Thursday, November 15, 2012

Vet Nightmare

Jay came running upstairs saying the kitten was really sick. I felt fear grip my heart, partly due to worry about the kitten, and partly due to worry about what it was going to cost at the vet's office. Then I woke up and realized we don't have a kitten. It had just been a bad dream. I felt that shaky sense of relief you experience when you slowly come awake and realize the events weren't real.

I am sure this dream was brought on by Jay telling me yesterday that one of his sisters just spent $3000 on vet bills for her 12 year old cat. That is the kind of nightmare you can't wake up from! My daughter-in-law's cat was sick last month and the vet offered to do an ultrasound that was going to cost hundreds of extra dollars, and also suggested the possibility of the cat being referred to an internist. I had no idea there was such a thing as a cat internist before this happened. We had our own real life cat drama a couple of years ago, and that ended up coming in at just under $1000.

A few weeks ago I was walking Fergus and some random guy pulled over, rolled down his window and started telling me about his West Highland Terrier. It is only three years old, and had recently jumped off something and dislocated its hip. The bill so far was over $6000 and the dog still isn't 100% well. (And yes, when I am walking Fergus complete strangers approach me. Or, rather, Fergus. I have even had a carload of teenage boys yell out of their window, "Cute dog!")

All of this has me wondering. And a bit worried. What if something like that happened to Fergus? Where would I get $6000, and could I justify spending that amount on a vet bill? I used to mock people who did that kind of thing. That was before these big brown eyes got a hold of me.




I am curious to hear how other pet owners determine where the line is as far as vet bills go. Are the pet insurance policies they sell a rip-off, or are they a wise expenditure that can save you from a $6000 bill somewhere down the road?

28 comments:

  1. Ask me tomorrow about our current cat situation...you'd get hate mail if I mentioned it here. I'm not big on spending a lot of money on animals.

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    1. Okay. I'm very much in favour of avoiding hate mail. :-)

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  2. I had insurance for our cat for some time, but cancelled it after they didn't cover her when she went to the vet for stitches. I think it is worth it for the big "just in case" scenarios, and then again, like all insurance, it always seems wasteful, until you need it.

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    1. What you say about the insurance not covering the cost of the stitches is why I have never been tempted to buy it in the past. I guess it is a buyer beware sort of thing. I will have to do some research. And you're right, it does seem wasteful right up until the moment it's useful. Thanks for the input!

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    2. Oh that is interesting, I feel pro insurance (see below) but would definitely pay to check what it covers!

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  3. Since you put that cute picture of Fergus up, my answer would be I'd sell my own kidney to save him. Gosh is he adorable.

    Seriously? I don't have a good answer. I know it's something we struggled with too. Our cats are older, though, so I don't get a lot of pressure from vets for expensive procedures. We've been lucky with vets; they've been good about understanding our limitations and working with us to find solutions that fit our circumstances/budgets. I feel that's half the battle.

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    1. Every time from now on your phone rings and the caller ID says Canada you are going to worry that it is me, asking for that kidney donation. :-)

      I think when pets get older the answer becomes more obvious, but still...Finding a vet that uses common sense is important, and I hope we have that kind. But it is something you won't know until put to the test. I'm glad you have had good experiences with the vets you have used.

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  4. Pet insurance?? Next time we get a pet, it WILL get pet insurance.

    We had a dog, Golden Retriever, Purebred with papers - gorgeous!! Well about 6months old we discovered he had cataracts, paid $5k for surgery (he was only a puppy, breeder had died so no recourse). Then he developed epilepsy (18months?) and we paid ridiculous amounts of money for medication and testing. But he was lovely and young. Then when he was 3 he had a stomach obstruction. Again, hopefully fixable and so we paid another $1k for surgery, from which he never recovered and had to put down. So 4 years of life, and he cost us at least $10,000 in vet bills all up.

    Our Cat recently got sick (bladder) and it cost $250 all up, with the 'threat' of surgery. he is 12 and honestly, he won't be getting surgery, he will be put down if it comes to it. mean aren't I.

    So next time - pet insurance for us!!

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    1. I am so sorry about your dog. I wonder how much of his bills would have been covered by insurance? Cats and bladder problems seem to go hand in hand. That was what was wrong with my daughter-in-law's cat when the vet suggested all the crazy, expensive tests. And no, you aren't mean at all. I think it is good to know ahead of time what you are willing to do, and I think that changes as your pet ages.

