure. I took him to the vet twice for fluids. I researched it and found out I could possibly keep the cat alive for years by giving it fluids (by IV) at home. The cat would not recover and would not understand why it had to lay there with a needle stuck in it every few days. When the cat started getting ill after the second visit to the vet for fluids I phoned the vet and asked “How late are you open, I have a cat I need put to sleep.”

    I drove to the vet and had it done; held the cat while the injections were given. I would also do that again.

  62. I am amazed at the expense folks go to for their pets. Of course, I grew up on a farm and still live out in the country on a several acres. I have the mentality that pets belong outside and not in my house. After we bought our property, my wife suggested we get some horses. I told her they were a money pit and you can’t eat them. We got some beef steers instead.

    Economic Euthanasia – I agree with CRS and was going to write the same even before I read his comment. A .22 bullet is only $0.03 around here. My dad would say that a tub full of water is even cheaper, but even I’m not that heartless.

    For a valued family pet, my personal limit is in the neighborhood of $150 to cure an ailment before I would consider the the $0.03 solution.

  63. My wife and I have a little dog that I never wanted to get, but that I have grown to love very dearly. I think dogs can be great companions (although not a replacement for human touch) and often are given an innate ability to sense their owner’s mood, and adjust their own to fit.

    This past week our dog came down with a painful eye infection, which if we hadn’t brought her into the vet – would have meant her losing her eye. We ended up having to spend $200 or so on the vet bill.

    Would I opt for treatment for our dog if she had something that would have been more expensive? It depends.. If the illness was one she had a good chance of recovering from, probably, especially if the costs weren’t prohibitive. If the costs were prohibitive I don’t think we would. How much is too much I think depends on the person and their situation, but I never think a person should put themselves into major debt or ruin their financial situation because of an animal, even if it is dear to them.

  64. My cat is 13 years old and it’s mother is 14 1/2. We just spent $500.00 to get him well. He has diabetes and is on a special diet ($$)
    plus I have to give him insulin shots.
    He is healthy and if giving him insulin to make him like he was it’s well worth it to us.

    They say indoor cats live longer….My other cat named Octo was George’s sister. She died of heart failure and liver faillure and she never went out. The mom to these two cats goes outside all the time, hunts, climbs fences, gets on top of my shed and it overall very agile. Ironically she is healthier then her 2 kittens. Go figure !

    We also have a dog Tucker and she is 5 and again I would spend the money to keep them healthy barr any suffering.

  65. I wouldn’t think twice about spending whatever it took… That said, my dog is adorable.

  66. As an aside, my pet actually made me realize that I don’t spend enough on my own health. When I tallied the bills one year, I noticed I had spent more on my dog than on myself. Mind you, I had some pains that had gone ignored that I should have had looked at. In the end, I found it is easy for me to live with pain to save a few bucks, but I couldn’t stand watching my dog in pain. I vowed to visit the doctor more the next year after that…

  67. This is a subject I agonize about now and again, having recently lost a 12-year-old greyhound to cancer and watching a 13-year-old German shepherd slide into senility.

    Mia says, “I just don’t think affordability should be an issue. Would anyone put a human child down because you can’t afford the treatment?”

    Alas, we can’t get around the fact that affordability IS an issue. The cost of veterinary care, like the cost of human medical care, has skyrocketed over the past couple of decades, partly for the same reasons — expensive technological improvements — and partly because so many more things can now be done for pets than was the case in the past. Few of us, really, can afford thousands and thousands of dollars to keep an animal alive. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our fellow human beings to support ourselves and our families.

    Let’s suppose we spent all we had treating the dog for cancer, and then our kid got sick. Really sick — so sick we ran through our health insurance, and now we have to pay for the child’s treatment out of pocket. But our pocket is empty, having been cleaned out at the veterinarian’s office. How would that affect our outlook on whether affordability should or should not be a factor in considering heroic treatment for a dying animal?

    As much as we love our pets, a dog or a cat or a bird is NOT a child. These are different categories and different moral issues. To draw a comparison and then argue that we should treat an animal as we treat a child is to stray into the realm of the irrational.

