Surviving vet bills: Getting the best care for your pet

Special Reports

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — According to a recent PDSA report, the cost over the lifespan of a dog, on average, is about seven times more than most people expect. When it comes to vet costs, alone – that same report estimates owning a dog will hit your wallet to the tune of $27,000 to $42,000. 

On the positive side, that’s in part because pets are living longer, healthier lives thanks to advancements in care. Plenty of people are more than willing to do whatever it takes to make sure their pets are by their sides, longer. 

CBS 42 met pet owners Lynn and Greg McGill and their cat, Tiger, at Alford Avenue Veterinary Hospital.

“He’s our most expensive cat, actually,” Greg McGill explained.  “His special surgery was kind of on the pricey side, but he’s worth it.”

The McGills are self-proclaimed animal lovers, and they have been bringing a variety of animals to Alford Avenue Veterinary Hospital since 1985.  A couple of years ago, Tiger had a special surgery on his urinary tract.  Before that, the McGill’s reflected on a time when they adopted a pair of baby squirrels who had been knocked out of their nest.

“We got to see the vet orthodontist!” said Greg.

“One of them had teeth that could not crack a nut and they put braces on the little squirrel, the baby squirrel, and it worked!” Lynn laughed.  “He could crack nuts, and so he wore the braces for two weeks and that fixed the problem.

While it may surprise some, specialty care like that is not that unusual these days.

“It’s more about just an understanding of the relationship between you and your pet,” said Greg.  “They’re part of the family.  Once they reach that part of the family, you wouldn’t turn down a family member to have surgery.”

CBS 42 went into surgery with Dr. Haley Burke to learn a bit more about the latest trends that she is seeing in treatments.

“We now see specialists in our field,” Burke said, “and they’ll go see orthopedic specialists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists.  Pets are getting chemo and MRI’s, bone plates put in, and it’s very advanced–it’s human grade–what we can do for animals.”

Another trend that Burke has seen grow in popularity over the span of her 15 year career is what’s now being referred to as hospice care for pets.  Burke explained that could include things like pain management for animals with cancer or arthritis.  Plans could also include fluid therapy, or finding ways to keep animals on health diets where they will continue to eat well.  Senility is another big one–where hospice care will be geared toward keeping pets’ minds sharp and engaged.

Burke said that a lot of hospice care is also something that they can teach the owners to do–where hospice care can be carried out in the pet’s environment at home.  Because there are different problems that need to be addressed, the cost of hospice care for a pet can range depending on the service, however; Burke says it’s not usually on the higher end of the price scale.

“I hear it said once that it’s an honor, and I truly believe that, to be able to help them during their final moments, and to make it peaceful and calm for the owner and their pet at the end is probably one of the most rewarding things that I do in my career,” Burke said.

A possible solution to any unexpected, pricey vet bills could be pet insurance.  That’s another trend in pet ownership that Burke has seen grow in popularity over her career.  She described it as being the #1 game-changer to be able to afford the best, advanced care from a specialist.

“We are very much a fan of insurance,” Burke said. “We endorse it whole-heartedly.  We want people to be able to afford the best.  We want to do everything.  So if there’s a money limitation, that’s a necessary thing to know about, and it’s hard to hear, but we have to work within those constraints.  Insurance opens those gates.”

According to Burke, most insurances are not much more than $20 to $25, but she understands that for many of her clients, having a few more good days, months, or years with their pet is something priceless.

Dr. Burke said, “People often speak of unconditional love, but it’s just, it’s a very warm relationship that they don’t have to do anything other than be there and provide from them and give them affection, and it’s always given back.”

copyright CBS 42 2019

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