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Will your cat kill your credit?

When our furry feline friends aren't feeling fine, our finances often take a hit as well.

By Jul 30, 2014 11:24AM
This post comes from Gerri Detweiler at partner site on MSN MoneyCats are generally low-maintenance: feed them, pet them (when they want you to!), and clean their litter boxes, and they are often happy.

Hannah an d Rusty Photo credit: Gusstavo Vasquez/courtesy Credit.comBut like any pet, they can get sick or suffer accidents that can quickly result in large medical bills that could put your credit in jeopardy.

Here are three stories of owners who put their own credit at risk to care for the felines they love.

Bodey's story: A scrappy survivor

The only surviving kitten of her litter, Bodey was just a few hours old when Chris and Natasha Ashton brought her home in 2000. Not long afterward, she traveled with them from the UK to Philadelphia where both pursued MBA degrees at The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

But when she was just a year old, Bodey began ignoring her food. After extensive testing, she was diagnosed with anorexia, pneumonia and possible kidney problems -- and the couple ended up owing more than $5,000 in medical bills for two weeks of intensive veterinary care.

As students, the Ashtons lived on a tight budget. But without a second thought, they downsized their apartment, maxed out their credit cards, and dipped into student loan funds to pay the bills.

There is a happy ending to the story. Bodey lived another 11 years, happy and healthy. In the meantime, realizing many other pet parents must find themselves in similar positions, the Ashtons set out to develop a business model for a pet insurance program. They won the Wharton Business Plan Competition, and used the winning funds as seed money to start their business, Petplan, in 2006. Petplan now insures nearly 150,000 cats and dogs across the country.

Tomato's tale: Cats get diabetes too

About a year ago, Sharon Young noticed her 12-year-old cat, Tomato, whom she has had since he was a kitten, began drinking a lot of water and urinating more than usual. He had also lost quite a bit of weight. A visit to the vet confirmed her fear: Tomato had feline diabetes.

The vet explained that Tomato would have to go on a special diet and receive insulin shots twice a day. That initial visit cost Sharon about $600, and that was just the beginning. Tomato now requires special food which runs about $50 for a 10-lb. bag of dry food and $45 for 36 cans of wet food; insulin ($200 / 10 mL bottle), and one-time-use needles ($15 for 50).

“All in all I've probably spent close to $3,000, possibly more, in the past year caring from Tomato,” Sharon said in an email. “In addition to the vet visits, food, and medication, I also have to pay for boarding anytime I need to leave town, even if it's just for a weekend. Because Tomato needs his shot every 12 hours, if I can't be home for whatever reason, I need to make sure that someone is there to look after him. It almost feels like having a kid!”

Sharon’s been putting those expenses on credit cards and “trying to pay it off when I can,” she said. “I've definitely been struggling though. I would typically consider myself incredibly responsible financially, but this past year I've fallen a bit behind.” She said she has even missed a couple of payments.

“But, what can you do?,” she asks. “I love Tomato. He's been my best friend for 12 years. I feel guilty for thinking of this as a burden at all.”

There is some potentially good news on the horizon for both of them. At a recent visit to the vet, Sharon learned that Tomato’s blood glucose test was normal, which means he may be able to wean off his insulin soon.

Rusty's saga: The $1,800 rubber band

Rusty was Hannah Spry's first pet on her own. He was a young, healthy orange tabby who had only been to the veterinarian for his annual exam and a short bout with fleas. Hannah (pictured above, with Rusty, photo by Gustavo Vasquez) noticed that he wasn't particularly interested in standard cat toys, preferring bottle caps and plastic bags, so she was especially diligent keeping things out of his reach.

Last Thanksgiving, Hannah took a three-day trip and left Rusty to the care of her roommates. When she returned, something was clearly wrong with her healthy, active little cat. Rusty had been vomiting -- a symptom his cat sitters did not know was out of the ordinary -- and was lethargic. Hannah rushed him to the emergency veterinarian. Stunned by the cost of the general exam and IV, Hannah took Rusty to another veterinary clinic the next day for X-rays.

A rubber band had created a blockage in Rusty's intestines, gas was building up, and the veterinarian informed Hannah that, without surgery, he would probably not survive another day. Surgery alone would be close to $1,300, and that did not include the additional tests and overnight monitoring that Rusty required.