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  5. Interesting that for Sarah it was a Golden Retriever, as that's what my story is about too. My dad had two goldens that had major health issues. After the first one, he started putting money aside every month as soon as he got the second one. He has said he would never again have a pet and not put money aside (instead of getting an insurance policy). Turned out he needed it. Now he just won't ever get another dog. (Too hard losing them both young.)

    I think we're a little old school - we love our pets but debt does not appeal. Luckily the few things we've had to deal with have come in under $1000 and so have been do-able. I also think it would depend if it is acute (swallowed a splintered bone mutter mutter mutter dang dog and his wolf jaw) versus long term care or treatments.

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    1. Yes, as much as I love them, I wouldn't get another Goldie. I agree that pets are not worth Debt, we were incredibly lucky with Oscar, DH had just been given some money from family, and my sister (who wanted the dog) also contributed! Which is actually crazy really.

      Putting money aside sounds very sensible.

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    2. I had no idea that Golden Retrievers had so many health problems. I'm sorry your dad had two bad experiences in a row, Kate. His idea of simply putting money away each month might be the one I end up following. I did a quick search of pet insurance policies and a lot of people have been unhappy with them. My dad was like yours. After he had to have their Doberman put down he said that was it. He didn't want any more dogs because he never wanted to drive another one the the vet to have put to sleep.

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  6. Should the time come, there will be a great disagreement within the family--between limiting the pet's suffering and extending his life as long as possible. An argument could be made for either being the more compassionate approach. A friend's terrier just had knee surgery (ACL repair), but I don't know what it cost.

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    1. My guess is the knee surgery cost thousands. And you are probably right. Any such choices are bound to result in disagreement. Our cat is 13 years old and has a thyroid problem. I suspect we will be having that discussion very soon as far as Emily is concerned.

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    2. Our dog had a knee ligament repaired for about US $3600 all told (a bargain compared to surgery on a human with the same problem). I might have let him run along on three legs, but the bf would spare no expense - of course, if we hadn't been able to afford it, Rudy would still be zipping around in tricycle mode today. Also, I once spent $900 on radiation therapy for a hyperthyroid cat. The alternative would have been dosing him on thrice-daily medicine for the rest of his life, which would have cost even more in the long run, not to mention the hassle of making him take the stuff. Again, if we hadn't had the money we would have had to put him to sleep, unless we could find someone with deep pockets who wanted to adopt him.

      And yes, we thought long and hard about paying so much for pets' medical care when so many humans go without. Still, we took on the responsibility for their lives and must do the best we can for them, which sometimes has meant conservative treatment (that is, less than cutting edge/very expensive) or euthanasia (in the case of an old cat with kidney failure). I can also say gratefully that all the veterinarians we have dealt with, specialists or our g.p.s, have been wonderfully understanding.

      Definitely check out pet insurance, but if you can't find anything that offers worthwhile coverage, start that special savings account.
      -- stashdragon

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    3. I guess $3600 is reasonable when compared to the cost of the same procedure in a human. But one of the things that happens in Canada is vets often charge more for things like blood work, x-rays, ultrasounds, etc. than doctor are allowed to bill the province for humans having the same thing done. We are giving Emily, our cat with the thyroid problem, pills because she is 13. It seemed more cost effective at her age than doing the radiation therapy. I'm glad you have found good care for your animals.

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  7. I adopted a dog from a rescue once, and they required I purchase pet insurance for her before they would let me adopt her. I unfortuately had to rehome her so I didn't have the policy for very long, and never used it. For me though, it was a small enough amount each month ($17?) that I was willing to pay for it to avoid much greater costs down the road. Some policies are more comprehensive than others, just like human insurance. If you do decide to go that route, get insurance as soon as possible. The cost goes up depending on the dog's age.

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    1. I wonder if requiring pet insurance is common when getting a rescue animal. $17 a month doesn't sound too bad, as long as it covered most things.

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  8. In the world my father grew up in, animals had jobs. When they could no longer do those jobs or got injured, they were gone. Thee were no visits to a vet. Without a doubt, I could reduce your readers and mine to tears with just a few of the stories. But that was then--and no one wants to hear THOSE stories!

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  9. That was the same world my dad grew up in.

