This site is no longer being updated. Read more on pet behavior and wellness at The Wildest.

Vet Care Nightmare

Why we spent $6,500 this month … and counting
By Julia Lane, August 2011, Updated June 2021

For the month of August, my husband and I have spent $6,500 on veterinary care for two of our four dogs. What I find particularly maddening is how we have done everything possible to ensure our dogs stay healthy, and yet, do we really know if it made a difference? I naively thought that by giving my dogs the best of everything—a raw diet, vitamins, supplements, holistic treats, mentally stimulating toys, daily exercise—they would remain immune to illness or injury.

Shelby had been acting strange for five months. My senior Pit Bull mix spent more time apart from the rest of the pack. Though never much of a food hound, she always came running for meals. This had changed; she’d either come at a walk or not at all. Eventually, she preferred to eat her meals outside instead of her usual spot in the kitchen. When I offered a treat, she’d gingerly pick it up out of my hand, then drop it to the floor before tentatively mouthing it. At nearly 10 years old, we suspected hearing loss and tooth decay, but it was neither. She had cancer.

My seven-year-old Dalmatian, Jolie, should’ve been at her healthiest. Between agility, Rally obedience, and hikes along the river, she was a compact, muscled 38 pounds. But for eight months, she suffered chronic lower back pain. Chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, massage and laser treatments helped ease the pain, and she returned to normal activity. Two weeks ago, she woke up unable to move her head to the left. When she attempted to lay down, her high-pitched cries brought me to tears. A neurosurgeon solved the mystery: She had a bulging disc that required immediate back surgery.

After months of speculation and worry, we’re relieved to know what exactly is wrong with Shelby and Jolie. But now a new anxiety grows, like a storm cloud. Will they survive their respective journeys to wellness? How do we know that the decisions we make will improve their quality of life? Would we have been better off feeding a premium kibble, skipping the vitamins and supplements, and taking fewer agility or Rally classes so we had more money to feed these insatiable vet bills?

Photo: Julia Lane

Julia Lane owns Spot On K9 Sports, a training facility in the Chicago area, and offers online dog-sport coaching. She is the author of several travel books, and her byline has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets & Writers and elsewhere.