The Cost of Caring

The news would have us believe that the recession is over and unemployment is declining, but I’ve got to tell you, I’ve not yet seen even a glimmer of this in my professional life.  The majority of my clients remain hard pressed to pay for the diagnostic testing and care that would be ideal for their sick pets in spite of the fact that we lowered many of the fees at my hospital approximately one year ago.  Fortunately, for most of my patients, I can offer multiple medical options rather than just one.  For example, many folks these days choose the less expensive route of empirical therapy (providing treatment without certainty of what the underlying medical issue is) rather than performing diagnostic testing.  Within the limitations dictated by cost constraints, I try to do what’s best for my patient while also trying to assuage the guilt that most clients in this situation experience.  They love their pets dearly, but face the reality of having to settle for something that would not normally be their first choice.

When appropriate, I provide my client with a list of organizations that provide financial assistance for veterinary care costs.  Trust me, these wonderful organizations have been deluged by requests over the last few years.  Yet they still manage to pull through for some of my clients.  Many provide financial help for any type of veterinary care while others set specific criteria.  For example, they might provide assistance only for pets with cancer or only for service dogs.  None of them provide urgent funding- invariably there is an application process.  If you are interested in having a look at these wonderful organizations, I invite you to visit my website. Click on “Resources” found in the red horizontal main menu and then scroll down to “Financial Assistance for Veterinary Care.”  A sure sign of the times is that this is the most frequently visited page on my website!

For those of you with  young healthy animals (devoid of any preexisting medical conditions) I encourage you to consider purchasing a pet health insurance policy.  For an annual premium cost of $300-$400 you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you will be reimbursed approximately 80% of future out of pocket veterinary expenses.  The key is in choosing your insurance provider wisely.  Some reimburse exactly as you would hope while others come up with all kinds of crazy loopholes.  Visit my website for a list of questions to ask insurance providers that will help you separate the good guys from the bad.  Click on “Resources” found in the red horizontal main menu and scroll down to “Pet Health Insurance.”  My book Speaking for Spot provides a comprehensive resource for learning all you need to know about pet health insurance.

Have these tough economic times influenced how you provide medical care for your pets?  If you feel comfortable sharing your story, I welcome hearing it.  If you know of any organizations (not already on my list) that provide assistance for veterinary care, please give me a shout out.  I would love to include them.

Best wishes for good health,

Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of  Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

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, and your favorite online book seller.

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16 Comments on “The Cost of Caring

  1. Great article! I’ve recently signed Morgan up with Embrace pet insurance. I’ve done alot of homework before I decided and I’ve been very happy with them so far. They do cover pre-existing conditions as long as they are curable. They also offer annual wellness rewards ($400) that can go towards general checkup or preventative meds. I really like the folks at Embrace! Very personal and caring!!!

  2. Wow. When I was a kid, the vet never even crossed our minds when we had animals. Things sure have changed.


  3. Susan, we did that. We had $5,000 put aside and felt good about it. Now, $60,000 of vet expenses later it puts it into a different perspective. But hopefully most dogs’ vet expense doesn’t add up to that.

  4. Thank you once again, Dr. Nancy, for providing comprehensive information about a topic that sooner or later is of vital importance to all of us who have animal families. I see that you have included Care Credit in your list of financial assistance options, and I just want to add an important piece of information. Care Credit is “interest free” for up to a year. This resource has been of enormous help to us as we have been incurring overwhelming expenses over the past three years treating our beloved golden retriever for osteosarcoma. By spreading the costs out over time rather than paying for them at each appointment has enabled us to give our boy the gold standard of care.

  5. Very timely post and I can say that yes, the economy and most people’s fragile financial situation (ie: paycheck to paycheck) has affected my decisions and also the clients decisions at the feline veterinary practice I work at.

    A year ago, one of my 5 cats spend 3 days in an emergency hospital due to a urinary blockage and I pulled the money to pay his bill out of my late husbands life insurance money (aka ‘my savings acct’) and I just cut back on my ‘frivolous’ spending to make up for it.

    I do think many of our clients opt for ’empirical’ treatments more now that before, or maybe say they will do labwork every other year now, and we care for many multi-organ issue kitties and their owners are still going the extra mile for them.

    Our clients who are proactive about their own healthcare are the same way with their cats care, too.

  6. Hi Dr. Kay,
    My pets come first. Having a dog with Addison’s I am a frequent visitor to our Vet clinic, now I have another dog with an acl rupture that is being repaired on Monday. I didn’t bother even asking for a estimate because it needs to be done regardless of the cost. If I have to I will give up meals out, movies, the new clothes I really did not need, whatever it takes to look after them properly.. I try to keep ahead of Vet costs with a separate bank account that I do my best to add to every month and that helps when something like an acl rupture happens.

