The Unexpected Bill That Added $2406.88 to My Recent Vacation

Best. Dog. Ever.

“Whatever it takes.”

That was the answer the Honeybee gave me three years ago after I asked her how much she would pay to save a pet’s life.

Unfortunately, last week we got a chance to reconsider that question after we returned from a week-long family vacation up the California coast.

Almost as soon as we got our nine-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Major, back home from doggy day care — essentially a kennel where dogs have the freedom to roam the facility alongside other canine “guests” and their human caretakers — he began showing signs of illness.

At first it wasn’t anything disconcerting. Just softer-than-usual stools.

Within a couple days, that condition progressed to diarrhea. Still, a little research indicated that common doggy diarrhea was typically nothing to worry about. A quick check of accompanying factors that would have suggested the need for immediate attention were thankfully absent: Major was still eating, there was no blood present in his stool, and he was able keep food and water down.

Twenty-four hours later, however, things took a decided turn for the worst.

Our typically fun-loving, gregarious dog became completely detached from the family, uncharacteristically keeping to himself in the corner of our living room. Not long after that, he stopped being able to keep anything down — not even the smallest amount of water.

Compounding matters, it was now Sunday, which happens to be the only day of the week that Major’s vet is closed for business. So we had to take him to a 24-hour specialty veterinary clinic.

By the time Major arrived at the clinic, he was barely responsive and clearly in trouble. Needless to say, the vet began bombarding us with the necessary litany of questions in an urgent attempt to make a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, in Major’s case, his symptoms were indicative of multiple problems ranging from giardiasis — an infection caused by the nasty giardia parasite that’s typically acquired from pigeon droppings — to a life-threatening intestinal blockage or even the deadly canine parvovirus.

Of course, the only way to know for sure why Major was suddenly fighting for his life was to conduct a battery of tests — and they weren’t cheap:

  • X-rays ($176.40)
  • Blood panel ($142.03)
  • Barium series and administration ($426.41)
  • Additional blood test ($75.34)
  • Fecal test for giardia ($53.02)

Add it all up and that’s $873.32 just to (hopefully) figure out what was wrong. I know.

A cynical pet owner might suggest that the vet was recommending all those tests to pad the bill, but the fact is, veterinarians have a much tougher job than medical doctors when it comes to pinpointing the cause of their patients’ problems. After all, unlike humans, our pets can’t tell their doctors exactly where it hurts.

With time of the essence, we authorized all the tests and, after leaving a $1000 deposit, admitted Major to the vet hospital. At the time, we had no idea whether he would make it through the evening, but we prayed that they could stabilize him.

By Monday morning, Major was stable but still suffering from diarrhea. Thankfully, the vet had ruled out an intestinal blockage, which meant there was no need for surgery.

Meanwhile, the vet bill was getting bigger by the minute. We were being charged $9.98 for every hour Major spent in the hospital.

The medicines used to help control his diarrhea and vomiting, and fight any intestinal infection that might be to blame, weren’t cheap either; Major was given nine injections at $70.35. Each. For those of you counting at home, that’s $633.15.

And you think gasoline is expensive? The first IV given to my dog cost $147.26 — and I was being billed $44.10 for every additional liter of fluid administered thereafter.

By Monday evening Major had gone through five liters of intravenous fluid, but he was finally able to keep his water down. He also ate his first food in more than two days and kept that down too.

We got Major back on Tuesday, about 10 pounds thinner — and still not 100% — but he was clearly on the road to recovery.

And I’m happy to say that, five days after we got him home, he was finally back to his old happy-go-lucky self.

As for the final diagnosis, the vet attributed Major’s ails to a somewhat mysterious affliction known as canine hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE). Its cause is unknown, but the vet said stress seems to play a role.

When all was said and done, the final bill came to $2406.88. Thankfully, we had enough money in our emergency fund to cover the expenses.

Yes, that’s a lot of money. But in exchange for that princely sum we didn’t just get a dog back; Major is a bona fide member of the Penzo family. And for that reason alone I’d do it all over again — even at two or three times what I paid this time around.

Whatever it takes indeed.

Photo Credit: The Honeybee


  1. 2

    Joa says

    That´s horrible but great it worked out fine. Of course you would do whatever it takes. Do you have insurance for the dog? Here in Finland me and my girlfriend pay around 20 euros a month for pet insurance.

    • 3

      Len Penzo says

      Nope. We don’t have pet insurance, Joa.

      Twenty euros is, what, about $25 or $30?

