How Much is Your Pet Worth?

by Joe Plemon on September 27, 2010

Amanda's baby picture

Our beloved blue heeler is getting up in years –13 human years or 91 dog years. The workers at the Animal Shelter we rescued her from promised us that she would be very devoted to and protective of her owners. How true. Amanda is utterly devoted to Jan and me and, although her arthritic hips have slowed her greatly, I am sure she would tie into anyone who would try harming either of us.

Her hearing is about gone, she moves slowly and has more gray than she has ever had. She sleeps more than she used to and strangers ask us if our dog is old. We know her time is coming, which leads me to this question: how much would we spend on medical care for her?

The article Dog Surgery: Estimating the Costs gives the following estimated surgical costs for the procedures listed:

  • Cataract Surgery: $1,500 to $3,000
  • Hip Dysplasia Surgery: $1,000 to $2,400 and up
  • Gastroplexy: preventive $400; because of bloat is $1,200 with no complications but up to $5,000 with complications.

The EmaxHealth web site list:

  • Invertebratal disc disease treatment as nearly $3,000 and
  • Lung cancer over $2,000.

So here is the question: where do you draw the line in how much you would pay for any medical procedure for your pet?

This is not an easy question, but I think it is easier to think through now than make that decision at a time of grief when she is needing that surgery. I also realized (just this moment) that broaching the subject even when our aging dog is still relatively healthy is asking for trouble. When I asked my wife and daughter their thoughts about where one draws the line, they both hung their heads, wiped their eyes and then, as if on cue, glared at me and demanded to know why I had to ruin an otherwise perfect day by talking about such things.

So…with no input from family, I have three criteria to consider:

Amanda today

1. How will the procedure affect your financial well being?

If you need to borrow money, you might lean against having a surgery done. On the other hand, if the expense will not change your life at all, you will probably just go ahead and do it.

2. How will the procedure affect the pet?

When our all time favorite cat Thomas lost the use of his kidneys, our vet told us he could perform a surgery that might allow Thomas to live longer, but he would never be healthy again. In this case, the cost was not even a factor; we both agreed to have Thomas put to sleep because we didn’t want him to suffer.

On the other hand, many procedures can give the pet a much greater quality of life for years to come. Had that been the case with Thomas, we might have opted for the surgery, depending on criteria 1: the cost.

3. There is a difference between an animal and a person.

OK. I realize that statement may put me in bad standing with PETA, but I will plunge ahead and state that we will not make the same decisions for a pet as we will for a son or daughter. I would spend every penny I have and lots I don’t have in order to save the life of one of my children. My pets, on the other hand, are … well … pets. I may suffer as they suffer and I may weep and grieve their loss, but I will not put the rest of my family’s financial well being in jeopardy in order to save a pet.

Conclusion

I love my pets, especially Amanda.  I don’t like thinking about dealing with her declining health and sorting out what I would do if she needed expensive surgery. I hope that dilemma doesn’t present itself, but if it does, my wife and I will make sure that our finances will not be jeopardized before we agree to high dollar surgery.

At least that is what I am thinking right now.

How about you? Where would you draw the line on how much to spend on a beloved pet? Have you ever spent more than $1,000 on a surgical procedure? Would you do it again? Would you ever consider buying pet health insurance or is it too expensive?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Invest It Wisely September 27, 2010 at 11:51 am

My thoughts are similar to your, Joe. It’s sad to go through the death of a loved pet (went through it twice in the past 5 years), but I would not be for any surgery that would only prolong their suffering, nor would I jeopardize my family over the inevitable.

If I was on the sick bed, terminally ill, and it was a choice between extinguishing all life savings so that I could live another year on the sick bed or not, I might simply ask to be brought home and to go in peace. That is just my personal viewpoint, though.

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Ramona September 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm

If the surgery would still mean he’s not having a chance to a good life, I’d take the hard decision of putting him to sleep. But, if there’s the slightest chance he’s gonna live with us some more and not in pain, then I’d sell my car to pay for it. My dog is almost like a kid to me, there’s not too many things I wouldn’t do for him.