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  10. I wake up with these kind of nightmares all the time! We adopted our two girls (cats) and we have had them exactly one year and so far so good. With my darling 17 year old Fiona - her kidneys were 80% failing and they wanted to continue her life for a few more weeks at a HUGE amount of expense. We told her to wait for us on the other side and sent her on her way to live pain free.

    Each case is different. Each situation has to be prayerfully considered. Money is not the only consideration, but it is a BIG one!

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    1. It is always a hard decision, but when an animal is 17 it is so much easier to say no to the extra-ordinary and expensive attempts to save the animal's life. But yes, with your two one year old cats, or with puppy Fergus, it is not so straightforward. I like your telling her to wait on the other side. :-)

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  11. I know for Kai the cat I would pay anything. I do have pet insurance for her & had to use it twice in her first year. Thankfully she's okay now. My best friend has an older cat & it would be too expensive to get pet insurance coverage so she just has an emergency credit card for pet emergencies. Dealing with the bills later. When I do adopt more animals I will probably continue to get pet insurance. But I also know people who just put what they would pay monthly to insurance & keep it in an account, that never get's touched but for pet emergencies. That's another idea that I'm kicking around.

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    1. This is what I have gathered - that if you want pet insurance you need to get it while the animal is still young or it is way too expensive. Did the insurance you used in the first year of your cat's life cover enough of the expenses to make it worthwhile?

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  12. I adopted a dog (of several generations of mixed breeds) from the Humane Society when she was about 10 weeks old. The first 8 years with this wonderful dog were a breeze. Then she developed an immune system condition (with a medical name ten miles long), and the big vet bills began. Medicine and injections alone were over $400 a month, and I developed tendonitis in both of my thumbs from opening the child-proof pill bottles to give her 26 pills per day! She also had several surgeries (not related to the immune system problem), and had a high-dollar consultation visit with a veterinary neurologist after having a seizure. Through all of this, she was a happy-go-lucky creature who loved to go see the veterinarian! My friends thought I was nuts, spending so much money on her, but she was never in any pain. I finally had to have her put to sleep at age 15 1/2 when she could no longer stand up, and a life on morphine was our next option. The vet and I both cried and hugged each other that day. That dog was certainly one of a kind.

    I am now retired, and I would like to have another dog, but I am afraid to adopt another, because I can't afford high veterinary bills like I could before, should some medical condition occur. If I ever did get another dog, I would certainly check out what pet insurance coverage is available.

    Mary G. in Texas

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    1. That was a lot of pills to have to give your dog every day! In some ways an ongoing condition like your dog had can get to be even more expensive than a one time medical crisis. I'm glad you were in a position where you could afford to treat her. From what other commenters have said it sounds like the pet insurance is fairly reasonable if you purchase it when the dog is still young. Maybe getting a rescue puppy instead of a rescue dog would be a solution.

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  13. *Comprehensive* insurance is worth every penny, especially when you have a dachshund as if their backs go (and trust me, they go) the situation is acute (operate or pts) and the cost is high. We had a mini wire dachsie who popped a disc and cost the insurance company £4000 in vet fees some years ago, that would be $6000 in Canada and more now than then I'm sure. Cheap insurance isn't much better than setting money aside, there are too many things that aren't covered. Buy now if you're going to Kristie, even getting Fergus treated for a simple tummy bug say would probably mean that you couldn't get cover for any gut problems if you don't look at insurance until after the event.

    Back when we had four dogs they were all insured. With seven my insurance costs would be £300 ($450) a month!!! So now only the ancient dachshund is insured and I keep a credit card with a high limit available just in case. Our dogs are family, I'll pay first if they're treatable and worry about selling a kidney (mine not theirs) afterwards! What I won't do is spend a lot of money keeping a dog with a life limiting or painful condition alive. Dogs live in the now and if the now is nothing but misery keeping them going for long just isn't justifiable in my book. Too many people keep pets alive long after it would have been a kindness to let them go (just because veterinarians can doesn't mean that veterinarians should!) Love that that's not true for so many of your readers.

    Here's hoping both Fergus and Jennie live long healthy lives :D

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    1. I was hoping you would weigh in on this discussion Annie! That's a very good point about insurance for Jenny because of the high rate of back problems with dachshunds. Fergus is due for his one year check next month and I am going to see what is offered when I go in for that appointment. I really like what you said about dogs living in the now and if they are miserable keeping them alive isn't justified. That's an excellent point!

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