      I’m going to see how much it costs, just to see if it would have paid for itself after ten years of Major’s pet bills. It would be close which, to me, suggests that it wouldn’t be worth it.

  2. 4

    Mary says

    I’m with you on this! I’ve never spent that much for any one crisis, but over the years I’ve paid many thousands of dollars for my cats; from snake bites, to a life-threatening urinary blockage, even a broken hip. I’ve never once thought about the cost. My cats are family members and they deserve the best care possible.

  3. 5


    Both of my cats came back from a summer boarding trip and developed respitory infections. Not as pricey as your situation, but the diagnosis and medicine and such was still a couple of hundred bucks.

    Sound like your dog likely got stress from being in a strange place and away from you for so long.

  4. 7

    Renee says

    Just curious….what kind of dog food was he eating while being kenneled? Was it your food, or the kennel’s food? Could he have gotten some bad food? There have been a lot of dog food recalls lately, and his symptoms sound very much like a result of salmonellosis. I think I would be asking lots of questions at the kennel he was staying at, and consider choosing a different kennel next time. I don’t buy the “stress” diagnosis, but that’s just my opinion.

    • 8

      Len Penzo says

      You make a good point about the food, Renee, but he was fed food that we brought from home — so there was no change in his diet.

      For what it’s worth, Major has stayed at this place on multiple occasions and has always come home healthy and happy. And I still highly recommend them.

      At nine, Major is getting older now. That may have something to do with it too.

  5. 9


    We’re exactly the same. We had 2 cats run over last year, and had them treated. I’m still paying off the credit card on that one…

  6. 11


    We had a similar problem with one of our dogs earlier in the year. He has an affinity for eating…well, everything. Usually whatever he consumes passes but this time, it didn’t which resulted in a midnight trip to the ER. To make a long story short, it cost close to $1000 to get the dog healthy and back to normal.

    It was just one of the many times lately that I’ve been grateful to be able to afford these kinds of huge expenses. Because that dog is my dog. I will not let anything happen to him if I can help it.

  7. 13


    Wow I am glad major is doing better. I posted a similar story about pets being expensive but our dog just has allergies and wasn’t sick like yours. It sucks it costs so much but they really are family members. I hope we never have to face a similar situation but if we did I have a feeling we would fork over the money.

    It would be a hard decision as the dog gets older though. At what point is extending their life worth it? If the dog has a bad quality of life where do you draw the line? Luckily you didn’t have to make those decisions as it seems Major was healthy before.

    • 14

      Len Penzo says

      Major’s age did factor in the calculus, Lance. And it will in the future too.

      Major is nine, which makes him an older dog, but I figure he still has at least three or four good years left in him.

      At some point though, hard decisions will have to be made. I’ve owned lots of dogs in my lifetime, so I’ve been through that tough decision process many times before.

    • 16

      Mindimoo says

      I don’t think you’re crazy at all Mandy but very responsible. It’s amazing how many people buy pets without thinking about the possibility of hefty vet bills. If you can’t afford these then you’re far better off without a pet much as you may love animals and want one.

  8. 19


    So glad you had a happy ending. And, as expensive as your pup’s treatment was, it’s a bargain compared to human care. Wonder how those vets ever get their student loans paid off?

    Over the years, I’ve found renting dog-friendly houses for vacation or paying a pet sitter to stay at the house has been a good investment. Yes, it also adds to vacation costs more than using a kennel. But I feel a little more secure about my dog while we’re away.

    I hope your next vacation ends much more happily for everyone.

    • 20

      Len Penzo says

      Thank you, Pamela.

      Interesting that you brought up pet-sitters! After we got Major back from the vet we decided that we will try an in-house dog-sitter next time we go on a family vacay.

  9. 21

    AniVee says

    Absolutely agree! I’m a confirmed tightwad about many things but my dog gets everything he needs (we even make home-made biscuits with the bacon fat) and especially good medical care. (And he is a $20 rescue dog not a $$$ great looking exotic breed like yours but we love him just as much.)

    People had told me that dogs often come home from the boarding kennels with other illnesses but I never believed it ’til last visit when he came home with a horrible Garbo-playing-Camille cough that took two weeks and lots of antibiotics to cure. So it happens a lot; changing kennels is no guarantee.

    p.s. I think you got a lot more value from this money spent than from the tickets to that Hockey Game a while back ….. but that´s just me ….

    So glad he recovered!

