Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Unexpected: $342.28

I spent much of yesterday at the veterinarian's office, dealing with my suddenly sick and very frail cat. She'd been delighted to see us over the weekend on our return from a four-day trip. She was her usual perky, social, affectionate, and vocal self. Tuesday morning she was walking shakily with her head held low, had watery eyes, and wasn't eating.

At the vet she was found to be dehydrated, and to have an elevated temperature. And she gave an unsolicited stool sample on the exam table. What can I say? Shit literally happens at a vet's office. The doctor was game enough to declare the offering useful for diagnostic tests. The good news is that most of the potential problems have been ruled out (feline leukemia, feline AIDS, kidney and liver failure), one problem has been diagnosed (roundworms), her dehydration was treated with subcutaneous fluids, and the remaining likely condition (thyroid) is treatable. She also ate some food overnight, used the litter box, and looks much better this morning, though she's still slower and more subdued than usual. She's now complaining about not being allowed outdoors.

The bad news is that the examination, treatment, blood work, and other tests cost me almost $350. My cat is going to be fourteen years old this summer, and while she's had her share of injuries from tussling with other animals, she's never before needed treatment for any kind of illness. In other words, we've been very lucky with her, given that she's an indoor-outdoor cat. But still, $350 is a lot of money. I can't say I'm thrilled about carving that extra amount out of our budget this month. Yes, we have a $25 line item for pet expenses each month that we have been routinely underspending. But we're not so disciplined as to keep that unspent money in a sub-account in some bank account. Fortunately, paying off the credit card isn't going to be a big problem for us, but it still more than doubles our average yearly expense for having a beloved feline companion in our lives.

I don't begrudge the cost. Having a pet is a serious commitment and responsibility, no less than having a child. Before I get jumped for that statement, I recognize that the responsibility for raising a child is much, much larger, more complicated, and legally enforceable. Nonetheless, both are cases of taking responsibility for the care and well being of another living creature. Getting a pet - or a farm animal - medical treatment when they need it is a moral imperative, in my opinion.

So I'm just going to wind up the post with a plea to potential pet owners, or pet owners who haven't yet experienced any costs beyond shots, spaying, and feed. Please remember that sooner or later your pet is likely to need treatment that will cost a significant chunk of change. Budget for it now, before it's needed. It's a terrible feeling to see your pet in pain or weak with illness. It was bad enough worrying about my cat's health. At least I didn't have the additional worry about where the money for her treatment would come from. Please, please, please don't let poor planning put you in the position of being unable to care for an animal that you have chosen to make dependent upon you. Over a pet's lifetime, you're likely to need upwards of $1500 for their food and medical costs. Plan for unexpected expenses. They'll happen sooner or later.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad she's doing better. Animals are family too.

Stephanie said...

I am glad she is doing better. I had that happen to my cat not too long ago, unfortunately it ended up being feline lukemia and we had to put him down. One of the hardest events of my life. I agree that many do not understand the full cost of owning a pet until this happens.

Cowgirl in the City said...

Poor kitty. As a lover of animals and a pet owner in the past (although not currently) I feel your pain. You're right, we need to prepare for the unexpected, and that $1500 amount is good to prepare yourself for in the case of illness. However, my question is, do you make that $1500 a cap? What happens if (God forbid) your 12 year old dog comes down with doggy cancer, and it costs 7K to treat him? Because you love him do you just put yourself into even more debt and pay for chemo that can give him two or three more years? Or do you realized that you have to put him down?

Morbid thoughts I know, but this country girl has seen so many people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on an animal (they didn't have the money, it all went on a credit card) when maybe they should have just put him down in the first place. We love our animals. Deeply. They are a part of our family, but they aren't people.

I know I'll probably get a ton of angry comments and emails, but this is something future pet owners need to talk about before they get an animal.

But I'm really glad your kitty is better.

Ace said...

I am glad your cat is feeling better. This is a good post as many don't consider this while budgeting.

I will say that many pets get very sad and sometimes will not eat when their owners "disappear" (that is what they think :) I know because I have cared for other people's pets and I always went out of my way to make them happy. I have friends whose dog was sick when they got back from vacation because their "friends" who watched him locked him in a room all day and night. SAD!

Hopefully she was treated very kindly and didn't eat something by accident and the vet found the cause.

Otherwise, some great cat treats might help :)

Many Blessings :)

Anonymous said...

A very good reminder! I have two dogs and while they usually cost us very little money, we have had some pricey unexpected events come up that I am grateful we plan for and were prepared for. I am glad your kitty is feeling better.

Kate said...

Thanks, everyone, for the good wishes. It seems she has hyperthyroidism, so we're going to begin treatment and see how that goes.

Stephanie, I had to put my other cat down last spring, so I know what that's like. It is indeed a hard, hard thing to do.

Cowgirl, I think $1500 is a minimum amount that any pet owner should expect to spend if their cat or dog lives out an average number of years. Obviously, medical costs can run well over that amount.

For me personally, I think spending a lot of money on a pet would depend on the age of the animal, and what their expected quality of life would be with or without the treatment. I'm in a position now where I *could* spend a fair amount of money on a pet if I felt it was justified. (That hasn't always been true, by any means.) But I'm not the type to save an animal at any cost. All living things die, and I tend to see more value in happiness and wellbeing than in longevity. But it's every pet owner's call to make.

