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Advances in Veterinary Care Come at a Cost
How do you put a price on love?

In his recent story for The New York Times, William Grimes provides an interesting look at recent advances in veterinary care, especially in the treatment of cancer (including bone marrow transplants), urinary-tract disorders, and even dementia. Thanks to improved technology, drugs, surgical techniques and holistic care—there are many more options for keeping our dogs and cats healthier longer. All of which comes as a comfort to those of us with pets.

But as with human medical care, these interventions come at a price, often a high price, for animals who are only very rarely covered by insurance. Bills can easily run into the thousands of dollars, even the tens of thousands, making for a difficult cost/benefit calculation. Grimes suggests it comes down to the question: “Precisely how much do I love my dog?”

I’m not sure that’s really the question. Sometimes loving your dog might mean forgoing expensive treatment. Extending a dog’ life by a few months with painful surgery, frustrating crate-rest and a long, slow recovery—regardless of the cost—may not be the most loving gesture.

If you read the story, be sure to check out the comments. The story sparked an interesting conversation about how we value our dogs, with many personal, heartfelt stories. I’d love to hear how Bark readers have navigated these difficult questions.

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by Stacy L. | April 9 2012 |

15 years ago, I had a 1 1/2-year old toy poodle who went blind, literally, overnight. After several vet visits, my vet was stumped as to what caused fully mature cataracts to just...appear. At the time I wasn't making much money (I was 25), but Cookie was young and otherwise healthy, so I took her to an opthalmologist who ran a battery of scans and screens and $2k later, we didn't have any answers other than she was blind and her retina was detached so...no chance of cataract surgery. A month later she developed glaucoma (I know, right?) and when we weren't able to control it with drugs, I had to make the decision - put her to sleep or have her eyes removed. The enucleation plus all the ancillary vet costs wound up running about $5k. I live in Dallas, so I'm lucky to have had a rock star from Texas A&M do the surgery. Bottom line, $7k in vet expenses went on my credit card because I was young and broke, but I had a tiny dog I was totally in love with. I don't regret the choice for a moment, only because I was young and had time to pay off the debt...and she was young and it seemed a shame for her to lose out on her life due to some bad genetic luck.

Cookie wound up living just past her 14th birthday, and developed kidney failure that deteriorated so quickly my husband and I didn't have to make any decisions. Our vet diagnosed her, and we put her to sleep two days later. We still have our other older dog, Daisy, who's 13 1/2 now. She's in remarkably great shape for an older dog, but we've had the conversation regarding what we'd do for her if she got really sick. Would we do anything at any cost? Honestly, no. Not at her age. While Daisy is the aging apple of our eyes, we're also dog-savvy enough to know when our efforts will be most economical and if they'll benefit her. Fortunately, she hasn't had any significant medical problems during her life. For this we're incredibly grateful.

We got another puppy six weeks after Cookie died - a miniature poodle - and Callie is a rambunctious young doggie about the same age now that Cookie was when she went blind. She has her entire life ahead of her, and if we had to drain part of our savings to ensure she'd have another wonderful 12 years like her big poodle sister, we'd do it in a heartbeat.

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