How Much Would You Spend on Your Pet?

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

Tonka the yellow Lab with his brothers, Will, 13, and Jack, 15. Photo by Liz Lynch

Paying for it is another matter. Like state-of-the-art treatments for people, high-end animal care doesn’t come cheap. But that isn’t stopping pet owners from doing whatever it takes. Lazar tells the story of a Lab mix who needed a knee surgery that cost in the $3,000-$4,000 range. “The owner had to make a decision: Fix her dog’s knees or get new teeth [for herself],” he says. “She went with the dog.”

In another case, he says, a family shelled out something in the $20,000 range after their dog was hit by a train and suffered multiple spinal fractures.

The price tag isn’t a reflection of vets trying to gouge their customers, Lazar says. Animal doctors, like human doctors, make enormous investments in their medical training and specialized surgical equipment, and they need to recoup those expenses. “Clients aren’t necessarily paying for the surgery time,” he explains, “but [rather] the ability to have the procedure.”

Still, for those who don’t have pet insurance, the price tag can be painful. “The cost of medicine is high generally,” says Chris Vanderhoof, a vet with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Merrifield. “An ACL tear in a person can cost at least $20,000, but, with insurance, people may pay about $1,000 to $2,000. For a dog, [the surgery] costs $3,000 to $5,000 but if you don’t have pet insurance, you pay all the costs.”

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the pet insurance business, now an $863 million industry, saw nearly 13 percent growth between 2012 and 2017. Though only 12 percent of pet owners nationwide have pet insurance, the option is gaining popularity—particularly among millennials, who are twice as likely to buy it than Gen Xers, baby boomers and Matures, according to the 2015 Harris poll.

Insurance or not, many owners don’t think twice about the expense if it means they can provide a better quality of life for a very sick pet. Anna Barrett’s Italian greyhound, Tina, was a “regular cancer dog” due to her history of mast cell tumors, a condition in which rogue cells build up in the tissue. Then Tina contracted lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system. Her treatment consisted of mostly weekly visits to SouthPaws in Merrifield, which offers several chemotherapy protocols.

“Tina actually enjoyed visiting her friends on chemo days,” Barrett says, even though chemotherapy can cause vomiting, lethargy and a loss of appetite in dogs, as it does in humans. Tina’s shifting drug regimen also caused side effects and led to one particularly pricey emergency vet visit.

From the time of her diagnosis to her eventual passing at age 13, Tina lived six months. Barrett estimates she spent about $7,000 on treatments, regular blood work, emergency care and prescriptions. She has no regrets and still misses Tina today: “Our time together was worth every single penny.”

Categories: Pets
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