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Cost of Pet Care

A good number of you have sent e-mails about the high costs of veterinary bills. It’s upsetting that so many people will have to forgo treatments for their pets because they simply can’t afford the care.

When I found Earl Gray (my cat) 12 years ago, he came to us with a broken leg. The break was so bad that our veterinarian suggested that we take him to a specialist. The bill came to $2,500. That was a lot of money back then, and it is a lot of money today. Fortunately, the vet let us pay in installments, and I’m happy to report, Earl is doing quite well.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. Following are a few e-mails from readers:

This is a photo of Rufus.

“Rufus needs two total hip replacements and knee adjustments. He just turned one year, hurts 24/7, and his life expectancy is considerably affected without the surgery. We have gotten three estimates and all were within a few hundred dollars of each other. The cost would be about $12,000. We just can’t do it and it’s heartbreaking to think that we rescued a pup to save a life but that maybe, if someone else chose him, he would have a better chance to live a full life. We’ve even checked out other states as well as Mexico with lower costs of living as well as trying to find foundations that may help off-set the total cost and have been unsuccessful.”

“A few years ago, one of my cats was diagnosed with lymphoma and I opted to go with chemotherapy to prolong her life. Due to some complications from her illness, as well as some concurrent health problems with my other cat, within about a year I’d spent $7,000 on vet bills.”

“This morning, I just spent $150 for a semi-annual non-anesthesia teeth-cleaning! YIKES! I live in Seattle. My four-year old Shih Tzu, Harry, can’t have that dirty of teeth! We’re talking $300/year to keep his teeth clean. That’s about what I spend on my own yearly teeth cleaning! It seems all medical costs are outrageous whether it’s a dog or human.”

Another reader wrote to say that she spent more than $350 on medications for her dog.

This is just a small sample of the e-mails I have received. The next few posts–my series on the Cost of Pet Care–will cover responses from veterinarians, the pros and cons of pet health insurance, and alternatives to invasive surgeries.

In the meantime, if you have figured out the best course of action to handle expensive health care bills for pets, please share them here. I’m sure everyone wants to know.

18 comments to Cost of Pet Care

  • This is certainly a hot button topic right now as pet owners try to balance wanting to provide the very best for their “four legged family members” with the reality of our economic situation.

    My personal belief is that as patients ourselves, we often fail to see the true costs of healthcare and are shielded from how expensive it can be. So…then, when our pets become “patients” we are often shocked by the pricing.

    The key to handling expensive health care bills is to first and foremost, prevent them. Keeping up with routine care (like heartworm prevention, flea control and vaccines) can help avoid the high costs associated with the diseases this care prevents. Also, a little common sense should come into play. Use leashes and don’t let your dog roam free. Provide microchips and ID tags for your pets. Keep human medications out of your pet’s reach. Know what plants/flowers are poisonous to pets and keep them out of your home.

    We have addressed this issue from a veterinary perspective at my blog (http://forums.petdocsoncall.com/entry.php?7-My-dog-is-hurt-and-I-have-NO-cash!) as well.

    I am interested to see how the rest of this series goes…

  • Buster, our GSD, is a seizure dog. Originally, he was receiving phenobarbital. He was fine on this medication for a while, but then suddenly got very sick. His blood counts were decimated and was in borderline need of a transfusion. One set of doctors at an emergency clinic thought he had bone cancer. Then, a doctor at the animal hospital we use did some research and found out that, in rare cases, dogs can have adverse reactions to pheno. Buster was in the hospital for a couple of days while more tests were run (including a bone marrow biopsy just to rule out cancer), and he was switched over to potassium bromide. He had an unremarkable recovery … which we are totally grateful for. Cost of the vet care was about $3,000.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by doggybytes: Cost of Pet Care http://bit.ly/c3RPT9 via @michelechollow…

  • I’ll look forward to the series — it’s a very important topic. There’s a good post on pet insurance on the BlogPaws site — which, okay, refers and elaborates on some posts I wrote on the problems of high vet bills: http://www.blogpaws.com/2010/03/pet-health-insurance-what-edie-said.html

    With 20-20 hindsight, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy pet insurance if I had the option now.

  • Hi Michele,

    You invited me to visit your blog some time ago on Twitter (thisGoodThatBad), and I have just now made it over here. Great post. My LoJack was diagnosed with liver dysfunction shortly after we adopted him. He was on a combo of supplements and meds that kept him happy and healthy for a long time, at a cost of over $400/mo. We would have, and sometimes did, done anything to pay that for him to be well. I’m afraid the only “tip” I have to deal with cost is to sacrifice what you can. It’s not practical or fair but you don’t even notice when you are doing it if your pet is healthy.


  • Yeah, I hear everyone on the vet expenses. Jersey was hit by a car a few years back & the bills totalled $3000. Ouch!

  • The economic situation is a problem all over the world. I am a vet and work in a relatively affluent suburb in Johannesburg, South Africa. But even in this suburb, people seem to be struggling! The main result of people having less free cash available is that they tend to leave problems an extra day or two to see if it will come right on its own. Although the odd tummy bug will come right on its own, what very often happens is that by the time we see the animal, it is deathly ill and all of a sudden, a vet bill that would be a consult plus antibiotics means admitting the dog into hospital and putting it onto drips and all sorts of intravenous medications to save its life. In the end, it costs the owner a lot more than just coming in for a quick consult. Many vets are also happy to make payment plans with old and loyal clients. Rather make sure that your animal gets seen earlier!