As a young woman with a part-time job and no savings, Hannah had to make the decision to lose her young cat or take out credit --something she had never done before. She chose the latter, even though the surgery was a huge risk, and it was possible Rusty still wouldn't survive.

Hannah didn’t have any credit cards, so when the emergency vet suggested she apply for a Care Credit account, she figured it was her best option. Rusty pulled through and recovered well after weeks of special care, and is now back to his curious self. The bill totaled about $1,800, though, and Hannah soon realized it would take nine years to pay off the Care Credit with the amount of interest accrued. One rubber band meant up to nine years of debt!

So she decided to change things. Hannah recently started a new job at Trupanion, a medical insurance provider for cats and dogs, and believes from personal experience that medical insurance for pets is important. With Rusty insured, Hannah says she doesn't have to worry about the financial impact of another incident.

While going into debt was not an easy decision to make, Hannah says that Rusty's life was well worth the financial sacrifice. She was also recently able to set up a more aggressive payment plan that will allow her to work through the debt within the next year.

How far would you go?

These owners all loved their pets enough to go into debt, max out credit cards and make other sacrifices to ensure their well-being. What would happen if your cat was in an accident or suffered a serious illness? How would you handle the medical bills? That’s a question you will ideally ask yourself now, and not when you are facing a life-or-death decision.

You may want to consider pet insurance,  which could help deflect some of the costs, especially for an emergency procedure like the rubber band Rusty ate. As with all types of medical insurance, it’s typically cheaper and easier to get it when your pet doesn't need it.

If you find you must charge medical bills to a credit card, choosing a low-rate card will, in the long run, be less expensive than some of offers you will see in veterinary offices. Those offers may feature no interest for a limited period of time, but typically charge a steep interest rate if it takes you a while to pay off the balance. 

Another option is a low-rate personal loan. It can save you money over a higher rate credit card and it may help protect your credit because you won’t have to worry about a high credit card balance hurting your credit scores.

Checking and improving your credit scores to make sure they are as strong as possible before you experience a medical pet emergency can give you some peace of mind. You can monitor your credit scores for free each month at, and get an action plan for your credit.

Then, instead of worrying about how you are going to pay the bills, you can focus on helping your pet get well.

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Jul 30, 2014 2:45PM

I'll tell you how far I would go. How's $15,000? Yep, that's right. And all for a silly, orange tabby that we still have to this day. The story: We discovered Lord Snot, our cat, one day vomiting and all hunched up in apparent pain, much like Rusty in the story above. So we took him to the vet, and after several x-rays, it was determined he had somehow eaten some thread that was now all bunched up in his intestines and cutting into them like a knife. Without surgery, he would quickly die very painfully. The vet gave us the option of that, or putting him down. Well, he was an otherwise young and healthy cat, so we opted for surgery. With the procedure and aftercare, it amounted to over $4,000, but he recovered beautifully. Fast forward two years. We had gone to great pains to "kitty proof" the entire house, cutting off any threads we could find, and even getting rid of items like fringed pillows and spooled dental floss to make sure he didn't get hold of any more "dangerous" objects. One day, though, he began acting sick again. So off to the vet we go, and again, x-rays reveal he had somehow gotten hold of thread again, and needed surgery one more time to remove it before it killed him (to this day, we don't know from where, because we were so careful to remove anything like that from the house). This time, because of the scarring from the previous surgery, the procedure was a lot trickier and his aftercare was going to be more expensive. Also, this was the last time they would ever be able to do this procedure again due to all the scarring. If the little stinker ate thread a third time, he would be a goner. So, it was $5,000 this time. We had only just paid off the bill from the last time, and here we go again. So where did the remaining $6,000 come from? Well, after he had recovered from the second surgery (took much longer this time), he began to have trouble urinating and got sick. Off we go again to our best friend, the vet, whose luxury Hawaiian vacation we have funded, and we're told that Lord Snot had a blockage in his urinary track due to his having been born with an abnormally tiny male part (that would explain all the really high-pitched meows coming from a huge, 17 lb. cat) and he would need to have surgery to correct it, which basically involved turning him from Lord Snot to Lady Snot. Or we could have him put down. Well, we have more money invested in this cat than in our family car at this point (plus, he's cute and we love him), so that was a no-brainer. This last surgery was almost two years ago, and he recovered from that really well, so he's doing great and as sassy as before. Did it hurt spending all that money? You betcha! But every time we see his cute little face, it was well worth it. Besides, I spent almost as much on braces for two of my kids who never followed up on their retainer use, so now their teeth are as uneven as before. My point being, life is always going to throw garbage at you where you're going to have to part with money when you least expect it. But if the end result makes your life a little brighter and happier (like when Lord Snot cuddles on our lap and demands to be petted), it's worth it. And at least the cat checks in with us more often than the kids.

