As Pet Care Costs Continue To Rise, Ask When Enough Is Enough

I have two cats, both of whom are pretty old.

Our old girl

The older cat is 17 years old (sometime this month, as she was a ‘barn cat’ we don’t really know her exact date of birth).  She started off as a cat that my roommate and I out of college thought would be good.  The roommate left after a couple of years, and the cat stayed with me.  She was never sick a day in her life, but a checkup a couple of years ago revealed that her kidneys were starting to fail.  This is pretty common for older cats.

The vet also discovered a slight heart murmer.

The vet advised that I start treating her by injecting fluid under her skin.  This would allow more liquids to flow through her kidneys, more than she could get by drinking water.  The vet advised that each bag, which would last roughly a week, would cost $28.  I found an alternate source that costs $10 per week, and the vet agreed to write a prescription to allow me to purchase the medication.

Within a few months, a checkup revealed that the treatment was doing it’s work.  Her kidney function, which had slowly been declining, had now leveled off.  Since then, she’s been on a steady regimen.

The sensitive guy

Our other cat will be 13 years old in a couple of months.  I got him as a ‘gift’ from an ex-girlfriend.  She’s long gone but he remains.  He’s always had a bit of an attitude, never taking well to strangers, and is pretty much a one-person cat.

Most cats will eat only the food that they need.  Not so much with this cat.  He became obese, weighing in at over 22 pounds at one point.  He also started developing issues where he got severe constipation.  The vet indicated that he needed to lose weight and would likely need medication to control his ‘movements’.  We did lower his weight (he’s around 12-13 pounds now), but he still does require special food and medicine to control his constipation.

The phone call

Every so often, I have to contact the vet.  Since they both require special food, as well as the medicine for the constipated cat and the prescription for the other cat’s kidneys, I am in touch with them regularly.  When I recently contacted them to get both taken care of, the tech indicated that the doctor wanted to see both cats to ‘check their levels’.

When I inquired what that meant, she said that:

  • For the older cat, she wanted to make sure that her kidney levels were still level
  • For the constipated cat, she wanted to make sure that the medicine was not causing problems in any of his organs, something that can happen with prolonged use.

I questioned this and asked if this really was necessary.  I had a long discussion with the vet where I outlined the following:

  • The older cat is limited in the amount of fluid that she can take, because at a certain point too much fluid would impact her heart (due to her murmur).  She’s already capped out.  On top of that, she’s showing signs of old age.  She’s 85 in ‘cat years’.  She is going hard of hearing.  She’s walking more gingerly.  She doesn’t jump as high as she used to.  She sleeps more.
  • The constipated cat has been on this medicine for eight or nine years.  So far, he’s shown no ill effects from the medicine, and even if he did, changing over his medicine would be pretty disruptive, and might not even work, in which case the resulting constipation would be very awful for him and for us.

Now, keep in mind that we get both of the cats full exams every year.  They get full bloodwork and other testing, and for both cats, during their last exams (roughly six months ago), they both came out just fine.  So, it’s not like I am going years and years between having them checked, and they will get checked during their annual physical.

The question I asked, first myself, then the vet, was that even if the testing showed that the various approaches were becoming less effective and/or leading to other issues, what would be the options available?  And where would they ultimately lead?

In the case of the cat receiving the fluids, the vet admitted that because of her restrictions due to the heart murmur, there would likely be little else they could try should her kidneys start regressing again.

In the case of the other cat, as noted above, it would require a big upheaval in terms of his medicine and potentially his diet.  This is not a cat that responds well to change.  One other thing to keep in mind is that when his problems with constipation started many years back, the vet told me that in most cases with cats with his severity, that a life span of 10 years would be considered ‘very good’.  He’s already almost three years past that.

I couldn’t really get the vet to commit, because I think it’s in their nature to try to treat everything that they can, but I could tell she understood where I was going, which was basically that continuing down their course of action is probably preferrable to any potential alternative options.  Kidneys don’t improve, they just stop regressing for a while during their treatments.  You can’t recover the lost function.  Add that to the effects of old age that are becoming more and more sympomatic, and, well I see no point in testing for potential problems that have no real fix.