  • Dr. Claire…you bring up very good points…delaying the eventual trip often ends up doubling or even trebling what the original invoice might have been. And…sometimes there are things that you just can’t fix at home!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sidewalk Angels, Edie, Kevin Myers, Rod Burkert, Michele Hollow and others. Michele Hollow said: How do you pay for pet care? Cost of Pet Care http://shar.es/mfxfc […]

  • I fostered for a friend, then adopted, a four-year-old cat who first had idiopathic cystitis and a likely herpes virus lodged in his bladder causing him to have urinary issues and block even with textbook-perfect urine, also a suspicious heart murmur which at 11 was diagnosed as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy when he went into congestive heart failure. He lived to be 15 and was such an outstanding personality–even the emergency hospital enjoyed his “visits”–but the annual echocardiograms (that should have been bi-annual), the four medications twice daily, and the two or three times each year he went into CHF but recovered cost more thousands than I like to admit. I’m pretty skilled at caring for cats or it may have cost even more. I’ll be paying friends and a credit card for the rest of my life, but it was the only way to pay for his care.

  • […] series continues on Monday with a post about pet medications. You can read Part I, where readers sound off about their high pet care bills or Part II, where vets speak out. If you […]

  • […] a whole series on the topic of the cost of pet care going on over at […]

  • When we bought our dog (a Westie – from a breeder, because my husband has allergies), we also purchased Pet Health Insurance (VPI). Since she was still a puppy, it was quite inexpensive ($15.00 a month). http://www.petinsurance.com. They have a variety of plans, one that covers annual exams (like your health insurance with co-pays) all the way up to a Major Medical plan, which only covers major stuff, surgery, chemo, etc. Nothing routine is covered in that one. They will even take animals with “pre-existing conditions” as I understand it, but of course, the premiums would be higher. Over the last 4 years, I have paid $720.00 in premiums, but if my baby (Nikki) needs major something- with a vet bill of $12,000 – it will be worth it.

  • As with any medical treatments, the cost of veterinary care for a pet is expensive regardless of where you are in the world. I am blessed to share my life with 10 rescued pets ranging from tortoises, birds, horses, dogs and cats, some of whom have special needs. With many trips to GP vets and specialist vets under my belt I have the following advice to anyone who currently owns or is considering the inclusion of a pet in their lives:
    – prevention is better and cheaper than cure. Routinely vaccinate, deworm and deflea your pets. If they have a special condition (eg: orthopaedic problems like hip dysplasia or arthritis) seek professional advice, do research and include alternative medicine (homeopathy) in their daily care. It’s worked wonders on my rescued Amstaff that at 6 months was given a max of 5 years quality life due to Grade 4 hip dysplasia (both hips), patella luxation (both knees) and marginal elbow dysplasia (both elbows). He’s turning 7 this year and still going strong on a combination of homeopathic supplements, special exercise which he loves and adapted diet. I am happy to share my knowledge, research, experience and approach of dealing with orthopaedic issues in young dogs. Eukanuba in South Africa did a case study on my Bruno based on my approach and success with him.
    – be alert and pick up on any illnesses or problems in your pets early on – seek veterinary assistance before the problem potentially gets worse.
    – open a pet ‘rainy day’ savings (interest bearing) account into which you deposit an affordable amount each month. At least it will be available if you need it.
    – if you find yourself unprepared financially to deal with the expenses of a sudden illness, rally up your support group (family, friends, colleagues etc … ) and do a fund raiser – eg: raffle. I managed to raise the equivalent of $3,000 for emergency surgery before I opened the Pet savings through a raffle. If people see you making the effort for your beloved pet, they are more than willing to help out.
    – if you have a regular vet, ask them for a payment plan. They may not always grant you one, but it’s worth asking. Remember however not to default on that plan, as they are already showing you and your pet compassion by providing you with the facility.

    Complaining about the cost of veterinary fees does a huge injustice to the profession. These are people who have studied for 6 plus years and are experts in their field. Just like you wouldn’t complain or expect reduction in fees from your child’s paediatrician you shouldn’t expect it from your vet.

  • Great advice Olga, I would love to hear about the raffle you ran.

  • Hi Michele, it was a very basic raffle. I sourced sponsors for prizes from people / contacts I have explaining the reason behind the raffle:
    1. My hairdresser – free cut and blowdry
    2. A local brewery – 1 case of beer
    3. A friend who makes jewellery from semi-precious stones – a beautiful hand made pearl and silver necklace

    For 4 weeks I contacted friends and gave them each a raffle sheet which explained the reason behind the raffle and the needed funds, with a photo of Bruno on it. The raffle had a scheduled date for the draw. The numbered sheet requested name, telephone and email. Tickets were sold at R5 (Rand) each (I’m based in South Africa) – ie: affordable enough to encourage people to dip into their pockets and also affordable enough for those who were inclined, to purchase more than one. Tickets were sold through me and my network at work, local pubs, schools, shops, veterinary practices, dog schools etc …
    It was all about reaching out and explaining the real reason behind my drive to raise funds.

    I did a public draw – through Pets As Therapy, as Bruno is a registered therapy dog. The winners were announced and updates were posted via email to all of the kind folk that bought tickets. It took a bit of effort on my part, but was all worthwhile.

  • You definitely have to do your research when picking a vet. You have to balance the quality and availability of care with cost.

    Just within a 15 mile radius of my house, there is a 40 percent difference in cost. If I want to drive 30 miles into the main metro area, I can get the same vet services for a fraction of the cost.