Jul 30, 2014 2:21PM
Had a dog once, had to put him down after 13 years, hurt too much, won't get another pet, besides I can go anywhere now and not worry. I still miss him and it's been about 7 years
Jul 30, 2014 3:05PM
Having and keeping pets is a joy to many people.  However, pets can and do cost.  They are much like caring for children.  Unfortunately too many people have pets because they are "oh, so cute"!  But, they lack the responsibility and resources to care for a pet.  And, unfortunately, I see too many people who can't afford a proverbial "pot to pi$$ in" having multiple pets.  I like dogs and cats - I like animals in general - but, I don't have one for a pet.  I made a personal choice that my lifestyle is too hectic to provide the stability (yes, I said "stability") pets need.  If you are unwilling to commit yourself to the time and expense of caring for a pet, don't have a pet.  Go to the zoo or the pet store, look at the animals  - and then, go home.
Jul 30, 2014 3:57PM
Forget about pet insurance.  It's more hassle than it's worth.  With many plans you still have to pay the vet up front and then submit the receipts to the insurance company.  If you don't get  the insurance when the pet is very young you risk having certain conditions or ailments on a rider and they won't be covered.  Additionally, some insurance companies will rider out breed specific ailments.  Don't try insuring your German Sheppard against hip dysplasia.

Instead, open a savings account for your pet.  Put in an amount equal to what you would be paying in monthly insurance premiums (or more if you can) and then don't touch it unless you need too.  We got our dog on June 1 and I had been saving $100 per paycheck since the beginning of the year.  We have been able to pay for her adoption, get her through all her vaccinations, enroll her in Puppy Kindergarten, get her DNA tested (she's a mutt and I'm curious) and get her some fun toys and treats as well and we still have plenty of cash left in her account. 

I realize that this method isn't for everybody.  But if you have the means and discipline this is the only way to go as far as I'm concerned. 

Jul 30, 2014 2:21PM

I would take care of my animal and I would take care of any other family matter.  I would do what was needed and worry (or not) about the money later.

Jul 30, 2014 2:55PM
This could be said for any pet that an owner loves and cares for.

The problem is that a lot of  owners don’t really plan for these emergencies or cases. I have a substantial amount of money saved and put aside for any medical emergencies which has help a lot when it comes to making these tough decisions.