In the case of the constipated cat, it’s the same thing.  Any ‘damage’ found would not be reversible, and any new medicine would be a major disruption to his life and would introduce a whole host of potential problems.  At his age and given that he’s already ‘on borrowed time’, I don’t think that’s an avenue I want to pursue.  Besides, the levels that they measure have not so much as budged in any direction, so there’s not even early indication that the medicine is having a reaction to any of his organs.

This leads me to realize just why it is that pet care costs have gone up so much.  Just like with our medicine, the research and opportunities available for pets have increased tremendously, and vets will present these options.

As pet owners, though, we each have the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of our pets as they can’t make those decisions themselves.  I’m sure there are some pet owners out there who would think nothing of doing every recommended test I outlined, as well as changing treatment if in fact something came up.  Others probably fall on the opposite side of the spectrum, and may never have begun the various treatments in the first place.

I like to think that I fall somewhere in the middle.  I’m willing to provide the necessary care to my pets health as long as it is within bounds that I consider reasonable.  When I look at the options should something have been discovered, I just don’t see that there are any options available that I would consider reasonable.

When I explained it to my vet, she understood, and allowed me to sign waivers indicating that I understood the risks involved and would not hold them liable if they ended up getting sick or dying when testing might have revealed problems along the way.

My wife and I have both talked about it and we agree that their treatments will continue as such for as long as they are helpful to them, but that anything beyond is not something we want to pursue.  We will take them in for their annual checkups just as we always have, but new courses of treatments are just not in their future.  And, knowing my cats, I somehow think I’m doing just what they would do if they could put the thought into that decision and express it themselves.

Readers, at what level do you decide that your pets care has reached its plateau?

23 thoughts on “As Pet Care Costs Continue To Rise, Ask When Enough Is Enough”

  1. Ugh, this is such a tough decision to make. I’m sorry. We had to make a decision to put our 5 year old dog down about a year ago. He had been sick his whole life, and started losing control of himself in our house. We went through hundreds of dollars of tests and still couldn’t find out what was wrong. We had the option of doing more tests, and even if we found out what was wrong, medication would have been too expensive. For us, having a family, there came a point when it was no longer reasonable. Besides that, he was in pain and we didn’t want him to suffer anymore. It was a very tough decision, but one that had to be made.

    • Yeah. Right now they’re doing just fine but it’s more deciding what will happen down the line, and it’s probably better we are making the decision now versus when it will be harder and there will be more emotions at play, when they do become sick.

  2. It’s not just pet care. I go to the doctor a lot less than most people and have fewer tests because my question is always, “And what is this trip/test/whatever going to change?” If the answer is “nothing,” why bother? 🙂

  3. Believe me, the vet knows your pain. When I was an advisor I somehow gained a foothold into working with several vets (did a good job for one and got referred…). When the economy struggles, pets are the first “family members” off the ship. It was incredible to see how much their incomes fluctuated. Want to know how the economy is? Ask your vet.

  4. Two of our cats are 15 this year. They are fairly healthy, but as they age, they’ve had some medical issues. Though I love my cats dearly, I know they’re old. I’m thankful they’ve lived this long. That said, I’m only willing to spend so much on a vet bill. Regular shots and visits – fine. Surgery or serious intervention – not so much.

  5. This is a situation that I am bound to face in a few years time. I’ve got two great cats, but they are about to hit the 10 year mark and I’m certain that my vet costs will start going up. The vet already wants to start routine blood work, which comes with an expensive price tag.

    I love my cats, but I know that at some point we will have crossed that threshold where the vet bills will become insane.

  6. I know what you mean here. We have a dog that potentially has Cushings and the vet wanted all of these tests. He doesn’t show any signs of the disease, except for one test that had some elevated levels. They wanted to continue testing and testing to the tune of around $700. I thought it was unnecessary, since he hasn’t shown any signs and that only one test showed increased levels. After some time, we finally got the vet to give up and said that we will take him in if there are issues. They are still a business and they are working on getting the most that they can.

  7. I haven’t had a pet that I am financially responsible for (only had pets as a kid), but my buddy ran into this last year. His dog (who was only 4 or 5 years old) was diagnosed with some significant stomach issues and treatments were multiple thousand dollars. Based on the success rate of the treatments they had to opt to put the dog down. Very sad for sure and, unfortunately, a tough decision to have to make.

    I honestly don’t want to say what I would do in the situation, just because I think it is hard to know what it feels like until you are faced with it. Sorry you are having to go through this.

