Most people know that when they get a dog or cat, a big part of the expenses will be routine veterinary care. According to research done by RateSupermarket.ca, the cost of a pet in its first 12 months is $2,600.10 for a puppy and $1,921.12 for a kitten.
The bulk of the costs to care for a puppy or kitten come from first-time essential purchases, such as a bed, bowls, a collar, a leash, a carrier and a kennel.
But if a pet becomes ill or has an accident, those expenses can skyrocket.
Now, if you’re looking at a large animal – like a horse, not only are the initial prices much higher, they also tend to go up exponentially.
You probably know that the initial cost of purchasing a horse won’t hold a candle to the long-term cost of ownership. A study from the University of Maine (obviously this is American data, but it’s probably close enough for Canadians as well) found that the average annual cost of horse ownership is $3,876 per horse, while the median cost is $2,419. That puts the average monthly expense anywhere from $200 to $325 – similar to the average car payment.
Advances in veterinary medicine mean today there are options for sick animals well beyond simple euthanasia. And these options can come with both ethical and financial dilemmas, particularly if you’re living on a budget or have other financial responsibilities, which don’t allow you to open your wallet without restraint.
Decide on how much you’re willing – or able – to spend
Diagnostic procedures alone can cost thousands of dollars, so you’d better be prepared to tell your vet a number that you won’t – or can’t – go beyond. And don’t think it’s all serious issues like colic or laming accidents. While simple conditions such as ear infections and skin allergies are rarely life-threatening, they can also be unexpected and expensive.
We have several examples of customers and friends who’ve been in that difficult situation when their animal has experienced sudden illness and a decision had to be made as to how much testing/investigation/treatment would be done. The vet bills accumulate quickly and, in some situations, quite unexpectedly.
There is often no one to tell you where it might end. But when you’re in the crisis, it’s easy to hand over your credit card and say, ‘Save my horse!’ (especially if young people are involved and it’s more of a pet than an employee). But once you start on that path, if it’s going to be a lengthy or even lifelong battle, it becomes harder to stop.
Even in situations that aren’t nearly so expensive or complex, deciding what to do can be complicated. “It’s not just a financial decision,” says Beverly Harzog, author of The Debt Escape Plan. “It’s an emotional one as well, and there are many things to consider.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Vets are just like the rest of us, and their advice will be based on experience and personal preference. This may or may not be an option depending on the nature of the crisis that your four-legged friend is experiencing, but in the event that time is on your side, don’t be afraid to solicit advice from a second vet. It could save both your companion and your bank account.
Some think you should spare no expense to treat your sick pets – including owners who struggle to let go of Seabiscuit or Fido or Fluffy, no matter the circumstances – as well as vets upset by clients who don’t do more.
Veterinary ethicist James A. Serpell, of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says the latter is not necessarily because a vet doesn’t want to lose additional fees (although there are unscrupulous people in every field). Rather, he says, it may be because most vets go into their field because they care so much about animals that they can’t understand why someone would not do everything to save their pet.
Serpell says when people ask about the right time to euthanize a dying pet, he always quotes a friend who says, “There is no right time; there’s only too soon or too late. And of the two, too soon is preferable, because if you are too late you’ve let that animal suffer.”
So, BEFORE your horse gets sick, do some serious thinking about what your number is. What are you willing – or able – to pay if you find yourself faced with a choice and they’re asking you to hand over your credit card? Making the decision prior to that emotional situation will make it easier to live with the hard decision.
Terry at (403) 689-0149 or firstname.lastname@example.org