Would You Cover a Major Medical Expense for Your Pet?

Consider this scenario: You’ve had a dog for the last 12 years. He gets sick. Really sick. The doctor says that your dog can be cured, but it will cost $6,000 out of pocket for the medicine and surgery, and he’ll be physically limited from then on.

What do you do?

If the scenario were different in one or more of the following ways, would your decision change?

  • The dog is only 1 or 2 years old.
  • The dog’s quality of life won’t change at all after the medicine/surgery.
  • You can make the payments over a period of 2 years ($250/month) instead of out of pocket.

The most interesting of those in my opinion is the age of the dog. If you’ve had your pet for a year, sure, there’s a special bond there, but nothing compared to if you’ve had the dog for 12 years. Based on that alone, it would be much more difficult to put the dog down at 12 than 1. But there’s this other factor when it comes to pets: life expectancy. Most dogs don’t live longer than 14 years. So you could save the younger dog that you care less about, but he’ll probably live another 8-13 years, or you can save your closest companion but only have him around for another year or two.

The other other interesting element of this is money–specifically, a lump-sum payment versus a payment plan. If you think about it, we’re on a payment plan to keep our pets alive every day: food. If you don’t feed your dog, he’ll die. Same with cats, but with cats you have the added expense of cat litter. For each of my cats, I probably spend about $20/month, or $240 for the year. It’s easy to pay that when it’s spread out over the year, but if I had to pay the full $240 on a single day each year, it would change the way I look at my cats’ general laziness and unwillingness to work.

A friend of mine got a puppy on Saturday, and the puppy got really sick yesterday. The bill was huge–somewhere between $1000 and $2000, depending on the potential reimbursement. You can see Beckham in the photos here. He’s adorable. But where do you draw the line?

It made me think about the fact that in all likelihood, I’m going to outlive Biddy and Walter. It’s a sobering fact. I would risk quite a bit to save my boys. But at the end of the day, I want to make the decision that’s best for them. I don’t want to cling to them because of MY needs or because of the effect it’ll have on ME. I want my boys to live out their days as happy and healthy as possible, and if they’re not able to live that way, the greatest way I can respect their life may be to end it.

As for the money, in the past I may have said that it’s “just an animal.” It’s gotten harder and harder for me to say that with Biddy in particular, given that I’ve had him for over 5 years. Sure, yes, he’s just an animal. He’s completely dependent on me, he has a tiny brain, and he’ll never grow up and move out and get a job. He’s a pet.

But if I knew that a doctor could cure him and I had the money, I’d be hard pressed not to do it. It would be a very difficult decision. It would also be hard to know that I could have spent that money to save hundreds of other cats and dogs by contributing funds to animal shelters. My pet or 100 anonymous pets? What makes my pet so important?

For those of you who currently have pets, what do you think you’d do in this situation? Have you thought about it? I’d love to hear from people who have unfortunately had to make this decision in the past. Do you feel like you made the right choice?

12 thoughts on “Would You Cover a Major Medical Expense for Your Pet?”

  1. I’m in the camp of life expectancy. If a dog is 12 and has major medical complications, even if you pay to fix whatever it is, further sickness or complications will likely occur over the next year or so it might live, and its quality of life will probably only be going downhill. Thus, theoretically, I would probably try to let them go. But for younger dogs who would probably fully recover and have a long and happy life, I might consider paying a large sum.

    Totally each person/family’s call though, that’s just what I think I would do!

    • Emma–Thanks for your thoughts. And definitely, it’s a very personal decision. I tend to agree with you about a much older animal…although I can’t say it wouldn’t be tough. I just want to make sure I put my pet’s needs before my own at that point.

  2. This topic is one that most pet owners never want to face, and I get sad just thinking about losing my dog. Age does factor quite a bit into making such a hard decision, at least for me. My dog isn’t even four yet, so I know that he has many years left, which is why I’d probably spend the money to do whatever possible if Jasper had another medical emergency.

    I say another, because in the last three years, he’s had two emergency trips to the vet: once when he somehow ate a mouse and tore his stomach lining, then most recently he sprained his neck by playing too rough with another dog.

    Both times, I went to the vet scared for the worst news possible, but knew I would spend whatever money I needed to make my dog better. Luckily, the vet was able to give him medication both times to heal the injuries and the biggest expense on my part was the cost of the visit and x-rays.

    In the past, I’ve witnessed my family making those hard decisions with older pets, and I hope that I would be able to make the choice that is right for both the animal and myself when the time comes. I wouldn’t want him to be in constant pain and as much as it would hurt to say goodbye, I would try not to be selfish.

    Jamey, thanks for making me consider the worst possible situation for pet owners- I think Jasper is going to get extra treats and a longer walk/more attention today as a result. 🙂

    • Katy–I wrote this entry with one hand petting Biddy and the other on the keyboard. It was truly tough to think about losing him. I’m glad Jasper’s going to get extra walks as a result. 🙂

      You say it well: “I hope that I would be able to make the choice that is right for both the animal and myself when the time comes. I wouldn’t want him to be in constant pain and as much as it would hurt to say goodbye, I would try not to be selfish.” I completely agree.

  3. It’s a quality of life/life expectancy question. With Llewy, my 4.5 year old Corgi, when he was hit by a car at 4.5 months, once we knew he could be “fixed” and have a happy and normal life, there was no other option. Worth every penny. When Margo, my 10-year old kitty, was diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable tumor in late 2009, we were given the option to treat with cortisone for several weeks and consider humane euthanasia or to try chemo, which has about a 9-month success life. Margo was shy, terrified of her own shadow, and would have been miserable. I couldn’t subject her to the terror of regular vet visits, so we opted to minimize the discomfort and made the difficult choice to put her down as soon as she showed signs of discomfort that we couldn’t fix or improve anymore. We put our baby girl to sleep in February 2010. It sucked, but I know it was the right choice for her.

    • Rebecca–I was hoping you’d reply after your experience with the cutest Corgi ever. I didn’t know about Margo, and I’m sorry for your loss there. That couldn’t have been easy.

      • Thanks, Jamey. Losing a pet is never easy, and there’s a special level of cruelty that in order to be humane, you have to be willing to make the most permanent of judgment calls. On the other hand, I think so often that we treat animals (the ones we love) better than people, when it comes to end-of-life issues. Boy-kitty, Charlie, will be 13 next month. He’s doing great, but ugh. Animals should NOT be allowed to age. When I’m in charge of the universe, I’m so making that a rule.

        • When you’re in charge of the universe, can you please appointment the Prime Minister of Kittens and Chocolate?

          You bring up a good point that I’m planning on writing about tonight (this is secretly a two-part series). Tune in tonight at 11:00!

  4. As a benefactor of the existing Pet Payment plan, I thank you for your support. I’d also mention that there are some Pet insurances available, if the need to defray risk and spread out Pet Health Care Costs is important to you.

  5. This very question is the reason I started paying for pet insurance a few years ago. I’ve had my cat Lily for 10 years. That is longer than most of my human relationships. So I pay almost $200/year in insurance just on the off-chance that she has a huge medical expense.

    Even so – if it was a case where her quality of life would be low after the treatment – I’d probably opt for euthanasia.

  6. Red and Jess–I didn’t mention it in the post, but the idea of pet insurance definitely came up as part of the discussion. I’m not exactly sure where I stand on it, but it seems like a worthy investment.

    Jess, I like that you pointed out that pet relationships often last longer than human relationships. That’s so true.


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