Of course you love your pet—but the bills from the vet are another matter. Follow these tips on covering the costs, and on when it might be time to let go.
My late dwarf rabbit Molly was known as the Two-Thousand-Dollar Bunny among my friends. In fact, medical bills for this fluffball—adopted for just 20 bucks—were closer to $3,000 by the end of her life, 11 months after I brought her home.
Molly had Snuffles—not as cute as it sounds. Snuffles, or pasteurellosis, involves sneezing, wheezing, runny eyes and, in my bun’s case, an out-of-control abscess needing daily draining and two rounds of ultimately unsuccessful surgery.
I was a student at the time, and when my vet was talking options and price tags, I can't say every one of the tears I shed was for Molly. Later, as the bills piled up, my then-boyfriend demanded to know exactly where I'd draw the line. I couldn't say. He saw an inversely proportional relationship between the amount I'd spent on a rabbit and my suitability as a life partner. We'd already split up by the time Molly passed away.
Alda Loughlin, practice manager of the Animal Clinic in Toronto, sees many clients struggle with emotionally charged financial decisions about treatment. Here she shares insights into handling high-cost medical care for pets.
People usually underestimate veterinary costs when they're planning to become pet owners. Loughlin relates that her clinic asks prospective animal adoptees how much they expect medical care will cost in the first year.
"How they answer dictates how we'll go forward with the application," she says. "People often think about $500 for a new cat or dog, but you may be looking—without medical problems—at $900 to $1,100, for neutering, exams, vaccinations and microchipping."
If those figures shock you, best get your fix of kitten cuteness on YouTube.
One way of being prepared for big bills is taking out pet insurance; at Loughlin's practice, 30 per cent of clients have policies. While Loughlin supports this precaution, she admits hearing regular complaints about the hoops claimants jump through for reimbursements.
"If people don’t want pet insurance, I suggest they take $30 a month and put it away, or even pay it forward to their vet," she says. Loughlin stashes $100 a month between August and April for her own poodle's annual dental cleaning. "It's good to have a cushion," she says.
Negotiate a payment plan
If you're facing a big bill and you're not covered, your vet may let you pay in installments. "Mention that a treatment is price-sensitive," suggests Loughlin.
A word of caution: Not every practice offers this option, and if they do, they won't automatically make it available to every client. Loughlin recommends establishing a relationship with your veterinarian, as this will help.
Some charitable organizations will help pet owners who are retired, on disability benefits or on a fixed low income and faced with expensive veterinary procedures. In Ontario, pet owners may be eligible for assistance from the Companion Animal Wellness Foundation (requests go through the Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Toronto) or the Farley Foundation, says Loughlin. Ask your vet about similar foundations in your home province.
Do your research
The price tags for treatments can vary quite dramatically from clinic to clinic, so it's OK to shop around, advises Loughlin -- it's a question of balancing out quality and cost. "Call a couple of clinics, ask questions, and be very candid about your pet's condition," she says. She also advises asking exactly what's covered in each quote: is it just the surgery or also the pre-op bloodwork, post-op meds and follow-up visit?
And don't just let cost be the deciding factor. Checking websites with scores and client reviews of local practices or asking your network for recommendations gives you a sense of the level of care you can expect from an unfamiliar vet.
Draw your line
While I couldn't draw a line for my rabbit Molly's medical care, I admit I sometimes felt frustrated that such sophisticated and expensive options even existed as I fell deeper into the red. And I've sometimes wondered if all the interventions were even fair to her.
I polled my friends recently on where they'd draw the line for their own pets. Most said there was no line, but one had an important insight to share, based on her experience paying a fortune to prolong the life of a suffering cat.
"I've regretted the course of treatment we gave my cat who had kidney failure, for more than a decade, but that taught me a lesson," she says. "Find a vet you trust -- one who knows you and your pet well. Just because you can do another test or try another treatment doesn't necessarily mean you should."
Photo courtesy of Davina Choy Image by: Photo courtesy of Davina Choy
Sara Lanthier was 38 and single. But skipping love and marriage didn't mean forgoing the baby carriage, too.
At eight years old, Will is Sara Lanthier's everything. "He's hilarious and smart. He's super artsy and could build Lego for three hours at a time and not bat an eye," his mother asserts.
Nine years ago, Sara had written off being a mom. At 38, after a handful of short-lived relationships and one failed engagement, she thought, It's not going to happen; I'm already in my late 30s and I haven't met anybody. Plus, she didn't think she could manage the expense of raising a child on her own, so she made peace with her status as the resident fun aunt in the family.
Then, one night, her dad and her stepmom sat her down and suggested she try to have a child on her own. "It hit me out of left field," she says, but they praised her strength and her independence and promised to help out financially. Though motherhood had never seemed like an option, Sara realized the only thing that had been stopping her was the question of money. She decided to do it.
She picked a donor through Xytex Corp, an American sperm bank that divulges extensive donor information, including a personal essay and photos of the donor as a child and an adult. She went through more than 60 profiles to narrow down to her top five options, then she had her friends over for a cocktail party to help make the final decision. "I joke that I went with their No. 1 pick because my taste in men is what landed me in this situation," she says.
Alas, when she went to order him, he was sold out. Instead, she went with her friends' second choice—and her first—a German-Portuguese glassblower and artist.
After Sara underwent several rounds of tests with LifeQuest Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Toronto, the time for insemination finally arrived. Because of Sara's age, the chance of success was only 33 percent, but she found out six days later that she had conceived, and the pregnancy stuck.
She knows she's fortunate to have a supportive family, and because she lives in a time when it's possible to become a single mother by choice. "I have friends at my neighbourhood coffee shop who are in their 70s and never had kids. They wish this had been an option when they were younger," she says.
But her luckiest break has been Will. The day he was brought to her hospital room from intensive care (he was born 10 days early), she says, "it was like a first date." They wheeled him in and she sat there, staring at his tiny face. In the span of a few hours, she'd gone from a single woman to having a partner in crime for life. "We're a team," she says. "It's just me and him."