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Greg McFarlane September 28, 2010 at 1:09 am

The “7 years” thing is an myth, which should be clear considering how dogs approach maturity in one year. If you want a rule of thumb, the first year = 15 years, the second = 10, and every subsequent one = 3. Amanda is closer to 58 than 91.

I’d gladly spend more to save a pet than a family member, and I mean that. Family members can at least earn a living or get credit. Dogs and cats are 100% at our mercy: as humans, that’s a big obligation for us to live up to, but it’s our duty.

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joeplemon September 28, 2010 at 7:54 am

@Invest,
I agree (I think) on the way to handle being terminally ill. My wife and I agree that neither one of us wants to be kept alive “artificially”… we both want all life support removed when and if that time comes.

@Romona,
I might do the same when it comes down to it. As I said in the post, I am committed to not jeopardizing my family’s financial well being, but we might be able to get by with one car instead of two. That’s why I am trying to think it through now.

@Greg,
Thanks for clarifying the 7 year thing. I was hesitant to put that factor in my post and was hoping someone could explain it better. If Amanda is only 58 in “dog years” and the average human life expectancy is 75, then she could reasonably be expected to live 5 or 6 more calendar years. Of course I am sure that varies with breed of dog…small ones seem to live longer than big ones.

You make a great point about responsibility of caring for a pet. It is definitely our duty as pet owners. We should do everything we can to make their lives comfortable. But is there a limit? Should a struggling family pay for a $5,000 surgery to save their pet’s life if they are about to get their home foreclosed on? I know that is extreme, but I am just asking.

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Mary September 28, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I was thinking of adopting a pet but now I have to put medical expenses considerations-Wow! it is expensive -Is there anyway I will be able to insure my pet? just wondering -I will be adopting a dog from friends who are moving to a different country at end of the year.

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Evan September 28, 2010 at 10:13 pm

I would spend A LOT for my dog. I think the main question for me has to do with whether the surgery would prolong imminent death.

Not sure how old your daughter is but that convo could not have went well lol They are an emotional folk.

BTW CUTE DOG!

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joeplemon September 29, 2010 at 7:44 am

Mary,
It has never occurred to me to NOT own a pet because of potential health care expenses. I wish you well as you adopt your friends’ dog. About health insurance for pets… I haven’t checked into it but I imagine it could be found.

Evan,
Would you spend a LOT to prolong imminent death if you knew that the surgery would only prolong life for a short period of time? Or not give a great quality of life? I was thinking of our cat Thomas that I mentioned in the post.
About the convo…yes, it was testy. My daughter is grown, but she and her mother are a dynamic duo. I know when to leave a room. 🙂

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Everyday Tips September 29, 2010 at 10:26 am

Oh my gosh, that puppy picture of Amanda is so adorable. It makes me sad to think she has arthritis. Seeing her adult picture makes me think she is part fox- must be the ears. 🙂

Anyway, we don’t have pets because of allergies, but I had them growing up. I know I wouldn’t have the heart to NOT spend the money if we had it lying around. However, a lot depends on the prognosis. If it is just give the animal a few more months of life with possible suffering (like your cat), I would probably let them go. If they were young, I would be much more likely to pay more money if the prognosis was good.

It is so hard with animals because they can’t complain really well. You just have no idea how much pain they are in.

Good luck with Amanda.

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Crystal September 29, 2010 at 11:44 am

Well, we’ve spent almost $2000 on allergy issues on our Pug in less than a year, so apparently I’m willing to spend a lot, lol. Just to get his bi-annual lab work done is going to cost us at least $500 a year and his meds will cost another $300 at least for the rest of his life and he is only 7 years old.

I would never spend money that we didn’t have to save one of our dogs and I wouldn’t even spend money that we have set aside for retirement. BUT, we do use vacation money, fun money, and the little excess our hobby jobs bring in on our pets if need be.