    On the Addison’s Dogs yahoo group I belong to it seems we see people almost weekly who can no longer afford to care for their Addison’s dogs and we do our best to help provide the medications and assist in finding new homes. Times are difficult for many people.

  7. I’m very sad to be moving away from our wonderful veterinarian. She has been so great with my Henry cat. We’ve done exactly as you stated – treated without doing lots of diagnostic testing to keep my costs low. (My husband has been unemployed for two years – we’re moving because of a job for him!)

    Henry has improved SO much over the last few months! I know what to do for him now, and she gave me some great pointers on finding a good new vet when we get to our new area.

    Her understanding (and yours) of the financial worries that go along with pets is much appreciated. (I’ve been thinking pet insurance might be a way to go, but when we don’t have health insurance for humans either, it wasn’t something we could do… maybe now that husband is employed again!)

  8. I concur that the recession is far from over. With unemployement hovering near ten percent, many people either out of work or with reduced income, I am sure that there are people who cut back on everything, including vet visits/treatment/tests.
    I have noticed that it is not the cost of the vet visit that is rising, rather the cost of labs. I’ll give you a recent example. I just had my sixth month ultrasound to monitor suspicious breast lumps. For the exam AND the reading (for self pay) it only cost me an even one hundred dollars. Yet, the last time I had a full senior panel run on our elder (nearly 19) yeaer old cat, the fee was $135, plus the office call. . What is wrong with that picture?
    While I would go without before I would withhold treatment, Dx tests, for our babies, there are many people who are either not inclined to do that, or just plain can’t afford the high costs of vet bills. Our local hospital even allowed us to pay installment payments for the 5K that we owed from my core needle breast Bx . If vets want to stay in business, they are going to have to follow the lead of physicians in this issue.
    Just as with human medicine, there are many pet parents who will fall through the cracks and will not qualify for any kind of help caring for their pets. In addition, many of us who adopt or rescue older pets would probably pay a fortune (just as we do for our own insurance) for insurance, which would most probably only cover the very basics and would exclude or find a way to exclude any \expensive\ conditions, as pre-existing.
    I do not blame people for shopping around for a vet, and I agree with Dr. Newman. It is just common sense that the larger the staff, the more the vet will have to charge to cover the cost of paying each of his/her employees. The same goes in human medicine as well.

  9. Thanks for a terrific blog, Nancy. I lost a beloved kitty last year to cancer that no one knew he had until his last few hours on earth, after the correct diagnostic tests were done. He was being treated for something completely different, which turned out to be incorrect.

    I lost his sister a few months later to the same cancer, and again no one knew she was sick until those last few days. She, like her brother, was being treated for something else, which turned out to be wrong.

    Both cats spent their last days in the care of specialists at an emergency hospital. The people at this hospital were wonderful – they treated me and my cats like we were family. In the end, my only comfort was knowing I had done everything I could for my critters. The tests were terribly expensive, but at least they gave me some peace of mind.

  10. The larger the veterinary hospital and the larger the staff, the greater the overhead. My first associate position was in a referral hospital in Chicago. The owner had 40 employees and I remembef him telling me that if he had to do it all over again, that he would run a one man show. I sold my practice four years ago and in January, I opened a new state of the art facility which my wife, a certified vet tech, and I run with 2 other employees. We provide care at less than 1/2 the price of the larger hospitals, without sacrificing quality. On site lab, Sound Digital DR radiology, ultrasound, on call surgical specialist, etc.

    A colleague down the road just placed the following message on his sign. Do you choose your doctor because he is cheap? If he is more experienced, equally well equiped, believes that pets are family, not property, and offers better value, I sure would.

    I encourage anyone seeking vet care to shop around. Prices vary greatly!

  11. Dr Nancy,

    The cost of caring and the cost of training, remediating challenging behaviors, socialization issues, and more has become difficult for pet owners. As a dog trainer and behavior counselor I am finding ways to expedite my services and still provide the best solutions for both dogs and families. Its an opportunity to get very creative with trades and barters.

    My own beloved canine companion has had bilateral CCL injuries this past year. For informed decision as well as financial reasons we elected to recover with conservative management. Our recovery team has included Holistic Vet practitioners, Vet Rehab Specialist, Ttouch practitioner and groomer. With each of these professionals we arranged services trades that allowed us both to receive the services we needed. My holistic vet adopted a dog who needed some training and playgroup options, my Ttouch practitioner wanted to learn K9 Nosework and had reactive issues I worked through with her dog, I brought a referral base to my Rehab vet. I traded boarding service to my Holistic vet in trade for treatments. Her dog now comes for regular playgroup and training sessions in trade for laser treatments. My groomer friend trades for classes, playgroups and training. She grooms my physically challenged boy at my location with lots of breaks to accommodate his injury.