Ace, I know my cat wasn't mistreated while we were away. My mother, an animal lover, was in charge of her feeding. But yes, I've seen animals behave very strangely after being abused by petsitters, or even just temporarily "abandoned" by their traveling owners.

Anonymous said...

I'm happy that your cat's condition is treateable. Wow, that is a scary thing. I have 2 fourteen year old pugs and $1500.00 is only about 10% of what I've spent on their vet bills, food and clothing - yup, winter clothing for my dainty doilies. Both are blind and deaf, one has arthritis and kidney disease, but they are both still very affectionate and fun to play with! I'll move heck and earth to keep them comfortable and healthy, but I do agree that I wouldn't bankrupt myself if the treatment kept them in pain. My vet suggested eye surgery for the one who only has one eye left, with a 30% chance it would clear the cataracts...$3000.00 for a 30% chance, plus at his age, it could kill him, no way. They only have a few more years left and they've had a great life, they've given me so much love. I habitually keep $100 a month in the bank for them and last summer, I'm glad I did because the kidney meds are so expensive. You're a good pet-parent!

Anonymous said...

Glad that she is doing better for such a small amount of money.

I have cats and have spent loads of money on them when they have been sick. The latest was removal of a lump and a teeth cleaning for 800$. She is cancer free so that is a relief.

What made me sad about the whole affair is that my husband basically said - you are the one that wants cats? It comes out of your allowance. That definitely puts a crimp into how much treatment I will be able to put towards them when they are sick.

Nanette said...

I whole heartedly agree that we need to budget for our pet's care, and take that responsibility seriously. I foster cats for an animal rescue organisation, so see plenty where the owners have bailed when something better turns up.

But....I have a very old cat...21 this year, who was sick last year and cost over $400 in vet fees. She's a feisty old lady, and took a large chunk of the vet while he was trying to take blood.

As she's my son's cat, but he can't have her where he lives, he paid the bill. But we've made the decision not to treat anymore...she's quite well now, but given her age, that's likely to change. It's stressful for both of and the make trips to the vet, try to get pills into etc. She has a good, comfortable life, but when/if this changes, hard as it will be, I'm not going to prolong her life.

Glad your cat's's ok.

Anonymous said...

Gee, my hyperthyroidism cost me lots more than $350. Sometimes I think I should just see a vet!

Kidding aside, this is exactly why I resist getting a dog, even though I know my kids and I would love to have one. I just don't have the backbone to make the inevitable decision between paying my bills and patching up the pooch. Better to stick to chickens.

Anonymous said...

Good post! I am with you on that one. And, I am glad your pretty kitty is feeling better. I have three cats and I can't imagine a house without a cat!


Anonymous said...

my mom just ran into unexpected pet related expenses when her little dog started to lose weight and look listless. turns out the little fella has diabetes and has gone blind. that means frequent vet trips, daily insulin shots, overnight stays in the icu and now... cataract surgery. and make no mistake, dog surgery isn't less expensive just because they're smaller than people. the cataract surgeries will cost $1200 per eye. fortunately, mom has the funds, otherwise she would have had to choose between watching her precious pet slowly waste away or having him euthanized.

Wendy said...

I'm really glad you posted this, because I agree that pet ownership is a commitment. It really irritates me when people go to the animal shelter and adopt a cute little puppy , and then, take it back a few weeks later because they can't handle the animal. Seems like they should have thought about that before they took the poor little thing home. I just think it's confusing to the animal.

resolutionista said...

Hello -

I happened across your blog awhile back and enjoy it immensely.

I wanted to drop you a quick line to say that I hope your cat recovers soon.

I have a 19-year-old tabby that is a beloved companion and I am grateful for every day that I have her (she's 92 in people years). I had to put her twin brother to sleep in the Fall - his body gave out after years of diabetes. I understand the sudden vet bills, all too well. Good luck with your kitty . . .

Kim Simpson

Anonymous said...

It's a hard call. We have two
much loved cats, one of whom is
getting old (he's 12). A few
years ago, we spent nearly $400
on a cat who had to be put down
in the end. We didn't question
the amount because we hoped to
save her. I always say that I
would spend whatever it takes
but where do you draw the line
(a friend spent $1500 to save
her dog)?
One thing you might consider is
pet insurance - I know it sounds
silly but it might be worth it.
There are companies here in Australia and probably elsewhere
that do it but our vet also has
plan of their own where you get
50% off the fees. We've never
gotten it because our cats have
been pretty healthy but you never

CatHerder said...

Glad she is feeling may put her on soloxine for the thyroid...i feel your $$$$ pain...I have 5 (down from 8, we lost a 21 and 22 yr old, and a siamese with heart disease last year)...our vet bills are in the high thousands yearly...the price you pay for animal rescue...finally got a job at my vet to help all that. good luck to you and kitty!

Kate said...

Thanks again for the good wishes, everyone. She's very much better, though she's still a little underweight. We have a recheck appointment with the vet in a few weeks to see how her thyroid levels look.

Apparently, hyperthyroidism in cats can mask the symptoms of kidney failure, which is a very common problem in older cats. Her kidney function looked great before we started her on this thyroid medication, so I'm concerned that we may get a good news-bad news report when she's rechecked.

She's on two methimazole pills per day now, which bodes ill for us ever going anywhere again for the rest of her natural life. I may have to see about the liquid form and see if the vet thinks that could be done just once a day.