The cost of pet care

We had a brief segment on the rising cost of pet care this morning. Dr. Steven Suter, medical director of the Canine Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at North Carolina State University, joined us to talk about what to consider when scheduling procedures for your pet, and when to let go.

We had full phone lines with a lot of great stories and we wanted to continue the discussion off air. We’re curious: Have you spent a lot of money on your pet – and was it worth it? Have you had to make the hard choice to put down a favorite pet? What kinds of things do you consider when making care choices for your pet? Let us know.

Madelyn Mahon, assistant producer

  • Shane

    We adopted a cat from a rescue organization and within the first year of his life we had many trips to the vet regarding his ears. He had mites as a kitten and it made him more susceptible to ear infections and wax buildup. He also had a UTI in that time span too. We became frequent fliers to the vet and it cost a pretty good amount.

    My wife and I did have a conversation about how much we would spend on taking care of a pet. I at first was under the impression that we would set a dollar amount of a grand. My wife was appalled at this and explained how she would never set a dollar amount on the care of a pet because they are a part of the family as much as a child would be. After the time I’ve spent with Stanley (the cat) I have changed my stance and agree with my wife that we will spend whatever the cost is to care for our pet.

  • Elizabeth T

    I used to have 2 cats. Shiro died several years ago of an abrupt incurable problem. As much as it broke my heart, there was absolutely nothing that could have been done. The decision to have him put to sleep was not based upon money.

    Years ago, Shiro – who thought he was a big, powerful tom cat – had a big abcess from a fight; then another; then a parasitic disease, then something else in between being a very healthy cat. Even though they were spread out over several years, I finally had to come to terms with his medical costs. I set a dollar limit on medical care: $500. Anything over $500 meant putting him to sleep. That was while single with a good paying job. I suppose I’m lucky I wasn’t confronted with this in the end.

    Raven died 2 months ago of chronic untreatable, semi-controllable problems. Her health had been deteriorating for a couple years, going from an active healthy cat who ran around the yard and played with toys – to a sedentary, emaciated cat who sat on the heater, ate, threw up, peed on things, … but who loved attention, and would purr and be loudly affectionate whenever you picked her up.

    The decision to put her to sleep took months. Cost was a factor. Her medical care just couldn’t keep up with her deteriorating health. I could have spent more and had her live longer. But, for what reason? Was I keeping her alive just to make me feel better? For her, Quality of Life was the final decision point. At 18 yr. old, it was not a life cut tragically short. But … My heart says “you killed her because it was financially inconvenient” while also saying “you put her to sleep because her life had become horrible for her and you’re responsible for her.”

    It’s still hard to confront the guilt of “I’m not a good pet owner because I’m not wiling to pay anything for my cat. I would go to the ends of the earth for my children. And for some, their pet fulfills that role in their life – so I try not to be judgmental about how much money some people spend on their pets. I don’t want to be judged by the price tag I set on my pet’s life.

    It feels as though setting the limit on medical care is some how equating the value of my cat to a dollar value. i.e. “I only got $500 worth of entertainment from the pet.” or “I only got $500 worth love from the cat.” The value of a pet to a family has no price tag. My 5-yr old still draws pictures of our family with Raven – how could I set a dollar value on that?

    It was difficult explaining death to my two young children. Raven is the first death of anyone they actually knew. I remember my parents explaining this to me when I was about 5 when our family dog was put to sleep. I remember crying in utter despair when they said he wouldn’t go to heaven because dogs don’t have a soul. [Sorry, Mom & Dad, that was a monumentally stupid choice.]

    I walked into the house yesterday and paused to listen for Raven out of habit. The house is so quiet without her.

  • Michele

    We have always had a family dog or two. They are members of our family, their love is unconditional and as pets are, they are always there for us. We typically adopt rescue dogs. One we traveled 4 hours to get. She was about 2 yrs old, we had only had her for a short time, (about 9 months) when she became very ill with pancreatitis. She was in intensive care at the U of MN for a number of days, before she passed away. The bill was $5,000. It took me a year to pay it off. Still looking back I wouldn’t change my decision one bit.

