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A Guilt Trip to the Vet

When a decision arises for an expensive procedure, as pet owners, where do you draw the line?

Have you ever taken your pet to the veterinarian's office, only to discover the proposed procedure costs as much as a new transmission — in both cars?

Let’s cut to the chase. We’ve all stared our vet in the eyes after hearing their roll call of necessities for Fido. As much as I love my pets, I often feel guilty, almost surprised with the knee-jerk response of, “Great. How much?”   

Like sitting in the principal's office, we fidget in an uncomfortable chair while an individual with an embroidered lab coat explains the unknown. Some vets attempt guilt lectures, along with a few scare tactics. Others understand and sympathize with their clients.

On a few occasions, I’ve bartered and questioned alternative treatments. It’s like haggling for goodies in a market place or buying a new car. You may not trust the sale, but if the vender knows your heart's in it, you’re cooked. It doesn’t hurt to ask about less expensive treatments or options.  

When voicing concerns with the expense, I’ve had veterinarians' reactions range from understanding and sympathy to down right rude behavior. I had a vet in Chicago want to charge more than $600 to clean my dog's teeth, not including tooth extractions, if needed. An exact quote could not be given. By refusing the treatment, my vet's disagreement with my decision was a bit unnerving. 

How much is too much? I’d spend $600 on my children's teeth, but validating such an amount on canine incisors is tough to swallow. I understand treatment can be expensive, it’s the look of disappointment and feelings of being an unsuitable pet owner that tug at the tail.  

I have a friend that spent more than $6,000 on her dog's cancer treatment. Although the dog was terminal, her vet brought in a specialist and referred her to an out-of-town canine cancer hospital. Although it provided a few additional months, her dog, Amy, continued to suffer. When the bills started piling up, and without seeing relief for her pet, she decided to put Amy down. She would sit in the vet's office and cry.

I’m sure her vet was trying to prolong the inevitable, but when does common sense take hold? Yes, she could have euthanized the dog, but then she’s left with the guilt of not trying to save her. She came to the realization she was keeping Amy alive for her own unwillingness to let her go.  

My mother's dog, Tricia, was recently treated for a broken leg. She’d been stepped on by one of my mom's horses. My mom picked up the dog and carefully drove her to the vet. After X-rays and a consultation, her vet proposed an $8,000 price tag.

He discussed bringing in a specialist while recommending a metal plate. The cost included the surgeon’s fees and accommodations, operating room fees, pain medication and the four follow-up appointments after surgery. My mother told him that wasn’t an option. He told her she could get a loan (another declined option).

After a game of financial ping pong, he finally agreed to perform the surgery himself, resetting the break while putting two pins in Tricia’s leg. The procedure was $1,800. Still expensive, but an amount she could live with. Even then he told her, “there’s still no guarantee.”  

Since when did going to the vet require a loan? The thought of a vet even suggesting a “low-interest” loan for pet care seems foreign, unbelievable. Is this really the new norm? I understand, contribute and budget toward the financial responsibility of our animals.

Routine check-ups, immunizations, Heartguard medication along with flea and tick treatments are expected. When they aren’t feeling well, we willingly take them in. We suffer the humiliating task of stool sample retrieval, tackle their unpredictable marking behavior in the vet office and pull out the checkbook when treatment is needed. We do it because we love them.

What do you do when such a predicament arises? Are we insensitive pet owners if we cap out on what we can afford? I often wonder what a vet feels (when the treatment is too expensive) and euthanization is the only affordable option. 

Dottie Konarski April 16, 2012 at 12:59 PM
My mom spent $3900 on her cat, George, when he had bladder stones. It was, of course, on a weekend and we paid West Hartford prices. George was her companion and her reasoning was, "I don't want to lose him!" When the same problem reappeared 3 months later I told the vet that I could make the decision to have George euthanized. We found her a black kitten at the Vernon Animal Control Facility (it had to be all black, gender didn't matter). The adoption fee of $50 came with a $40 voucher toward spaying and two $10 vouchers toward her shots. Technically, the pound paid US to adopt Sweetie. She has turned out to be a much nicer cat than George could ever have been and mom still has a companion.
Thomas Dock April 16, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Cami...I think you may be misunderstanding the "loan" aspect in all of this. Yes, some veterinarians offer personal financing options, such as CareCredit or MedChoice Financial and they are indeed "loans". But, look at the spirit in which this payment option was offered. Her veterinarian is trying to do what is best for the pet and when money became an issue, he offered her an alternative. Some people appreciate that and understand that a veterinarian's office is a business, just like any other business. Also, before you get too upset about the fees for fixing a broken leg, have you known anyone who has had to undergo orthopedic surgery at a human hospital recently?? I guarantee you that the fees, when all is said and done, will be at least 5-10x higher than the $8000 price tag you use as an example here and that WON'T include any follow up care.
Eileen McNamara April 16, 2012 at 01:50 PM
I once spent $800 on a canine opthomologist to fix our 8-year-old boxer's eye problem, which, if left untreated, would have eventually left him blind in one eye. It was a good decision and money well spent. When he was 11 he was diagnosed with cancer and the vet suggested treatments that would have cost thousands and might only prolong his life by a few months. Since he was already at the life expectancy limit for his breed we opted not to do so. He lived about another 6 months and I don't regret the decision, though I still miss him terribly sometimes.
Eileen McNamara April 16, 2012 at 02:49 PM
And isn't there pet health insurance now that most vets take? Something our family, with two large, young, active dogs, is going to look into.
Trisha C April 16, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Really good article, well-written and informative. A new outlook on the topic. My mom spent over 3,000 dollars on her cat last year, for cancer treatments. I told her the cat would die anyways; they had only caught the cancer in a very late stage. She didn't listen to me, and yeah - the cat died after six months of treatments. All she accomplished was to prolong the poor creature's suffering, and to delay the inevitable goodbye. Oh, and to waste $3,000. Now she got a new cat. She wanted to get pet insurance, but I convinced her out of it after finding out that Consumer Reports doesn't recommend it. (She's a Consumer Reports freak.) I did some shopping around (being the good daughter that I am) and I found her two options; alternatives to pet insurance, I guess: United Pet Care and Pet Assure. UPC turned out not to be available in her state (Wyoming) so she signed up for PA. So far she hasn't nagged me. (About this. Yet.)
MisterSpuddy April 17, 2012 at 10:47 PM
You may want to rethink some of the things considered "routine." Most vaccines (with exception of rabies) aren't needed after puppyhood and can result in vaccinosis and other problems, some severe. Insecticides are also toxic. Look for the holistic/natural option- much better for the dog!

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