JoAnna Lou
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Affording Vet Care
Pet lovers worry about high vet bills.

The high cost of veterinary care is always a constant worry of mine. I don’t buy pet health insurance, but I always put a little bit away each month in case of emergency. Unfortunately, you never know when you might need it. 

Last month my dogs’ annual checkup gave way to a huge vet bill thanks to asymptomatic Lyme and Giardia, and an ear infection on top of that. Thank goodness everything was easily treatable, but all those tests and medication add up quickly! My bill easily topped $1,000 and it wasn’t even an emergency!

According to a new survey from the Associated Press and Petside.com, I’m not the only one concerned about vet bills. Forty percent of pet lovers worry that they won’t be able to afford care when it’s needed. 

The poll, which interviewed 1,112 people by phone, found that 62 percent would likely pay for $500 of pet health care. The number drops to 33 percent if the veterinary bill were to reach $2,000 and 22 percent if the cost were to reach $5,000.

Interestingly income didn’t appear to influence feelings about how much to spend on veterinary care. I think this shows that our relationships with pets are truly priceless.

I do find it a bit shocking that 38 percent of those polled would not spend $500 in health care for their pet, given how easy it is to rack up a bill of that size (though I understand that some people simply can't afford it). Consumer Reports puts the average annual check-up at $140-340 (depending on the age of the pet). On the other hand I know plenty of people who fit into the 22 percent category, people who would eat Ramen noodles in order to afford their dog’s health care. And this predicament will only become more common as more advanced veterinary technologies are developed.      

My pets are part of the family and I’d definitely want to do everything I could do to help them live as long and comfortably as possible. Realistically there are financial limits, but I don’t know what that limit is for me. I just can’t imagine putting a hard number of my pets’ health.

Do you have a financial limit on pet health care?

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Lisa, Flickr.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Saryjane | June 14 2010 |

I think I am amoung the folks who feel my dog and cat are members of my family. But when I first looked into insurance I found it was to be an item for that undetermined future date when the money mysteriously materialized!
I have also tried the putting some away monthly and that seems most effective but not great either if anything horrible happens. God forbid!
All this said, my lovely pup is SO IN NEED of dental care, and the fee will begin at $500 since they need to put him out to do their magic. So has the care even been scheduled?? Nope.
I have always felt that if Jack was injured and needed surgery, the rent would be late!?
Other than that it is a big question and of course a worry.

Submitted by Liz Henderson | June 15 2010 |

I have an insurance policy on each of my 4 dogs for illness and injury. It is from $22/mo for my puppy to $45/mo for my 13 yo Lab. But we have gotten back more than we have spent for each dog, except the puppy. We have gotten a splenectomy, 2 repaired ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments, and a embarassingly large number of bite wounds fo my insane middle child who likes to start crap (don't worry, we've gotten help with her issues). In one 12-month period, we accrued $16,000 in vet bills, before insurance reimbursements. After insurance, we paid $8500. So if you are like me and do not want cost to be a factor in whether your pet lives, dies or is permanently disabled, insurance makes sense!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 25 2010 |

Like Liz, all our dogs are covered by insurance. We have chosen a policy with a big deductible, but excellent coverage after that. This is partially in response to having paid somewhere near $6000 in vet care for a beloved greyhound with osteosarcoma.

When Maggie (soon to become Maggie the Marvelous Tripawd) was first diagnosed,my husband and I had the conversation about how much money would be the cut-off point from aggressive to palliative care. That point quickly passed, after multiple surgeries and an infection or two and the excellent help of a canine oncologist. In the meantime, Maggie ran in the fields, ate with gusto and continued in her winsome ways. What? We were going to not try to continue her good life? When the time came for her to go, she let us know, and she died in our arms, under the care of the vet she had seduced, as she had ourselves.

We are fortunate that we are in a position to have paid for Maggie's comfort and life, but not again. Now, our two greyhounds are insured for what will inevitably be big vet bills someday. I am much more comfortable knowing that Cookie, Vinnie or whomever will be the one that tells us when it is time to go, and not our bank balance.

Submitted by Frances | June 19 2010 |

I firmly believe that this is an expense one should consider BEFORE getting any animal. If insurance is an expense too far, and there are no savings in place to cover possible bills, perhaps it is not the right time to take on a potentially expensive responsibility. At the same time, there are ways to minimise the bills - for teeth, I have had good results using Petzlife gel - very expensive here in the UK, but much more affordable in the US, and much, much cheaper and less risky than a GA.

