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. 

Karen's Dog Training Blog April 16, 2012 at 02:46 PM
It is a personal choice as to how much and if you want to spend a lot of money on your pet's health. Teeth cleaning is important if your pet has tartar - the bacteria that will breed in your pet's mouth will eventually cause serious health problems such as kidney and heart problems which are costly and deadly. Pets cannot sit in the dental chair and open wide for cleanings - they need to be put under anesthesia. They need to be monitored throughout the process with state of the art equipment and skilled staff. It therefore costs more than your dental cleaning. Improvements in vet care about the years have given all of us more options than we had in the past. It is up to your vet to discuss the options available and up to you to choose. If you choose not to opt for treatment - no one else can make you feel guilty unless you let them. A vet is a professional who spent money, time and effort to become a vet, start up a practice, run the practice, keep updated on the latest treatments, buy the best equipment, pay their employees, and yes, make a living to pay for a home, car, food, utilties, personal expenses just like the rest of us do. Yes they do it because they love animals, but unless they have signed up as a volunteer or are independently wealthy, they are doing it as a profession. If you do not like your vet, seek out one that you do like and can work with.
Karen's Dog Training Blog April 16, 2012 at 02:48 PM
How about real names Spiff? Yours not the vets.
marina l easton April 16, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Karen, i totally agree about it being an individual's choice as to how much $$ one can spend on their pet. No matter how much you love them, u have to decide. In my case, the vet did not make me feel guilty,, however, to continue to treat after i told her i had made the dicision to euthenise Monte'.. only to rack up my bill because i was told he wouldnt bounce back.. .why hand another bag of IV when i'm on my way to say my good byes'??? then charge me full price. My cats Monte' and Peanut ( brothers) were homeless when i took them in. they were well loved and cared for the last 10 yrs and peanut still is, as much as i miss monte'. And I have chosen to find another vet that shows more compassion twards the pets as well as their owners. A veteranarion that doesnt think alcohol and ice cream makes the pain go away.
Jennifer Hunter April 16, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Thanks for a GREAT ARTICLE, Cami!......I have Pet Insurance on Coco Chanel and it does cover quite a few things....the Wellness Check-up once a year....and possible horrific accidents. I cancelled Jackie O's insurance, however, because it did not cover anything and since she is a rescue,,,her history is unknown,,,,Jackie is on Special diet of prescription food and kidney pills but that's what happens and I'll continue her new way of life until she stops eating and so on. I learned a lot with Amy going to the Speciality Clinic....They do good for a lot of animals.. At the end.....it just wasn't a good choice for Amy, as I mentioned, it was all about me and I thought the tumor would miraculously disappear!...HA!...It was an experience that Amy and I shared....but never again. Thanks Cami for re-visiting the ups and downs of loving our pets and all the choices out there..good and bad.
Jan Porri April 16, 2012 at 04:04 PM
My daughter decided that she wanted a kitten - well ..at the shelter 1 kitten means you take 2 after all , they have bonded, and they should not be separated. so we come home with 2 wonderful kitties (they were not really siblings either!) Anyway - kittie #1 gets 'sick' daughter freaks out, and takes him to the vet...$500 something later - he comes home...seems he had a stomach bug...guess what - about a week later #2 comes down with same said bug....I told her no vet - welcome to parenthood...when 1 kid gets something - guaranteed - the others will get the same thing..he got over his 'bug' and it didn't cost her a dime. Out one evening with daughter #2, and we find a kitty in a place where a kitty shouldn't be by herself - so we bring her home...and to the vet for a checkup - 120.00 later - and a couple of shots....not bad - but then realized that the Humane Society in Springfield charged $80 for spay/neuter and that includes the shots we paid more for...live and learn. When our 15 yr old pup comes to her last days - there will be no extreme measures - she has a great life, and been a wonderful part of out family - but she has aged gracefully, and deserves to go peacefully, no pain, no prolonging the inevitable. I will say that shen we had to put our GSD down the vet was VERY good to us as a family and to my youngest daughter as well, we all knew 'it was time' an he agreed, sad day - but he was very compassionate.
Bob B April 16, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Pet healthcare should be a basic right in this country. All pets should have health insurance coverage. In fact, our government should mandate that we all buy insurance for our pets or set up a national program (Peticare?) into which we can all contribute to ensure that no expense is spared in prolonging the lives of our faithful companions. If all pets were privately insured or covered by Peticare, no pet would be turned away from potentially life-saving veterinary care and no family would be bankrupted by the exorbitant costs of the care and medications. I have even heard some horror stories of some pets having to resort to eating dog food because they could not afford regular food after getting fleeced by their veterinarians. And don't get me started on the war on our female pets. Many have no reproductive rights at all and are involuntarily spayed! Lastly, on an unrelated note, our soldiers returning home from deployments overseas are having a hard time finding jobs in this economy. Please, hire the vet!