The problem with dog issues is that making up our minds on something like cancer treatment would be easy for us – “$3500 on cancer treatments that only have a 50% chance of working? Sorry, nope. Please write us a prescription for pain meds, thanks.” The tricky part is when it’s $200 here and $150 there every couple of weeks until your dog is actually feeling better and you think, “yay, hes good and we’re okay…oh crap, that was $2000…and we’ll need to spend at least $1000 a year from here on out?…sheesh…”

That’s where I am right now…

Good luck!

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Greg McFarlane September 29, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I couldn’t live with myself if I let a pet die because I got foreclosed on. Making an innocent animal pay with its life for my own financial mistakes?

To everyone who’s worried about giant vet bills, may I suggest this?

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Invest It Wisely September 29, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I’ll share a little bit more about my own personal experiences. My own cat diet when he was near 20, so he had lived a long and fulfilling life. He was a very happy cat, and I was very sad to see him go. He had a type of mouth/throat cancer, that as I recall the vet telling us, could not be operated on without leaving him in a lot of pain. 🙁

My girlfriend’s pet Pomeranian also passed away recently. He was the family pet since her and her brother were young, and she loved that dog like it was a second brother. She still sometimes gets very emotional and sad whenever something comes up to remind her. I don’t think anything specific was wrong with him; everything was failing from old age… his heart, his digestive system, etc… my girlfriend was next to him every minute for the last week, and was there when he passed.

I would not recommend buying a pet just because it looks “cute” unless you are willing to stick through it through thick and thin. I agree with Greg in that we owe our pets that much.

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Invest It Wisely September 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Furthermore to Greg’s latest post on the costs of health care for animals, you guys might find this interesting:

http://blog.mises.org/13201/treat-us-like-animals-please/

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joeplemon September 29, 2010 at 5:19 pm

@Everyday,
Yes, she was adorable and still is. She thinks she is part of the family and we do too. Thanks for the good wishes.

@Crystal,
Like the other readers, you sound like a caring pet owner. Yes, $1,000 a year from here on out is pricey, but you don’t really have any choices do you? BTW, I am with you on the high dollar “iffy” cancer surgery. My job, in my opinion, is to love my dog and ease its pain and discomfort if she gets to that point. This being said, we can both learn from the link that Greg shares. Quite an eye-opener for me.

@Greg,
Thanks for the link about the pet wellness plan. I guess I have been living in a cave, for I never knew such a thing existed. You said that everyone who is worried about high vet bills should check out this post. Personally, we are not worried about high vet bills. We keep enough money set aside for vet visits. It is a high dollar surgery that could throw our finances into disarray. Will the pet wellness plan pay for surgeries or for a percentage of surgeries? If so, this could be the answer for all pet owners.

@Invest it,
I agree with sticking it out with our pets. They are like part of the family, and, because we signed up for the ride, we need to step up for them in good times and bad. I get teary eyed today when I think that some day I will no longer have Amanda.

Thanks too for the link to the post about lower cost vet bills. Good stuff.

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Deborah October 1, 2010 at 3:30 am

When we took cat #1 to the vet as a kitten we were told he had a heart murmur and asked if we wanted to have a scan done. I don’t remember the amount but we decided not to. He lived to be 13 and was a wonderful, healthy pet until the last few days.

Less than a year after he died, we woke up to find cat #2 had a broken jaw (!) from rotten teeth. When the vet told us it would be $1200 I didn’t even think. If I had I might have decided to have him put to sleep instead, because money was pretty tight at that point. But it’s been 5 years since that surgery and he’s been healthy, so I’m really glad I did it (though I’m still paying off the credit card debt that was part of).

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joeplemon October 1, 2010 at 7:40 am

Deborah,
Thanks for sharing a tale of two cats. The cat #2 story is the kind that puts a pet owner to the test. You don’t want your pet to suffer and it would break your heart to put him to sleep for rotten teeth. But the cost could be overwhelming for some families. I am glad he is doing well five years after the surgery!