  10. 23

    Derek says

    So glad Major is back to normal! We have a 9 month old dog and already love him so much. To respond to your question of “How much?” I’d say we would probably spend $5000 to save him, but we hope to never face that. His breed is prone to some health issues later in life so we have a doggie emergency fund started that we hopefully won’t have to tap into for many years.

  11. 24


    Yes, I know; we had a border collie called Snowey and when she needed an operation it being expensive was irrelevant. I was pacing the hall, waiting for her to come out of surgery; nightmare. Glad that Major is OK.

  12. 25


    Pets are part of your family and you can’t look at it as a dollars and cents decision. I realize there are limits to anything, but it ends up being mostly an emotional decision. We recently spent $5-700 and ended up putting our dog to sleep. It was a hopeless outcome.

  13. 27


    Glad to hear that your dog is doing fine now, Len, and good for you for treating him like any other member of the family. I’m definitely in the same boat – but the most we’ve had to pay for our pup so far was a paltry $800 for removing a foxtail from his gums (and a few more maintenance related things done at the same time).

  14. 28

    partgypsy says

    I am an animal lover but also feel that I’m a pragmatist, hat there is a line I wouldn’t cross regarding the amount of life saving procedures/monies I would spend to save a pet. But when I was put in that same situation for our family dog in 2008 all financial considerations went out the window and I would have done anything to have been able to bring her back to health. And losing her was like losing a family member, we were all in tears and my kids still talk about her.

  15. 29

    margaret says

    just because you provided the food for your dog doesn’t mean it was used for your dog. I took my dog to a reputable kennel for 1 week & provided the food. When I picked my dog up, I was told he had not eaten much the whole stay. After I got home, I realized I hadn’t brought his food home with me & I called the kennel to let them know I’d be picking up his food, & was told he had eaten it all!

  16. 30


    Wow! That is definitely a lot of money. If I were on your shoes, I would also do whatever it takes to save my dog. It helps to have an emergency fund to take care of your pets should anything bad happen. In our family, we have also alloted a certain portion of our emergency fund to our dog, should he be sick in the future. After all, he is already a part of our family. WE also have major medical insurance for our dog.. just in case.

  17. 32


    So glad Major is okay. We lost one of our dogs to sepsis after surgery for intestinal blockage. As you were describing Major’s symptoms my heart was in my throat. It’s a very scary thing to go through, and I am so happy for the whole Penzo family that Major is home and healthy again.

    I was thrilled to see Pamela post (she’s one of my favorite pet bloggers). While we don’t technically use pet sitters, we’ve always been lucky enough to have a close friend come to our house and stay with the dogs when we’re going to be gone. If nothing else, it reduces my stress and anxiety leaving them, knowing they are with someone they adore and in their normal surroundings.

  18. 33


    So glad to hear that Major pulled through. I don’t know what my limit would be to save a pet’s life, but suffice it to say, the limit would be high . . . real high.

    Pet’s are precious. My family has always owned dogs, and fortunately (or unfortunately) they’ve lived loooooong lives. But I’ll never forget we almost lost our Chihuahua, Missy, within weeks of bringing her home. I was only 14 at the time, but I called my mom on a pay phone from school to make sure Missy would recover. It was terrifying. Thankfully, she lived another 15 years after that.

  19. 34


    Glad Major is restored to health and his rightful status in the Penzo family. For future vacations you might consider hiring someone to come in to your home to tend him. That’s how we now handle vacations–less stress on the critters and less chance of catching anything.

    We had a similar incident with our then 9-year-old Springer Spaniel who was victim of a hit-and-run. The emergency vet bill was astounding (as was the almost hour each way trip to the clinic), but he pulled through. He requires monthly meds now (phenobarbitol to control seizures, a pain med for arthritis in his hips, and a supplement to keep him from having a leaky bladder, but he’s back to being his lovable, quirky self–and an integral part of our family. Pets are precious. The event did make me rethink pet insurance, although I’m still inclined to believe an emergency fund is the way to go.

  20. 35

    Lola says

    Len, I’m so glad Major made it through. My sweet basset hound, Romeo, also suffered through a bout of HGE just 6 months after I rescued him. My emergency vet bill was not as high as yours (“just” $1400-ish), but almost 18 months later, I still have to feed him mostly prescription food or else his stools get soft and diarrhea starts again. He easily eats 5 cases of the prescription food each month, which costs around $130… but he is so totally worth it!

    I’m sorry your family had to go through that scare, but happy Major is back to his old self.

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