Submitted by Anonymoust | June 20 2010 |

Last year our beloved pet Buba a datusn became suddenly ill. I took off from work that morning waited forever to get in to see our very busy vet and was told Buba had Kidney stones and because of the severity of the operation that he prefered to refer us to the Local emergency hopsital.
I drove that morning in a terrible daze knowing my baby was dying right next to me, I also knew that I had very little in resources to help him I felt beyond terrible. Arriving at the next veterian was forward with me and told me that Buba probably would not make it. Dr. Davis then removed 11 vials of blood from Buba's bladder and again I was told he needed more professional treatment so I was told to take him to Dr. Nicholas and I did this trip was worse than the last as I began to drive I called my daughter 50 miles away I knew if Buba did'nt make it I would not be able to drive myself home. My daughter met me at the Emergency Hospital
Dr. Nicholas was great and everything that Dr. Davis said he would be. Dr. Nicholas echoed the findings of the two previous veterians told us the cost and we said go ahead Buba was gravely ill bye this time. Dr. Nicholas and the staff worked on Buba to get him stabilized and then finally he operated on him but The operation was not a success Buba had to undergo
another surgery to make a new utera this time the surgery took. Buba stayed in I.C.U. for a couple of weeks, we was allowed to take him home on the weekends but we had to medicate him bye giving his medicine to him in and IV also had to flush the catherader and empty it.. thank god my neighbor is a nurse. Buba became stronger and has made a full recovery with no sitbacks. I am not wealthy nor am I even financially stable we basically live from paycheck to paycheck but we spent our entire savings on Buba and we are currently a few months away from having the reamining balance paid off. It cost us about $7,000 in all but webdo it all over again if we had to make that choice over again. Buba means more to us than any material things that we own and you simply cannot put a cost on Love now can you?

Submitted by Anonymous | June 22 2010 |

Because my budget is very tight, I do not have medical insurance on my pets so I do everything reasonable to make sure that the number of medical problems are minimal.
1. Learn how to care for chronic problems yourself
2. Give vaccines yourself--in Maine we can do everything but rabies
3. Feed good food (a good diet is a bit costlier than a cheap one
but vet bills are even costlier.
4. Work WITH your vet

Submitted by Anonymous | June 25 2010 |

Let me add, if your vet prescribes an antibiotic, check to see if there is a human version that could be safely substituted, and then check to see if you can find a pharmacy that dispenses them at a low cost. By check, I emphasize CHECK WITH YOUR VET! But you knew that.

Submitted by Stef | June 25 2010 |

Excellent point. I forgot about that. I always check Walmart first as that is where I have found the cheapest price for Leo's insulin (Novolin-N....which is generic for Humulin-N). Instead of paying like $50 a bottle which we did for like two months before a pharmacist let us know about the generic version. Now we only pay $22 per bottle.

Submitted by Stef | June 22 2010 |

I never thought that I would pay a ton in vet costs but then in April 2009 my then 8 year old Keeshond Leo was diagnosed with Diabetes. Of course this happened on a weekend and so by Tuesday the next week I had racked up a vet bill that was at least $1,500. I had to apply for Care Credit and thankfully was given a generous limit. But that card was soon maxed out with all his vet costs. A ton of people thought I was crazy, even my own father who bought Leo for me as a pup said to just put him down. There was no way I could do that as he still had at least 5-6 years left in his average breed lifespan. So I ended up skimping on myself and accumulated at least $5,000 in credit card debt in order to properly care for my heart dog. Then Leo went blind and once again people thought I was crazy when I started trying to find money to give him his vision back. But if you all saw the difference it made when he could see again you would understand. He now acts like a young dog once again. Overall in the past year I have spent at least $10,000 in vet costs for my boy but I don't regret even one cent of that. Thankfully some things have gone my way, mainly the Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits that my father transferred to me, so I have almost completely paid up my credit card debt.

Some words of caution though for others in a situation such as mine was, do not get Care Credit unless you have to. I was unable to pay off my balance in the 3 months and after that they start taking on about a $30 fee each month it hasn't been paid off.

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