Spiff April 16, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Hold your horses there now, Karen, I never suggested that anyone should do their job as a "volunteer" (refer to my original post), I was just looking for a break on the price since it was so much. She kinda had me where she wanted me, however, since it was an emeregency situation and I didn't have the luxury of shopping around for a better price. I have multiple pets and have spent quite a bit of money with this particular vet over the years. It just seemed so heartless to let the cat die or have him put to sleep. As I indicated previously, I dealt with three others for grooming, vaccinations and flea medication and they all gave me a break on the price when I said he was a rescue (they had a heart and were rewarding me for having one). Listen, there is a big difference between earning a living and being greedy.
marina l easton April 16, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Karen, I'd have to go with Spiff on his last note. have a heart, dont be greedy. I grew up in Somers and so did my parents. for as long as this particular vet has been there we've had generations bringing our family pets there. And i must say, although in the past, he has always been kind enough to accept payment arrangements on bills, ever since "she" came into the practice with him.. it seems the greed has taken over, and bedside mannor and compassion given to pet owners has suffered. I have even heard of 2 of their interns and a receptionist that have quit because they couldnt stand to watch the lack of compassion shown twards pet owners. Pet insurance is a good option everyone should be offered, yet not to hike the rates for those who "rescue" animals.
Spiff April 16, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Good one, Bob, I too think we should have socialized pet medicine ;) Just kiddin'!
Patricia Gaglioti April 16, 2012 at 05:05 PM
You are "right on" with this column, Cami. We're printing a copy for our vet.
Tracy Cavaciuti April 16, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Like with our own health, we must be an advocate for our pets and speak on their behalf. I think it is important for us to educate ourselves on exactly what our pets need. There are more inexpensive alternatives available such as having your vet write a script for heartguard an other medications, there are anitibiotics that Stop&Shop offers for free, they are the exact same antibiotics that we use and your vet should be willing to write you a prescription, but you need to ask them how you can pear down your costs, if you don't ask, it most likely will not be offered.Question why things are done and if they are neccessary.The only vaccine required by law is rabies. Also, most after hrs emergencies are referred to very expensive emergency hospitals. There is a 24 hour emergency hospital(Animal Hospital of Rocky Hill) that offers excellent emergency care for a fraction of what the other emergency hospitals charge. Last year,I had to do a c-section on a dog at 2am. This would have been well over $3000 at an "emergency" hospital. I called the Animal Hospital of Rocky Hill , they took us right away, saved my dog and the bill was $1400.00. About what it costs at any other hospital during the day and less than half of the other emergency hospitals. So, if you do a bit of investigating, develop a good relationship with your vet and always weigh your options, you can save some money and still provide your pet with the best care possible.
Lisa Lenkiewicz April 16, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I think we were totally fleeced at our recent visit to a West Hartford 24-hour vet hospital. We were told our 15-year-old cat had a blockage. He stayed in the hospital there for two days. One vet said he was a strong cat who could live for years; another vet said he had a lot wrong but sent us home with all kinds of meds. About $5,000 later, we took him home and he died within the week. I don't feel the $5,000 diagnostic tests and hospital stay costs were necessary.
Dorothy DeForge April 16, 2012 at 07:17 PM
I know this vet hospital. Had my cat there overnight, only because I wanted to bring him back to my own vet, after they told me how much it would cost for them to treat him. If they hadn't started treating him -after an hour of waiting, I would have taken him home right then and there.
Karen's Dog Training Blog April 16, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Guess you all have really awful vets - I don't, My vet gives me options, lets me choose, and I don't expect a break because many of my pets are from shelters and off the streets. My vet may choose to give me a small break at times. However why should a person get a break because they have "rescues"? A pet is a pet no matter where you get them from. Should a person who bought from a breeder not get a break? Why do some people expect a break???? Again find a vet you like who is cheap enough, gives you a break because you have rescues and isn't in it to make a living - best of luck to you. Showing a copy of this article to my vet with the intent of making the practice sit up and take notice would be insulting in my opinion. I stand by my comment that real names should be used per Patch policy.
