John Cox of the Bakersfield Californian wrote this last weekend an article titled “Pet owners face tough decisions as medical advances increase vet bills”. In it he is reporting of a Bakersfield couple and their visit with their middle age dog to the animal hospital. Unfortunately they were facing the grim news that cancer had spread through the dog’s lymph nodes. The good news was that there is cure. The attending vet told them that the disease can be treated with chemotherapy. The bad news is that the treatment costs several hundred dollars a month. And the couple, not being able to afford the expense, had to decide that their dog has to go on a treatment regimen simply to relieve his pain, but not to cure the problem. I feel bad and sorry for all of them, dog as well as the owners.
In general, it all comes back to the same good and bad news. According to Cox’ research, advances in veterinary medicine these days are making a lot more options available to extend the lives of our ill companion animals. It’s just that the costs are extremely high. A cat kidney transplant or a dual dog hip replacement can cost easy $10,000. This makes it a lot tougher on pet owners to decide whether or not they want to proceed. “It’s different than people medicine” said the Bakersfield couple’s vet. “Since very few people have health insurance for their pets, we have to be a bit more realistic in veterinary medicine about the fiscal aspects of it.”
Cox further found that this kind of drama is a regular occurrence around Bakersfield, where many veterinary practices are investing in high tech equipment, like for instance digital radiology and ultrasound machines. Another reason for the high expenses is the hiring highly paid specialists in the area of advanced veterinary procedures.
Spending on veterinary care has been rising. The about almost half of 50,000 Americans surveyed in 2006, who considered their pets being part of their family rather than thinking of them as companion animals, shelled out $24.5 Billion for vet care already back in 06, an increase of 13+% over 2001. More updated numbers don’t seem to be available yet. As one vet put it: “People’s willingness to do almost anything for their pets has pushed our (the vet’s) profession ever closer to human medicine. Thirty years ago it was a choice between euthanasia and a week of penicillin. Today its way different from that.”
Nontraditional medicine is crossing over as well. Acupuncture ($65 for 15 minutes) to treat arthritis and cancer side effects or herbal medicine for cats and dogs are nothing new any more these days.
But in these tough economic times it is also a fact that “people are doing the basic necessities rather than going and spending money on extras.”
Here’s my take: I feel sorry for anybody who has an ill pet and can’t afford the right treatment. I think its great that we have all this advanced technology available to us. However, what does it do us good if we simply can’t afford it? I want to take this a little further. When the one vet talked about what was going on 30 years ago, he also should have mentioned that back then pets and owners were not facing so many diseases in such large numbers. Today the number of pets plagued with diseases is of epidemic proportions. 30 years ago there where no 60+% pets suffering from diabetes, or cancer, or kidney disease or obesity or you name them all, there is simply no more disease around, which does not apply to more than half of all existing companion animals. And 30 years before that there were even less. Those of you who know me, probably know were I am going with this. Right, there was no commercially mass produced pet food available. That’s the root of all the problems we are facing today. That’s were we should start making an effort towards healthier pets. To me it is amazing how many pet owners are still buying the 50 lbs bag of garbage for 25 bucks at the mass merchant or the grocery store. Saving with this short sight does not pay off. It will cost them dearly in the long run, as we have just seen here. But some people just never seem to learn. And then, when it’s too late (like the one woman said in the local paper’s pet corner the other day: “I know I was feeding him (her dog) the wrong food all this last 8 years, but now it’s too late. Please help me, what can I do?”) the pain is big and the crying starts. Somehow I just don’t understand. Especially not because there is so much information available to us these days on healthy and correct feeding. I am just afraid that we may end up like 30 years ago, with a lot more euthanasia.