Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pet Spending

As many of you know, one of my cats (pictured left), my favorite cat, has hyperthyroidism. Fortunately, there are several treatments for the disease and one in particular is very effective. Unfortunately, it's also pretty expensive, ranging from $1000-$2000. Ouch.
It doesn't bother me to pay this much to fix my cats condition because (1) I can afford it, (2) she is otherwise healthy and (3) once treated, her thyroid will function normally. In fact, she won't even need medication.
Having said that, there is a limit to how much I will spend on my cat(s). I thought a lot about this yesterday because while I was waiting my turn for the vet, I could overhear the entire conversation going on between a woman and another vet in the next room.
Apparently, her dog has a tumor on its leg. Before the tumor became apparent, she noticed her dog was favoring one leg over the other and proceeded to take the dog to multiple vets, trying to figure out what was wrong with his leg. I don't know what all the diagnoses were, but it sounded as if she filled quite a few prescriptions and visited just as many vets. The current vet, a specialist, was trying to go through the steps for treatment of the dog, including diagnostic procedures since the vet was not 100% sure what was wrong in the first place. At this point the woman bursts into tears and tries explaining to the vet that she cannot afford to spend a lot of money. She can't even afford all the diagnostic tests, especially after all the money she spent at previous appointments and medications. This vet responds with, "Well, you can apply for a pet credit (card?) and we can see how much you qualify for and then make some decisions about treatment." The vet leaves the room and I hear the woman continue to cry for another 10 minutes.
I felt horrible for this woman and then I started to get a little irritated. It's bad enough to think your pet is going to die or that you might need to euthanize them without factoring in what you can and cannot afford. No one wants to put their beloved pet down because they can't afford treatments, but really, what is the alternative?
Say this mass in the dog's leg is a malignant tumor and it's spread. Not including the cost just to diagnose the cancer, she now must pay for surgery and chemotherapy. What if her pet credit thing only covers enough for half of that? Does she go further into debt to pay for the rest? This woman clearly cares for her dog, she's taken it to multiple vets trying to help it, and I don't think she should be made to feel like a horrible person if she decides that she can't afford these procedures. I'm not even sure I think it was right to bring up the pet credit once she has stated she couldn't afford the procedures. To me, this is sending a negative message to this woman who is clearly distressed. If she can't afford it, I don't think she should be made to feel badly about that or am I too, just a horrible pet owner?


chall said...

I am going to stay out of this - not being a pet owner and have never been one..... i guess i am not a good adherer...

good luck with the cat and the medication/fixing the thyroid.

Anonymous said...

For me, I make a decision with a distinct quality of life consideration. I had to spend upwards of $1500 for a surgery for my cat. But once the surgery was done, he was as good as new. As a kid, I had a cat that had a very early diagnosis of mega-colon. Even though the diagnosis wasn't great, she was still alive 9 months later and had an okay quality of life. When she died, she was still at home and was able to die on her own terms. I don't think she was in a place where she was unduly suffering, but I also know that our hospice care was better than anything the vet had by way of options.

Mad Hatter said...

We took our dog to 3 vets and did a lot of tests before she was finally diagnosed with bladder cancer. Even though her cancer was not curable, we decided to put her on chemo so she could have as much time as possible with a good quality of life.

We were spending more on her monthly medical bills than we spend on our mortgage. We could afford it, and it was absolutely worth it to us to be able to have a bit more time with her.

But I would completely understand if someone else in that situation couldn't afford to do that. These are very difficult and painful decisions to make, and I don't think it's anyone else's place to judge a pet owner for their decision.

I think whether the vet was wrong to mention pet credit to the woman depends on how it was said. Perhaps he was simply trying to offer her another option and did not intend to make her feel bad. If it had been me, I probably would've wanted to know that applying for credit was an option because I would've felt terrible if I had euthanized my pet only to discover afterwards that there might have been another alternative I didn't know about.

Unknown said...

I have soooo been in that woman's shoes. It's awful. I did get the pet health care credit card. I am still paying off the treatment. It hurts my pockets but in my case it was totally worth it. Young dog, injury that was severely affecting quality of life, but very good prognosis with treatment. If he were old, poor prognosis, or if this were a chronic and possibly terminal disease like cancer I might have made a different decision. It feels terrible to know that there are means to help a beloved pet in your care and to also know that you personally cannot attain those means. It doesn't make you a bad pet owner. You do the best you can with the means available to you, and your pet will be OK with whatever decision you make.

Hermitage said...

The same thing happens to human families all over the world and no one shames them for being unable to shill the $$ required to cure, or treat their loved one. No one should feel poorly about such a thing, whether the loved on in question is a baby or a cat.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Mr E Man and I had a conversation about this before we got the cats, because we know people who have spent thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars on pets, and gone into debt to pay for neverending treatments (I think the vet was incredibly irresponsible in one of these cases). We have pre-agreed no more than $2,000 per treatment per cat (but possibly more if it's a one-off treatment or surgery with a very good chance of success, and the cat is still young), and no more than $3,000 per cat overall.

I know it might sound heartless, but we've seen first-hand how these things can drag on. And we would make sure that they never, ever, ever, suffer. And I do understand that it's different with a dog.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Thinking more about this: I wonder if people who are used to a national healthcare system (for humans) have a different perspective on this?

Someone who's grown up in a private healthcare system like the US one, may be more likely to spend a lot of money on their pets, because that's just what you do when a family member is sick. OTOH, people like Mr E Man and me (who have had free health care all our lives) may balk at paying thousands and thousands of dollars for healthcare of any kind, because we're just not used to the concept.

Just a thought...

Mad Hatter said...

Cath, I hadn't thought of the kind of one's healthcare influencing one's views on this. But how we handled Dormouse's situation was exactly as you say--we considered her a member of our family, and since the vet assured us the chemo would not cause suffering, we would've paid whatever we could afford for her treatment, just as we would've done had one of us been sick.

microbiologist xx said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting. I know a lot of the bloggers are pet owners and I was curious as to what the opinions might be.
In real life, some of my friends have been made to feel awful by their vets for turning down expensive treatments and financing options, and I felt bad for them, because they truly loved their pets and probably would have paid for the procedure if they had the money. I thought of them while listening to the woman next door.

Cath - Very interesting point. I think our personal experiences with health care would influence our decision making here. Here people typically have health insurance, I wonder how many people have pet insurance? We do not, but we've considered it.
Ultimately, I think that if I can afford the treatment and my pet will benefit significantly and not be in pain, then I will probably pay for it.