We rescued our current cat from a flood that hit our area in 1993. She is showing some signs of age, but doing well 17 years later.

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Ramona October 1, 2010 at 9:21 am

As an update on this:

Last year I found a stray dog hit by a car. He was hit by a car in front of me, so I parked mine next block and came back. He was almost eviscerated and in huge shock. I called our vet and he came to take him to his vet office. I got back into my car and went with him.

The dog has his belly “ripped”, so the vet had to “neuter” him and make him “a girl” the penis was also shreds, so he “recreated” his urinary tract. The belly was sewn and we were ready for a difficult recovery.

The dog was pretty old too, but we were hopeful. Even his shattered leg had been “put back” so he wouldn’t even limp. I had to pay my salary for that month just to save “nobody’s dog” and I didn’t even flinch.

He died in my home after 6 days and I was totally in shambles. 2 days later I found out we’d all been fired from our job, but I just didn’t have any tears left for my own problems.

If I was able to try this hard for a dog I’ve never seen in my life, imagine what I can do for my Junior, who’s been my “kid” for 12 years almost. So, I truly understand what you’re going through and pray you and the doggy will be fine. Let’s hope it will all get solved the best way possible

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Greg McFarlane October 1, 2010 at 9:50 am

Good God, this is the saddest thread I’ve ever read.

It’s good to know that there are people out there with consciences. I can’t tell you how many healthy cats and dogs I see up for adoption at Petsmart, abandoned because their despicable owners lost their homes or left town. How do you ditch a family member? Especially one who, if healthy, probably costs no more than $8 a month to keep alive and happy?

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joeplemon October 1, 2010 at 10:22 am

@Romona,
Thanks for sharing this story. I think we can tell much about humans by the way they treat animals. You could easily have driven on (like I probably would have done) when you saw the dog get hit by a car, but you didn’t. You got involved. It cost you and it broke your heart, but my hunch is that you would do it again.

Not the same thing, but my daughter will often stop to help a turtle cross a road. She can’t handle the idea that it has a high probability of getting hit.

@Greg,
Sad, yes. But also inspirational. I wrote this post looking for ideas on tough decisions when faced with high dollar pet costs. Through the thread I have discovered something much more important than money: a willingness to step up, be responsible and even sacrificial in order to care for these pets we have invited into our families.

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Red October 4, 2010 at 8:47 am

I think you bring up a point that future pet owners SHOULD BE considering. For me, it’s the same consideration people should give to having children, but they really don’t. If there was an emergency, could you spend enough to care for your pet? In the case of children, could you spend enough to give them a decent life? People buy animals or have children for selfish reasons, and the pet or child is the one that suffers most.

I’m not saying that applies to you, just that a lot of people don’t consider health-related expenses when buying a pet. They just see a cute puppy or kitten, and all logic goes out the window.

Right now, my husband and I are paying down debt. We have no emergency fund, no credit cards. If one of our cats got sick, I would go into debt to help them because that is my responsibility as their caretaker. But if it was a terminal illness and the doctor had good reason to believe the pet would be in pain regardless of treatment, I think we’d have to put him down. If the treatment would fix the problem and the animal could go on living until he died naturally of old age, we’d find the money. It all really just depends on the prognosis. I wouldn’t want to keep my pet alive for three extra months and have him go through painful surgery all for the sake of us having more time with him.

All that said, we’re going to make it one of our top priorities after debt to create a “pet emergency fund.” I often think about what would happen to the cats if I died, and I’d like to have money set aside for either my husband or someone close to us to continue caring for them.

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joeplemon October 5, 2010 at 11:01 am

Red,
Great idea – a “pet emergency fund”. We don’t have one per se, but our regular emergency fund could handle a pretty good hit if we needed to use some of it for one of our pets. The thought behind the thought is that pet owners need to be responsible about the potential costs of owning a pet. Sadly, as you point our, many aren’t.

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