  • craigger

    I’ve started putting a dime in a jar every time Tom Weber’s cats come up on The Daily Circuit. I don’t have any pets but I figure if I get one I should have enough to cover any vet bills by mid May : )

  • Meg

    I recently had a second cat put to sleep and although a part of me wishes that money hadn’t been a consideration, the reality is that sometimes the money just isn’t there. For me, there are really three main considerations when it comes to choosing whether or not to continue vet care: the animal’s quality of life (both short and long term), my own quality of life (i.e. am I substituting my wishes for the animal’s) and financial constraints. I don’t set limits, but try to balance each concern given the circumstances.

    I spent a little over $1000 when my first cat got sick with a fatal virus that’s also very difficult to test for (FIP), and almost $3000 over the last couple of weeks when the second cat became very ill from early onset kidney disease. He also had dental issues and was going to need a very expensive surgery ($2-3k) in order to eat without pain, but the kidney issues would still have killed him in months, not years. I could have thrown the kitchen at him, money be damned, but I didn’t want to put him through a traumatic experience like that if he only had a few months to live anyhow. And although it was a secondary reason, it felt unreasonable to spend several thousand dollars on what would certainly only be a temporary reprieve. I miss him but I know it was the right decision.

    Ultimately, like Elizabeth, I think that everyone has to make their own decision. I don’t think that I’m a worse pet owner than someone with the resources for money not to be a consideration. At the end of the day, so long as you love your pets and do whatever you reasonably can for it, I think you’re doing okay.

  • Jason

    It is interesting the parallel between what some people will pay to extend the life of a pet and what we as a society are willing pay to pay to extend the life of the elderly, regardless of the quality of that life. (Or are we blind to the costs in the case of humans because we usually aren’t aware of the cost because it is picked up by insurance or the hospital?)

    I think we as a society need to learn when to let go of life.

  • Suzanne

    Our dog suffered from bloat last year and we took him immediately to U of M for surgery. Totally worth it – he was only four years old at the time and the vets there did an amazing job.

    They also performed a procedure that will prevent his stomach from turning again. I did find out that just having the procedure done (arthroscopically) when the dog is neutered or spayed is not expensive at all.

  • Maria

    I own a beautiful, 8 year old mutt. She is very precious to me. But I am also trying to live on less than $800 a month. I manage to pay for her routine vet care, but if something horrid happened to her, I’d have to euthanize her. That’s just the reality of the situation. And even if I had the money, is it in my dog’s best interest to put her through something like chemotherapy? I can see fixing a broken bone, but chemotherapy for cancer? No.

  • Cat

    We fortunately haven’t had to bring cost into the equation when considering pet health care — it has always boiled down to quality of life issues. Some years ago we had a diabetic kitty whose blood sugar simply could not be regulated properly despite the best efforts of the caring vets and ourselves. She was quite ill when we and the vet sadly let her go. More recently, a beloved cat developed lymphoma. She was by nature a fraidy cat with strangers and went into a panic attack that was life-threatening in and of itself, while undergoing a diagnostic procedure at the specialist veterinary clinic. We decided no more trips to any vet, treated her at home with prescribed meds to help her appetite and make her feel better, until we were no longer able to help her. Our family vet came to our home to administer euthanasia, for which we were grateful.

  • Karl LeMay

    Why shouldn’t the rich people of America, or people who are just plain nuts, be allowed to spend whatever they want on their pets?

    So what if the headline on Dec 17, 2011 was “Half of all people officially now in poverty or low income”?

    So what if the headline on April 8, 2012 was “People on food stamps doubles since 2008”?

    We need everyone, including the poor, to keep paying property taxes and every other kind of tax that supports advances in veterinary medicine at our nation’s fine educational institutions and state and federal departments of agriculture…. So that the rich and the nutty can benefit.

    It is our American Democrato-Repupublico way.

    And Minnesota Public Radio should keep pretending that their audience consists only of the well-off. So much the better to sell ad time. The heck with those who don’t have the scratch! As Scott Simon once told me about why children’s programming died on public radio– and it’s the same for the poor–ol’ slimy Scotty said, “Those people don’t get programming because those people don’t write checks.”

    Think about it.