Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Cost of Vet Care and the Responsibility of Pet Guardianship

Picture of me and Dr. Zira two years ago

Nothing in life is free, and that certainly includes veterinary care.  In the past year I have spend more then 7,000 on surgeries, not including routine care such as blood tests, for my animal companions.  Insurance off sets some of the costs but there are co-pays and some of my pets are too old for coverage or have pre-existing conditions.  Of course I have five dogs, but still the cost is mounting particularly as my pets age.   Tomorrow, Zira is scheduled for surgery to remove a basal cell tumor, a low grade skin cancer that once it is removed should cause her no more problems.  When I told some co-workers about Zira's surgery the response of many of them was to ask how old Zira was and how much the surgery was, and when they heard almost 13 (not particularly old for a small dog in my opinion), and 900 dollars (not a particularly high surgery cost either) several of them asked me why I was doing it.   What depressed me was the majority of people who questioned the surgery are pet owners, reasonably well off pet  owners. 

The rising cost of Veterinary care has gotten coverage in the media in articles like this one from CBS news.   I don't particularly like this article as I strongly disagree with their advice to feed generic food because it wont matter, I can just see a doctor at Johns Hopkins advising a person to exist on frozen dinners rather then fresh foods as it "won't make a difference."  It does point out though that if a person adopts a dog or cat today after several pet free years, he or she is going to be faced with bills far higher then what they remember.

On the other side of the coin is the fact that even in the economic down turn people are spending more then ever on their pets, 41 billion dollars.   Obviously many people, like me, love lavishing their pets.  Why  not?  While some purchases may be silly why is sending your dog to camp any different then buying a fancy vacation for yourself.  

I have nothing but sympathy for people who truly cant afford vet care.  I can't imagine how awful it is.  Obviously their need to be more programs like this one in NYC that helps owners locate lower cost care.  I also don't believe in herculean measures to treat truly untreatable conditions, sometimes it is true that with people and pets we need to learn to say good-bye.

Unfortunately, many of the people I have met who lament that they can't afford vet care are clutching i-phones and designer purses as they do so.  Some are planning elaborate vacations.  Most of them use the phrase "just a dog" or "just a cat."  I can't understand why these people became pet guardians in the first place.  I've never looked at any of my animals, or my husband or any other person I love, and thought they were "just" an anything.  


  1. We love spoiling Finn, but I often marvel at people's reactions to the cost of pet care. It's definitely like having kids!

  2. I thought the education we got from the rescue before we adopted Bailey was pretty in-depth about the costs and even though I had experience, I thought it was important to discuss it with DH as he had never owned a pet before. They let up on us when we adopted Katy since we had Bailey for 7 years and they figured we had some idea of what to expect.

    As much as those adorable Sheltie eyes tempt me, we are waiting on getting a third. We always want there to be two and as Bailey ages we want Katy to have a companion she will be comfortable with should something happen. However, we are going to delay as long as I can hold out on those beautiful eyes because financially a third one does have an impact on what we can do for the other two.

  3. I agree Bailey, I carefully considered if we can afford each of our pets, and we can. I am lucky to have a good steady job as does my husband. It certainly means sacrifices in other areas, but nothing I cant handle. In the future I plan on getting primarily puppies/young dogs so I can insure from day one. I also consider the costs and the benefits, I do think that a cost benefit analysis (not just financial cost but quality of life cost) needs to be considered when considering treatment for older pets and terminal diseases. After Tubby's cancer diagnosis I read a lot about doggie cancers and I have thought about what treatments I would pursue and what I would not pursue. I tend to be a do everything person, but particularly as my pets age do need to consider who really would I be doing it for.

  4. Paws crossed the surgery will go well. Mom spent lots of green papers on my Lily too
    Benny & Lily

  5. Medical care for our pets is costly but it is something we do. I, like you, sacrifice in other areas in order to keep them healthy. My cat, India, ate half of a spool of my thread/yarn and got very sick. We did not know she ate the thread/yarn. After many days of running back and forth to the vet getting x-rays, etc. it was decided that she needed surgery. The thread had to be removed from her stomach and intestines or she would have died. She survived the surgery and my vet saved the thread/yarn she removed. I tell everyone that I have $2000 yarn. I have had cats all of my life and this is the first time that one got in my knitting and actually ate the thread/yarn. Not only do we have all the dogs to worry about but the cats too. We understand this when we make them members of our family. It is our responsibility.

  6. I have only one dog because the one dog had cancer at the age of two and thousands (I stopped counting) of dollars later, well, all I can afford is this one dog. But he's worth millions to me so it all worked out. (His prognosis was one year to live, but it's been 6 years now and he's doing great.)

  7. You really struck a chord with me here - I feel exactly the same. Unfortunately although people are lavishing more money on their pets than ever, too often this is only on the 'cool status' things like buying a pure breed and designer pet togs, whereas at the first sign of vet bills suddenly the animal is too expensive to keep and is sent off to a shelter.

    It really does upset me that many people think of pets as an accessory, not a long term commitment.

    P.s. sending my love to Kira, hope her surgery goes well

  8. We is lucky cuz mom and dad will take care of us no matter what. We is sendin' boxer puppy prayers to Zira.

    Woofs and Licks,
    Maggie Mae and Max

  9. Could not agree more! Like you, I have nothing but sympathy for people who are truly struggling, and who are doing the very best their circumstances allow by their pets. On the other hand, like you, I know plenty of people who drive high dollar cars, are toting designer bags, etc. etc. who feed their dogs or cats poor quality food and don't get them the vet care they need or elect not to have surgeries that could result in the animal having many more years of quality life, because of what those things cost. Life is about priorities - and if you aren't willing to make a dog or cat (or any pet) a priority, then you really shouldn't get one in the first place.