Getting More Bark for Your Buck

Today the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Seemingly, the more tumultuous the world around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive. Imagine then, the heartache one feels when it’s necessary to cut back on a pet’s health care because of financial hardship.

Last week I worked with Joan and her ten-year-old Labrador, Rudy who still acts like a puppy. They are devoted to one another, and Joan has always done everything possible to care for her best buddy’s health. Rudy had been vomiting and not finishing his meals (keep in mind, most Labs would quit breathing before they quit eating). When I mentioned blood tests and X-rays, Joan began sobbing and expressed profound guilt and worry because she was unable to afford these diagnostics. Like so many others in this diseased economy Joan recently lost her job, depleted her financial reserves, and was in the midst of foreclosure. I gave Joan a big hug, told her how much I appreciated her candor, and reassured her that a diet change and medication to soothe Rudy’s stomach might be the solution. She will call me with an update next week.

If you are feeling a financial pinch (who isn’t these days), here are some things you can do to economize while still caring for your pet’s health.

-When talking with your vet, lay your financial cards on the table. Yes, this is difficult (talking “fleas” is one thing- having a candid conversation about your bank account is whole ‘nother ball game), but know that such discussion can open doors to options that make better financial sense. Rarely is there only one way to diagnose or treat a disease. You are entitled to an explanation of the risks and benefits of every single option, regardless of your financial status.

-Request a written cost estimate before services are provided. In no way does this reflect how much you love your pet; you are simply being fiscally responsible.

-Learn about all of your payment options.

-Consider investing in pet health insurance, especially if you are inclined to take the “do-everything-possible” approach.

-Don’t neglect the preventive care that could save you money in the long run. Administering heartworm preventive is less expensive for you (and safer for your dog) than treating heartworm infection.

What should one do if forced to contemplate euthanasia for a pet solely because of financial constraints? Before succumbing to such a drastic decision, I strongly encourage thoroughly investigating every other conceivable option. Consider coming up with a creative payment plan such as bartering services or goods, borrowing money from friends or relatives (borrowing from a bank might be a silly suggestion these days), contacting a dog rescue association, applying for a donation from a pet health assistance organization, or finding a new, financially capable guardian for your pet. Such exploration of options might just save a life and will do wonders for everyone’s peace of mind.

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. SPEAKING FOR SPOT is available at, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

Wishing you and your dog good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

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