    • It’s tough but by making the decision now, it will make things easier to handle when the time comes.

  8. We tend to just let nature take its course when it comes to our pets. We just don’t have the money for anything more. We make sure they get their routine shots, but otherwise, when they get sick, they get sick. And if it’s bad, we put them down. It sucks sometimes, I think if we had more money we could treat them more and extend their life by months or years, but we just can’t. So we play with them and give them the best and most fun life possible with the money we have.

  9. My younger dog is plagued with a number of health issues. He has a heart murmur that’s under control on its own so far but I know that meds are in his future. He also has arthritis and allergies (he’s a mess) that we’ve figured out how to handle without meds as well. We’re prepared for the cost but when his quality of life is severely impacted or not getting better, we’ll make the decision when we have to.

    The older one has mental health issues. I’m not taking him to a a doggie therapist 🙂

  10. My dad may seem a little heartless, but when it comes to pets, he always said, “if it cost more than the price to put the animal down, then i’ll spend the $35 to do so.” May sound a little mean, but the truth is most people dump way too much money into pets that won’t last forever. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals (especially cats), but if my animal is going to become a financial burden, I have a $35 debt relief program.

    • Well, I definitely spend more than that per month and I think that type of reasoning makes pets seem almost disposable. I think each person is entitled to their line of reasoning, which is why I would never judge your dad for that, nor would I judge someone who would put thousands of dollars into their pet without thinking twice about it. My line is somewhere in the middle

  11. This post really hits close to home, as our dog, Ralph, is not doing very well. He is probably 10 or 11 years old and was a stray we picked up years ago. He seems to have some sort of tumor on his shoulder that hurts and makes it hard to get around. He did fine on Rimadyl for a while, but then the tumor grew and he was in pain again. We put him on another pain med and he is doing OK. We had the option of driving him 6 hours up to the vet school to see an orthopedist, but we decided not to. While a part of me really wants to see if they can remove this thing, he’s just too old to try and rehab something like that. He’s had a great life, and when he is in too much pain, we will end it. It makes me cry to think about, but I know it’s the right thing.

    • Exactly. I think about the eventual end and it makes me realize I don’t want to think about it, but reading through the various comments, I’m glad that I did and I realize that we have made the right approach / line of thinking for our family.

  12. This is such a tough decision because at what point does their standard of living no longer justify prolonging the inevitable? My parents had to make that decision a couple times with our dogs and it is very tough.

  13. I have 2 senior dogs and if they could talk they would ask for a quick and painless end to any future health problems. They have hated treatment for even the smallest issue and I could not imagine stressing them out by forcing them to go through dialysis or chemotherapy.

    My animals are well cared for and pain free but I cannot max out a credit card to keep them going so that I can postpone my own grief.

    • Great way of putting it. I think many times people make the decisions to extend care for their benefit and not putting the benefit or drawback to the pet first, which is really the way it should look.

  14. That was quite a tough decision to make. But I guess you have done more than enough for your cats and that you’ve shown enough love and care for them already. If these two cats could just speak, I am sure they understand your decision and they will always be thankful to you.

  15. I’m glad you pushed the issue with your vet. We had to do something similar recently. Miss Doxie, who is 15, needed a lump removed that was getting infected. So we paid the $500 for a lumpectomy since it would directly effect her current quality of life. They asked me if they could send it away to be tested for cancer for $60. I declined and they seemed shocked. But I said “She is 15…if it’s not cancer, I just wasted $60. If it is cancer, it’s not like she would survive the treatments and I rather not pay for them, so I also wasted $60. Seems silly.” They left me alone but probably said mean things behind my back, lol. Oh well, sounded logical to me. 🙂

    • That reminds me of a story with my vet. We dropped the cats off to be boarded prior to our marriage and honeymoon back in 2007, and just had the vets do their exams. I was in the tux shop getting my final fitting when the phone rang and it was my vet telling me that she felt a lump in the older cat and that it could potentially be cancer, and that they’d have to let me know after doing another check in a few days. I was a little bummed, getting this news literally within 48 hours of getting married. I never heard back, and actually while on my honeymoon I called back for a status, and they said, “Oh we did a recheck and it wasn’t there. It was probably poop.” So, despite this story, I still feel the vet is very well qualified, but I still crack the joke to my wife that as good as they are, they sometimes don’t know the difference between cancer and poop.

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