Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Small Price to Pay?

According to a recent poll taken by the Associated Press and, more and more Americans are concerned about their ability to pay vet bills. In addition, many are lowering the dollar amount at which they draw the line for providing medical care for their pets. Apparently 40 percent of pet owners are now worried that they won't be able to afford vet bills, and more than a third thought that $500 was too much to pay. If the bills climbed higher—to say, $1000—fewer than half thought that they would agree to treatment. (You can read my source, the Well blog at NYTimes online, here.)

As always, I was a little shocked by the bald economics of pet ownership. I remember once dropping Roma off at a kennel in the Midwest and having to fill out a form that stipulated the amount of money at which any treatment should stop, in case of an emergency. I didn't understand what the kennel owner wanted to know. How much is too much? Is there such a number? I think I must have written $5,000.

Of course, that was during the high-flying 1990s. I was making good money then and had a fallback—a working spouse. Money is much tighter now, but, still, I was unnerved by the $500 cap that people were talking about in the survey. $500? I spent that much on annual examinations and heart worm preventatives for two dogs last fall. In fact, last fall, winter, and early spring, I easily spent that much per month on various ailments and treatments for messed up paws, tummies, teeth, and, of course, Roma's decline and fall. I felt lucky to get out of the vet's office with a bill under $200. I never had one less than $100. My last bill was for regular maintenance--$110 for flea preventative, a necessary evil in this part of the world. I steel myself each time the tech tells me the amount, but I've seen other pet owners with less self-control wince and suck in their breath. One guy screamed with indignation about being charged twice for a particular blood test. The tech made the mistake of trying to reason with him, which only made him madder.

What can we do? Well, part of the problem is that we live in Austin, where vet care is almost universally exorbitant. Some folks I know go to great lengths to take their pets out of town. A couple used to drive to San Marcos for their pets' non-emergency needs. Another took her dog to Oklahoma for dental work. I won't tell you how little it cost. (You won't believe me. I've spent more on a haircut.) I've tried to take a more pragmatic approach lately. I look Muzz over carefully and decide if we can solve the problem ourselves, using resources at hand—diet and a boatload of meds left from Roma's various treatments. For example, the last time Muzzy had paw issues, we started a regime that included pain meds and anti-inflammatories and reduced activity. She got better in a week. I rely more on online resources and my pet medical manual, too. I nearly freaked a couple of weeks ago when I noticed a spot of blood while scooping up after Muzzy. The Web and the manual told me to calm down. She'd probably eaten too many sticks. (Always true.) I added probiotics and fiber to her food and tried to discourage stick eating. Also, I waited to see if there was a pattern to the spotting. Fortunately, the problem has not come back. Still, if something came up that I couldn't handle, I would not think twice about taking Muzzy in. That's what credit cards are for.

A lot of the Well blog readers left comments that disagreed with the findings of the survey. Most said, as you might expect, that dogs and cats were family members deserving of medical care and maintenance just like a kid or a granny, and that they would not put a price on it. They'd skip a vacation or eating out. One, though, dared to go against the grain. He/she said that any pet care spending over $100 was "morally depraved." (He/she didn't raise the spectre of starving children in Africa, but it was implied.) Someone promptly responded, saying that if spending more than $100 on "anything you find enjoyable," then most Americans were guilty of it. Here's to moral depravity, then, one vet bill at a time.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please write a comment here or e-mail me directly at Thanks!