I spent close to $5000 on my pet cockatiel I had since I was 5. She was my world, and her’s mine. She was 20 years old when she was diagnosed with aggressive cancer. I had just three choices; let her suffocate to death as the cancer growth becomes bigger over the next month, put her down, or surgery. She only had 50% chance of surviving an operation. She made it out of surgery but wasn’t able to full recover after. In the last moments with her, all she wanted to do was nuzzle up against my neck. Yes it cost a lot of money, but I don't regretted it. It was worth it to me that I did everything I could and she spent her last few days pain free.
Jul 30, 2014 2:34PM
My cat is worth it.    I make a sufficient amount of money to keep him seated in my "lap" of luxury.  My vet tells me that dogs require more cash output in maintenance than cats.   Not only do they have higher  grooming and food costs than cats, they also are more expensive to maintain healthwise. They also produce the largest insurance claims against their owners due to biting or attacks.  (Look it up if you don't believe me).  I made the "cat" decision long ago while attending college.  I had coops and an internship with weird hours plus did some modeling jobs and of course, would go home on weekends.  They are very low maintenance.  You can leave a clean litter box and food and they  are fine.  You do not need to take them for walks.   
Jul 30, 2014 5:25PM
Ideally we would all like to be prepared but when you have two emergency surgeries yourself and suddenly have two pets develop conditions, no amount of planning will work. I spent close to 12,000 for my own unpredicted medical care and another 15,000 on two dogs over two years. I will work until I'm 90 if that's what it takes to care for these angels from GOD. My oldest dog at 15 has literally saved my life twice. He now has dementia, arthritis, pancreatitis and has had bladder stone issues. He is quite happy and in no pain. still does stairs, walks and plays sometimes. He costs me about 200.00 per month just to keep him happy and healthy. I have another much younger dog with borderline mega colon syndrome.  Constant battle, she runs about 300.00 per month. I am not a rich man but I do whatever it takes to keep these guys healthy and happy. I know it's not for everyone but then those people should not have pets. If you can't make the same commitment to pets as children then you should not pursue a pet, allow that animal to go to a good home!
Jul 30, 2014 3:29PM
Radioactive iodine therapy to the tune of about $3K to cure my cat Chickpea of hyper-thyroidism.
Jul 30, 2014 5:01PM
I have a 15 year old male cat and just like Sharon Young he developed diabetes and was almost insulin resistant after over $2000 Dr. was able to get him regulated to  10 units of Lantus the most expensive insulin plus MD special cat foo. That is 8.5 lb of dry food at $42 which last about month and half and the insulin which now costs me $235 for 10 ml bottle lasts 3 months.

I do feel trapped and Sanofi the maker of Lantus insulin increases its cost to pharmacy's every three months. The last increase was just over $32 a bottle.  I tried contacting the mfg to try and get a reason for the continuous increase and got a run around. Also letter to the FDA and they sent me to the FTC. Therefore I got now where just the run around to why the huge increases every 3 months.

I now believe the reason is that Sanofii a French Co. believes they can increase the cost because being a drug for humans most have health insurance that the insurance company will pay not the individual so they can get away with the increases plus humans want to live so they will just try and bare the additional expense.

Jul 30, 2014 6:38PM
I have 2 cats and I love them, but I would probably put them to sleep if there was a need for major surgery or treatments. I have to support myself and need to prepare to retire in 10 years or so. I do take very good care of them. They get a quality cat food and fresh water daily. They are 10 years old right now and God willing will have many more good years to come.

People have to look at what they can afford and should not be shamed for making a hard decision based on finances.

Jul 30, 2014 3:40PM

The person who wrote this crap is an idiot. Cats are not "low maintenance" they are very high maintenance and any pet that gets sick or injured can cost a fortune at the vet's office.

Jul 30, 2014 5:55PM
our max is $1000 per animal at any one time.  If it's going to be something that affects the quality of life for the animal, the animal is put to sleep.  For example, we had a 4 year old dog with kidney disease and a 12 year old one with cancer. We put them both to sleep.

Jul 30, 2014 4:09PM

 A big part of the problem lies with the vets and or the chain vet clinics themselves.  A lot of the business models for todays vet clinics were based on the amount of money the empty nest baby boomers would spend on their pets.  When the boomers began experiencing financial losses after the 2007-2008 crash they cut back on expenses including their pets.  Vet clinics are still charging the same high amounts due to cost overhead from the loss of big baby boomer bucks.  Yes it costs money to own a pet but the cost now is far higher than what it should be.  People on moderate incomes used to be able to afford vet care for their pets, not anymore.  Given wage stagnation over the last 15 years and household income dropping every year while costs go up, veterinary clinics should take a long look at whether they are in it for the animal or the dollar.



Jul 30, 2014 6:33PM
lets hope your credit has nine lives.
Jul 30, 2014 2:35PM
I'm heartless.  There's definitely a dollar cap on my pets.  It's probably less than $500.  They're not my children.  (No offense intended towards those who would do anything for their pets!!)

Jul 30, 2014 4:29PM

With the costs of reporting crap after crap.  The mainstream could feed a lot of hungry people.



Jul 30, 2014 4:13PM
"Will your cat kill your credit?"

Yes.  Clearly a reason to never own a cat.

Jul 30, 2014 2:40PM
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