    I’m sure I could have had surgery and chemotherapy and radiation therapy for Walt the Greyhound, though his cancer was so aggressive it wouldn’t have extended his life. As it was, his final treatment ran over $430, not a trivial amount for a single woman. It just doesn’t make sense to impoverish yourself to put an animal through a lot of treatment (and suffering!) that will do little or nothing to extent the creature’s life significantly.

  68. I am surprised at the number of people interested in this issue but being apathetic to human suffering.
    I think the rule should be same for pets and humans.
    What a tragedy the Schiavone case was!!
    Nobody is going to live for ever. I think it more cruel to let some one suffer terminally than to let him go a little prematurely but with dignity and no suffering.

  69. That is a hard call, I have 3 dogs they are our kids. But if it came to keeping our house or the health of our beloved pet. God I hope I am never in that position. I really don’t know what we would do.

  70. Funny about Money says:

    “As much as we love our pets, a dog or a cat or a bird is NOT a child. These are different categories and different moral issues. To draw a comparison and then argue that we should treat an animal as we treat a child is to stray into the realm of the irrational.”

    To me, affordability is not an issue because my main thing is “responsibility”. If I cannot afford it, I would never have accepted the responsibility. Thus, before accepting responsibility for my pet, I make sure I can afford whatever comes our way, now and in the future.

    For many couples today who elected not to have children, the pet is their child. For my husband and I, we chose not to have children, so the “baby” is the child of the family. I don’t think we are irrational, as we fully accepted the “baby” as the child and treat him as such. Had the pet insurance been worth the trouble of filing claims, we would have bought the insurance. Ask any of our friends, family, or vets, and they’ll tell you we are more rational and responsible than many parents of real kids.

    We take our responsibility very seriously. If we think we could not afford the cost, we would not have bring the “baby” into our household. Same goes for children. There are people who have children just because they think their genes should be propagated, or some who just have children for the sake of having children (got married, must have kids!), or for religious reason. That is their choice. We don’t think we have super superior genes that must be continue or the world will end, so we chose not to have kid.

    I am not saying the choice of many people to have children is wrong. I am just saying that even with a human child, responsible parents should think about affordability of the child before having him. It is just plain irresponsible parenting if a child is brought into this world, and the parents can’t afford the cost of basic necessities i.e. food, health care, education, etc.

    If push comes to shove and one has to decide between health care for kid and health care for pet, then that family can ill afford the kid, let alone the pet. As with any life one wants to bring into the household, think carefully whether one can afford the child (or the pet). It’s the responsible thing to do to another human being, or the pet. If everyone takes his/her responsibility seriously before having children (or pet), there would be less children going hungry, ill, or homeless (and less unwanted pets in shelters).

  71. H_Roarke says:

    The amount of resources the majority of you are willing to spend on a pet is astounding. The rest of the world is laughing as they save 40% of their salaries and buy up our country, while we spend 40% of our salaries to give a pet 3 months more of limping around blind and miserable.

  72. Mia,

    I applaud for you. That is excatly why I don’t want to have children or pets.

    On the other hand, some people adopted pets from shelters or humane societies to give them second but better lives with full hearts, yet were shocked when their animals got sick and required the treatment that they couldn’t afford. I sympathize these people and wish there is some kind of pet lovers charity that would help people/animals like that. But since there isn’t, I think the best thing owners can do is to use their best judgment to decide what’s the best for themselves and their pets.

    However, I think owners that bought their pets, should be looked at differently. If one is not ready to spend money on pets if the pet does get sick, then do not buy an animal and decide to put it down when it’s sick because it is not cost effective.

  73. Insurance Blogger says:

    I’ve often considered pet insurance, but have always decided against it after doing some number crunching. I like the idea of low monthly costs vs. huge lump payments for emergencies, however I always think that pet insurance will cost more in the long run.

  74. Grumpy Misanthrope says:

    I value my dogs more than I value any human life. My dogs have brought me happiness and peace. Humans provide nothing but pain and anger. If it comes down to it, I will certainly save my pets before I lift a finger for another person who is just going to screw me over anyway.

  75. noah vale says:

    You can buy a pet prescription “policy” from walgreens for 20 usd/year. (the “W card”) I’m not sure what your spending on meds/month, but the people in the pharmacy can tell you what you’d save. I should know, I’m one of those people. ;)

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