How Much Would You Pay to Save Your Pet’s Life?

A friend of mine recently told me a sad story that I wanted to share with you.

About five years ago, he drove his dog to a dog park across town for their usual Saturday morning romp. Unfortunately, on that particular fateful morning, when he opened the car door to let his faithful friend out the dog bolted into the parking lot and was struck by a car.

After rushing his pet to the veterinarian he was told that the dog would survive but only with immediate surgery; he was also informed that the cost of the surgery and follow-up treatment would be in the vicinity of $4000.

My friend didn’t have $4000. Even worse, he was already in debt up to his eyeballs. He still had a credit card that could have covered the vet’s fee, but after paying all of his monthly bills he barely had enough money to take his girlfriend out for a movie and dinner once per month.

So, forced into making a snap decision, he reluctantly made the gut-wrenching choice to euthanize his dog.

That got me thinking about the financial threshold where I would balk at saving my family dog, Major.

Major is a fully integrated member of our family. He is a big old house dog who often goes with us on family outings; I can’t imagine our family being without him.

It is extremely difficult for me to imagine Major in the same situation that my friend’s unfortunate pet got himself into, but life sometimes throws unforeseen twists and turns at us. So it is not unreasonable to think about the unthinkable — that one day Major could be accidentally hit by a car, or contract a disease or infection that could threaten his life without immediate and expensive medical attention.

Of course, I would like to think that money would be no object but the reality is Major is still a dog and as such there would obviously come a point where, cruel as it sounds, the cost of saving him would not be in the best interest of my personal finances.

For most folks, it’s tough to answer with any certainty the exact point that it becomes financially untenable when it comes to saving their pet’s life. When I posed this hypothetical question to the Honeybee, at first she said “whatever it takes.” But after making her think about it, and pressing her for a figure, she finally settled on a total somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000.

In my opinion, I think that is a bit excessive; to me, the financial strain would begin to get pretty unbearable in the vicinity of $7500. Then again, who knows? I might easily raise that figure if this ugly hypothetical situation suddenly turned into a tragic reality.

I just pray that I’ll never have to find out.

(This article was updated on August 25, 2012)

Photo Credit: takomabibelot

18 comments to How Much Would You Pay to Save Your Pet’s Life?

  • Kaitlyn

    Yikes! This is a really tough question to answer if you are not actually “in the moment”. Although I want to think I would pay anything to save my beagle (Champ), I know that would become unrealistic if the vet said treatment was going to be $10,000. I just don’t know, but if I was forced to pick a point I guess it would have to be close to your friend’s limit of $4000.

    Great question!

  • Bill

    This is actually a tougher dilemma than if a close relative needed treatment. In that case, obviously, the money question doesn’t even come into play. For me, probably $5000.

  • Len, Great post. Not a big pet person so probably wouldn’t pay much into a three digit number. When the kids get bigger and more attached I suspect that number might increase.

  • Marcie

    I have three cats and I already cringe every time I have to take them to the vet for routine stuff. Even though I love all my babies I don’t think I would spend much over $1000! Sad but true.

  • Teresa

    I just wanted to thank you for asking this question the way you did. I’m a veterinarian, and usually these posts are about why the veterinarian had to charge so much. We realize that this situation is tough for everyone, and believe it or not we sometimes find ourselves in the same situation when one of our pets requires specialty care for things we cannot treat ourselves. Given the current state of the economy, and my personal financial situation, my number would be closer to $2000.
    Thanks again for not attacking us vets.

  • @Kaitlyn, Bill, Craig, and Marcie: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think the wide range of numbers reinforces the fact that everybody is obviously different.
    @ Teresa: Thanks for taking the time to give a vet’s perspective! I think vets have a very difficult job to begin with. After all, unlike a medical doctor, vets can’t ask their patients where it hurts! That is just one reason why you will never hear me criticize them for their fees. Based upon your input, I hope many people will be comforted to know that even vets have financial limits when it comes to saving their pets. Thanks again, Teresa, for a veterinarians perspective!

  • I wonder how common it is to be presented with the option of a very large bill, all at once, and giving the choice of ponying up thousands in cash or letting your pet die.

    My experience has repeatedly been that the costs come in steady, just barely affordable increments: a hundred bucks here, two hundred bucks there, three hundred bucks the next place; the requirement that you come in for an expensive test every six months to get permission to buy another six months’ worth of expensive medication. It’s enough to be a little hard to afford, but not so much that you wouldn’t feel just hideous for putting the animal down.

    And no offense to Dr. Teresa, but I do believe my vet knew that the German shepherd on which, near the end of her life, I spent around $4,000 could not really be helped. I’m dead certain that all he was doing was spinning out her misery while he drained my pocketbook. More recently, as the result of several research studies I’ve come across, I’ve begun to think the dog was hugely overmedicated throughout her life, also to my great expense and her great discomfort. When you have a population of humans who conflate small animals with small children, the opportunity to profit is just too great to ignore.

    When I finally took the shepherd to another veterinarian — not so much because of him but because his office was too far away to drag a sick 80-pound animal once every two or three weeks — she advised me that there really was nothing anyone could do for her, and that I needed to think about my own welfare as well as the dog’s.

  • @Funny: I am sorry to hear about your shepherd. I think it is reasonable to assume that there are unscrupulous people in all professions that will take advantage of others if they have the chance. That being said, I think the great majority of veterinarians will always put the welfare of their patients ahead of making a few extra bucks.

  • Vanessa

    I have house rabbits (considered an exotic pet and so things are naturally more expensive) wellness check-up for my 2 just set me back $100. But there is a point you have to let go, I have had to make that call. When my Benji got sick, the bill quickly equaled my monthly rent. At that point and with nothing helping I knew it was time to let go and checked him out and took him home.

    • I’m sorry to here about your Benji. For people who love pets, trying to determine just when it’s time to “let go” is one of the most gut-wrenching decisions we’ll ever make. I’ve had to do it with three dogs of my own and it is never easy. In all three cases cost wasn’t a deciding factor, but for many people it is and that probably makes those decisions even tougher.

  • Libby

    I love having pets but I gave away my three little dogs this past year because I could not afford to keep up with routine medical bills (vaccinations, etc.) for them. I just couldn’t rationalize keeping them unless I could afford to keep them healthy. So many people who are strapped for money have animals and it is a sad situation for them when their family pet gets sick or injured. More people should take this into account BEFORE they get the animal so that they are not faced with this dilemma.

  • Erin

    Unfortunately I was in this situation almost two years ago when my 17yr old cat fell of the banister 15ft to the entry way below and broke his leg. The vet said to fix it would be about $5000 which I needed to pay upfront I didn’t have it and nowhere to get it and my poor boy had to be put down. If I had had it I would have paid but I think about $6000 would be tops for me. My aunt paid about $15000 for her dogs cancer treatments before the dog got too sick and had to be put down and they actually have less than I do, they just had a really good relationship with the vet who let them make payments.

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