The Price of Pet Care

May 23rd, 2008 by Kathy McManus

US pet owners spend more than $24 million on pet medical care. Is that too much?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

How much is that doggy in the window? 

The one with the waggley tail may seem like a bargain these days compared to the dog with the $3,000 pacemaker. Or the cat with the $8,000 kidney transplant. Or the pet chicken undergoing radiation therapy after cancer surgery. 

Medical care for pets now rivals medical care for humans, with veterinary oncologists, neurologists, cardiologists and other specialists providing high tech, big-bucks treatment for Fido and Fluffy. 

But when cats have chemo and dogs have dialysis, their owners have something too: unexpected ethical issues triggered by enormous medical bills. “Is the 15-year-old tabby worth $12,000 in dialysis?” asks a newspaper story with the nagging headline: Do some pet owners go a little too far? 

“I admit sometimes questioning the reality of spending $11,000 on my cat when there are greater human needs,” said a California college professor, who readily paid for feline chemotherapy and pancreatitis treatment. 

U.S. pet owners will spend more than $24 billion this year on pet medical care, an amount greater than the gross domestic product of more than half of the world’s countries. 

But when man’s best friend is a integral member of the family, the question of whether it’s appropriate to spend top-dollar for animal medical care is often more emotional than financial. With the unconditional love, friendship, and support of a beloved companion at stake, many pet owners feel they don’t have the option of not providing—and paying for—expensive medical care. 

It’s not a simple issue, said one veterinarian. When you hear of a medical bill of $14,000 for a dog, he explained, people ask, “Should you not just buy a new dog and give the money to charity? That, I have to say, is a non-starter of an argument. You then have to ask all sorts of questions about how people spend their money—should they spend it on big cars?” 

Tell us what you think: When it comes to expensive veterinary medical care, is it more responsible to pay for a pet or perhaps give the money to charity instead?