How Much Would You Spend on Your Pet?

From airline tickets to organ transplants, local vets and rescue groups have seen it all.

Colleen Learch and Kodi the rat terrier. Photo by Liz Lynch

Today’s pets clearly aren’t relegated to the proverbial “doghouse” as they once were. A 2015 Harris poll found that a whopping 95 percent of U.S. pet owners now see their animals as part of the family. That number has risen 4 percentage points since 2012 and 7 points from when the question was first asked in 2007.

“Think about that unconditional affection they offer just when we need support, that immediate forgiveness if we step on a paw or forget a meal, and that ability to make us laugh no matter how bad things seem around us,” says Jennifer S. Holland, an author based in Wheaton, Maryland, whose latest book is Unlikely Friendships: Dogs, part of a four-book series on animals.

“They see us at our worst and often bring out our best—be that our silly, playful side or our instinctive need to care for another,” she continues. “In fact, that internal drive to take care of a ‘helpless’ creature—what keeps us from ditching our screaming kids—must be another reason we’re so willing to spend large sums on our pets.”

Add to that advancements in veterinary medicine that place it on par with human health care and you’ve got yourself a whole new category of household spending. “The profession is steadily progressing,” says Adrienne Hergen, a vet at Shirlington Animal Hospital. “You can do pretty much anything to an animal that you do to a human.”

A colonoscopy on a dog? Sure.
Give a cat a kidney transplant? Yes.
Interventional radiology? Yup.
Target tumors with chemotherapy? Of course.
Canine brain surgery? Check.
Medication and therapy for feline neuroticism? Uh-huh.

With the rise of veterinary specialization, there are pet internists, oncologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, behaviorists, board-certified dentists and neurologists, as well as physical therapists who conduct rehab for orthopedic injuries. Nearby Springfield is home to specialty clinics such as Radiocat, which offers curative treatments for hyperthyroidism in cats, and the Regional Veterinary Referral Center, which offers onsite CT scans and ECGs.

VCA SouthPaws in Merrifield and the Hope Advanced Veterinary Center in Vienna offer specialists as well as 24-hour emergency care. And a growing number of Northern Virginians are making the 100-mile drive south to Helping Hands in Richmond, which provides low-cost advanced surgeries and dental procedures.

Another option if Snoopy or Tigger is really sick and needs specialized surgery? A mobile surgeon can step in to perform the procedure in the home vet’s office.

Tibor Lazar, founder of Lazar Veterinary Surgery in Reston, is one such doc. He does an average of three surgeries per day in Arlington, Falls Church and McLean, among other places, with a repertoire that includes everything from repairing fractured bones, torn ligaments and misaligned kneecaps to fixes for laryngeal paralysis (airways that have stopped working) and total ear-canal ablations to clear up persistent ear infections. Lazar travels to the established hospital, scrubs in, operates and scrubs out—usually leaving the follow-up care to the family vet.

“We have so many options for specialty medicine,” he says. “For owners who are motivated, they can get it done.”

Categories: Pets
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