Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Love and Money

An article in The Scotsman reports that an insurance company survey says that the cost of dog ownership over the course of the animal's life can range from 18,000 pounds to 33,000 pounds (that's $31,224 to $57,250 for us here in the States). I believe it. A veterinarian I know said recently that he spent more than $12,000 last year on his dogs and cats.

It's expensive enough when you're just buying high-quality food and taking them to the veterinarian once or twice a year, but when an injury occurs or illness strikes, vet bills can really get scary. A lot of people complain about the high cost of veterinary care, but it's certainly a better bargain than uninsured medical care. Veterinarians on the East and West coasts, where veterinary costs tend to be the highest, are paying a premium for land and staff salaries. And veterinary medicine is right up there with human medicine as far as what's available: kidney transplants for cats, hip replacements for dogs, chemotherapy for animals with cancer, physical therapy for dogs with ACL tears--you name it, it's probably available for animals or will be soon.

Even small hospitals, like the one I take my dogs to, can provide very sophisticated care. "We can do ultrasounds, we can do endoscopy, we can do laser surgery," says John Hamil, DVM. "If you go to the specialists, you can get care that rivals the care you can get in a human hospital, at a tiny fraction of the cost."

But even Dr. Hamil worries about rising costs for his clients. "With people stretched as tightly as they are...we have people that are priced out of the market," he says. "Certainly young people can be priced out very quickly."

Willingness to pay isn't necessarily related to income, though, he says. "Oftentimes people who have a modest amount are willing to spend the money, and sometimes people who have a lot of money say 'no way.' I see people as or more willing to provide care now at the new cost than they did 35 years ago at the lower cost, and I think that's because there is a different ethic in regards to care for animals. There's a different awareness of what's available and a different desire for the level of care to be provided."

This is a subject I contemplate every 10 years or so--about the length of time between each catastrophic pet health problem. Veterinary medicine has done some wonderful things for my animals, and I've never regretted a cent of the cost. I just wish it could do more. I would fly my Darcy to Timbuktu if they could fix her heart there. I have a neighbor who complained some time ago about the $600 his dog racked up for a back problem. "It's just not worth it," he said. He's so wrong.