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The cost of keeping Kitty alive

What happens when your pet needs surgery or suffers another ailment that will cost thousands to treat? Many factors go into the decision of what to spend.

By MSN Smart Spending editor May 29, 2013 7:30PM
Recently we spent an unbudgeted $1,000 on a 10-year-old house cat. The pathology report on the tumor removed from her leg is not yet back, so we may be faced with more decisions. All this for a cat that has tested my strong stance against de-clawing by sharpening her talons on wooden bedposts and leather furniture.


Credit: © DenGuy/E+/Getty Images
Caption: Veterinarian Examines a Siamese CatWhat on Earth were we thinking? Perhaps we are not all that unusual. According to a 2010 survey, 62% of pet owners would spend up to $500 on a pet's medical care, although fewer than half say they would spend $1,000 and only one-third said they would spend $2,000 at the vet’s, according to The New York Times.


Of course, it is easy to set a budget in advance, but quite a different thing once you come face-to-face with medical decisions on a pet. There are tests, diagnoses and often more tests. The question is often, "How much more do we do?"

But sometimes, no matter what you spend, owners and vets conclude that further treatment will do nothing more than delay the inevitable. And what then? Pay for treatments understanding that you're essentially only buying your pet another month or so? Or make the call to end it all humanely.

Paying for pets

In our case, we agreed to several add-on expenses. We paid extra for a long-acting shot to avoid trying to give our somewhat neurotic cat, Snooky, antibiotics by mouth twice a day for two weeks. We agreed to a pre-surgical X-ray to see if the mass was attached to a bone, which might have necessitated amputation.


Facing these high costs made us think of pet health insurance, which is purchased by only 3% of U.S. pet owners. Consumer Reports has said it's usually not worth the price. MSN Money's Liz Weston, however, says that for an owner who might jeopardize their own finances to save a pet, it might be wise.


According to the Humane Society, dog owners spend an average $248 annually on veterinary visits, including vaccines and well visits. For cats, the figure is $219.

Saving where you can

Here are a few ideas, aside from insurance, for limiting the cost of pet health care:

  • Watch for specials. During dental health month (February), for example, many vets run specials on dental cleanings.
  • Shop around, and consider getting a second opinion. Prices for the same procedure can vary tremendously.
  • Watch your pet's weight. Pets need plenty of exercise, and their food portions should be monitored.

However, even insurance can fall short if the recommended treatment for your pet is considered experimental. 

The money question

The decision on how much to spend is clear when treating a pet would take food off the table.  If money is not a concern and the vet believes the treatment is likely to give the pet more "quality time," however that is defined, the situation becomes less complicated. After all, people can spend their money as they wish.

But paying thousands for organ transplants, joint replacement, chemotherapy or dialysis does not guarantee that a pet will live longer or even suffer less than if it is instead euthanized or simply kept comfortable at home. Is it worth it? Only you can make that call.

The decision can be fraught with emotion, regardless of your financial situation. The New York Times addressed it in Room for Debate, with a variety of strongly held opinions.

Readers: Where do you draw the line in caring for a sick pet?

More from MSN Money:

May 30, 2013 11:22AM

I hate when people say "oh we have to get rid of our pet, we just can't afford it anymore..."


When you adopt and take an animal into your home, you are promising that you will take care of it for its LIFE. Not just when its a cute little puppy or kitten that grows up into another average animal. Its called a commitment. Some issues may bring you to having to make this decision (family member dying, for example), but you still have to make sure the animal ends up in a good, healthy home.

Jun 1, 2013 5:20PM
How much would I spend on the medical care of one of my pets?  The same amount that I would spend on any other member of my much as I have or can borrow.  My pets are part of my family.  They are individuals with their own personalities and lives.  They have loved me and the rest of the family and deserve no less from us than total commitment.
Jun 1, 2013 3:00PM
I love it when people say "Oh, we have to get rid of our pet, we just can't afford it anymore," and then either find a home or euthanize the animal.  When you take an animal into your home, you are not adopting it.  It is an animal.  Perhaps my perception is colored by the fact that I have been around cows and chickens enough to know that they have distinct personalities.  Some of them are very, very sweet.  They are still animals.  Killing an animal is not murder, eating beef is not cannibalism, but abandoning an animal to fend for itself is torture.  Caring for an animal til the end of its life sometimes means ENDING its life.  Do it humanely.   

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