    We have all become friends and partners in each of our dogs particular needs. Mine physical, theirs training, energy outlets, socialization and behavior remediation.

    I am truly blessed to have the amazing team of professionals partner for my beloved boys recovery. I’m honored to provide training and remediation to the behavior challenges of my colleagues canine pals in trade. We all have gained a referral network.

    These stressful financial times are an opportunity to get creative. Everybody wins!!

    BTW…my beloved Pirate is doing awesome in his recovery. He is a very happy active guy, thank to my team!!

    Thoughts become things… choose the good ones!®

    Think Spot
    Joey Iversen, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP
    TAGteach Primary Certified
    Professional Dog Trainer &
    Behavior Counselor

  12. another idea is to put aside your own money into a savings account reserved for your veterinary expenses. e.g., if you put in $50 a month you would have $600 for the year, hopefully not having to dip into it for a young pet… as your pet gets older, then you might have quite a nice sum accumulated to pay for older animal vet bills… rather than giving that money to the insurance companies. And you can choose to save more than that per month depending on your means.

  13. Because I use mostly Eastern types of medicine with my pets insurance doesn’t help me so I passed on that.

    I like what you say about tests. Many human specialists often use trial and error with drugs to find out what medical condition a person might have.

    I learned years ago to ask what a treatment would be before agreeing to a test. I had a Dalmatian who had seizures and the docs wanted to send her to a specialist in another city to find out if it was something neurological or epilepsy. I asked what the treatment would be for each and it was the same for either! I decided against the test.

    My litle lab mix, Said (“Sigh-eed”) just turned 5 and was itching like crazy, had dandruff and was losing hair so I took him to the vet. She thought part was allergies and didn’t think his hair loss was as extreme as I did. She humoured me though and did a blood test and come to find out he has hypothyroidism.

    That was about $250 altogether but some people go to movies and dinner, I hang with my pets for fun.

    I work in the pet industry and business is picking up steadily.

  14. The times have totally affected how I care for my pets. I’m not doing nearly as much preventative care (heartworm meds, flea/tick meds) because I’m in Colorado and the odds are in my favor. But I know that can come back to bite me hard, in which case I will sell whatever I have to for the fix. It’s also hard because my background is rescue, so I have more pets than I would have gotten if I’d known how things would go and I’ve had to stop fostering because I can’t afford it any more.

    I’m lucky, though, in that I have vets that have been friends since my rescue days and will work with me if there’s an emergency. But it’s still scary.

  15. The times truly are tough, regardless of what the news say. I haven’t seen any improvement as of yet.

    So far it didn’t affect how we provide medical care for our pets, but it did affect everything else – we are totally broke and having a hard time making ends meet.

    So far we keep doing whatever is the best thing to do, as long as we can handle things. I still have some RRSP I could go into, but hoping that won’t be needed. I didn’t buy any clothes for three years now. Our vehicle is fallen apart and we are trying to resurrect an old bus we got cheaply (kind of cool, was for transporting disabled).

    So so far we had the tough economy affect all aspect of our lives except the health care we provide to our dogs.

    Hoping that things get better before we run out of options.

  16. Hi Dr. Nancy,

    When I got Camellia, a (private) rescue Havanese, aged 3.5 at the time, I immediately took out health insurance on her – for accident or illness. My premiums add up to just over $680 yearly (paid once a month); I’m in Western Canada.

    I have to pay the basics; after that, TruPanion pays 90% of the costs with zero deductible (that was my choice). I believe TruPanion has a good record for coming through with payments, without hassles. I haven’t had to draw on it yet.

    Your remarks about diagnostics were great, too. Camellia has a currently undiagnosed difficulty; my vets and I are watching; it LOOKS like seasonal allergies to pollens (maybe spores, too), so we have her on an antihistamine called “Reactine,” I believe – 10 mg, once daily. I’m using the generic: Cetirizine Hydrochloride. Camellia seems to be coming along okay, but I’m prepared to do diagnostics if my vets think they should be done; we’d start with blood work and chest x-rays.

    I’m VERY fortunate that my vets are superb. They meet all the standards you describe in _Speaking For Spot_. Camellia likes them, too!

    Thanks for all the great work you do; please keep it up!
    Mon, 20 Jun 2011 19:24:38 (PDT)
    Camellia and Carol