Karen's Dog Training Blog April 16, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Your vet will love you for it. <g>
Marcie April 16, 2012 at 08:07 PM
You have to determine what you want to pay. But overall if the procedure isn't going to add to the quality of life for the pet it may be time to cut the purse strings. I will say that our vet in no way ever made me feel guilty if I did or did not choose some treatment. It was up to me to decide. One cat we had put down another cat we tried treatment for after $750 and he didn't get better we put him down. 2 years later we are now a new puppy family.
J. Lippi April 16, 2012 at 08:08 PM
Their does not seem to be a local web site for Veterinarian ratings, so that we as a consumer can make an informed decision as to our pets - cost of visit, shots, operations, etc, with a reviews section, days/hours etc. All vets are not equal just like some doctors we prefer over others. I personally brought my puppy for 1st appointment with vet. However when it was time for me to get her fixed, they only did the operations on a certain day, which I could not take off from work ??? No you shouldn't expect a break nor ask for one, however their are vets who when they see the pet they see $$, and that is what they are in it for.
Spiff April 16, 2012 at 08:22 PM
I never said my vet was awful, just overpriced! Karen, please go back and read my original posts, I never suggested that I wanted my vet not the make a living as you imply. To the contrary, I stated directly that "we all have to make a living and no one wants to work for free." But, when you suddenly get thrown a $2000 bill after just getting those that were incurred several months earlier paid off, you're kinda looking for the vet to work with you a little -- monthly payments, break on price, or whatever. I had an established relationship with these people that was cultivated over numerous years. I paid every one of my bills in full. They had no reason to believe what-so-ever that I wouldn't pay my bill. They made me give them a $2200 credit card payment (of which a small portion was refunded after the procedure) before I left the office. After the dust had settled and I had an opportunity to check with other vets in the area, I was quoted a lower price for the procedure by every single one of them. Again, Karen, I never said the vet was awful, just overpriced. You really shouldn't twist what people write. And, heck, I'm not showing a copy of this article to my vet, the prices will go up even more!
Karen's Dog Training Blog April 16, 2012 at 09:13 PM
I don't understand why you opted for $5,000 worth of tests if you did not feel they were necessary. People seem to be complaining about paying for stuff they agreed to have done.
ddc9 April 16, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Help! Which vet in Somers/Ellington? Right on the line? I am new to the area with 2 cats and a dog - I need a good vet, not one who will give me trouble when we have a struggle with a life or death operation! Yikes!!
Lisa Lenkiewicz April 16, 2012 at 11:15 PM
We didn't know if the tests were necessary or not...we took the doctors' advice.
Catherine & Dennis April 16, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Thanks for the laugh...good one
Christine April 17, 2012 at 12:13 AM
When comparing animals versus humans, it's important to consider that animals can not articulate, with human language, how they feel or where their pain is. How does an animal owner determine palliative care /pain management options with an animal??--by trusting a Vet. Humans can articulate (most often) pain scales, and when the cannot verbalized, doctors and nurses look for non verbal cues (according to a scale). It is easy fir a human to vet (pardon the pun) their human doctors accordingly. However , as humans when it comes to our pets, we are completely at the mercy of the Vet to opt and guide us as to an animals needs (as animals cannot speak human If u can't trust ur Vet with costs and proceedures, it's time to start shopping about
Karen's Dog Training Blog April 17, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Spiff you need to use your real name. Everyone knows who I am because I use my real name. I am not going to discuss this further with an anonymous person.
Elaine April 17, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Karen, please re-read the TOU (terms of use). There is absolutely nothing in there requiring Spiff to use their real name as their screen name. I don't know if Karen J. Moulton is your real name or not. For all I know, you could be J. Edgar Hoover. Think about it.
Spiff April 17, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Linda Mahoney April 18, 2012 at 12:36 PM
I found a cat that had been hit by a car. My husband took her to the animal hosp. in Avon to stabilize her. He went back at 8 to pick her up and take her to our vet. the animal hosp. didn't charge us anything because we were doing a good deed. The cat is now at our vet on IVs if she survives we get to take her home and pay the bill! I already have 2 cats indoor only! Our vet is really great though he tells it the way it is and I don't think they are overly expensive.
Linda Mahoney April 18, 2012 at 12:40 PM
I am with you! Pet are for life and you have to take care of them!
Linda Mahoney April 18, 2012 at 12:43 PM
I have a question, why won't the animal control officer respond to any animal emergency? I was told she only will pick up dogs!
Karen's Dog Training Blog April 19, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Most animal control depts do not handle cats. It is up to each town to decide if they will have their town ACO handle cat issues. One city I know that does handle cats is East Haven Animal Control


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