Has the Economy Affected Your Pet Healthcare Spending? | Ask a Vet

shihtzu dog | Ask a vetBy Edie Jarolim

I love pet blogging for a lot of reasons, including that it’s a great democratizer. I would never have felt comfortable asking my own vet to write about the benefits of pumpkin for dogs but when Dr. Laci Schaible commented on one of my blog posts, I checked out her site, discovered it was new and interesting — and immediately felt comfortable pumping her for information about pumpkins. She came through, in spades, as you can see here.
Dr. Schaible in turn asked me to write a guest post — fair is fair! — from the perspective of a veterinary client. So here we are.

When it comes to economizing in these tough times, I find some things easier to give up than others. I work at home so I don’t really need new clothes (no videoconferencing for me!). That funny noise my car is making? I can ignore it a while longer. And — dare I admit it? –I’m okay with skipping the occasional annual medical checkup, which always seems to sock me with hidden fees for diagnostic tests. I’m feeling fine and if that should change …well, that’s why I’m paying those exorbitant health insurance rates.

But my dog, Frankie, can’t tell me how he’s feeling, so I need a vet to tell me how he might be feeling. And because I don’t have health insurance for him — by the time I discovered it was an option, Frankie was too old and had been diagnosed with diabetes — everything is out of pocket.

My latest vet visit had its own hidden — or I should say surprise — fees, $179 for geriatric blood workup. Yikes. On the one hand, I was pleased to learn from the results that Frankie’s health is excellent. But on the other hand, it green lighted him for another procedure I’d been putting off:  The dreaded teeth cleaning.

You don’t have to tell me how important a professional cleaning is, especially for a dog with diabetes. I know all about periodontal disease and dangerous bacteria coursing through my little pup’s blood system. But it’s expensive: $500 at my vet and at least double that at a board certified veterinary dentist. I mention veterinary dentists because there are two in Tucson, where I live — which is unusual, given that there are only about 50 in the U.S. — and ever since I learned about the specialty while researching an article about canine dental care for Your Dog, the newsletter of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, I’ve been coveting the limousine variety for Frankie.

But in the meantime I can barely afford the procedure at my own vet.

When I discussed the financial hardships with him — I hate that conversation; although there’s less shame in being poor as a writer than there is in other professions, it’s not exactly a badge of honor — we agreed on an extended payment plan that wouldn’t involve any credit card companies. So it’ll get done.

One interesting side note: When I mentioned that I wished I could get the cleaning done by a local dental specialist, my vet bristled. “We do those procedures all the time,” he said, with the implication that it’s not rocket science. He is extremely mild mannered and I had never seen any signs of professional ego before, but I’d clearly hit a nerve here.

I’m aware from reading the terrifically honest Pawcurious blog that vets are sensitive about patients who imply they are not “real” doctors (I would never be guilty of that even though — who me, bitter? — my liberal arts Ph.D. is scorned by most scientist types). So now inquiring minds want to know: Are there other sore spots — say, regarding veterinary specialists — that we clients don’t know about?

Bio:  Edie Jarolim is a freelance — read: available for work — writer and editor. Before she got her first dog, Frankie, she focused primarily on travel and food writing. In an attempt to learn more about the alien creature she had brought into her home, she researched and wrote Am I Boring My Dog? And 99 Other Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew (Alpha/Penguin) and started blogging at WillMyDogHateMe.com. For more about her noncanine-related life and work, see http://www.ediejarolim.com.

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17 Comments

November 4, 2010 at 15:45
 

Hi, Edie. I enjoyed your post :-)

I love specialists. No sore spots with them here! A lot of my clients decline a referral, saying “we trust you, Doc.” I appreciate that and in some cases, I can do just as well as the specialist. But not in all cases. Specialists definitely have their place.

My sore spot is pet owners that procrastinate getting their pet care until it’s too late or almost too late to help. Example: the 3 pound chihuahua I saw a few days ago that had been in labor for 48 HOURS before they sought help for her. Poor dog! Can you imagine being forced to go through that?

November 4, 2010 at 16:28
 

Thanks for reading Dr Huston! I too agree, I love specialists. I do love specialists, and sometimes have to twists my clients arm to go elsewhere when I am less qualified.

I can’t believe they bred a 3 lb chihuahua! Oh wait, of course I can, but it still upsets me.

November 4, 2010 at 20:05
 

Has the economy affected our pet healthcare spending?

No, our pet healthcare spending is saving the economy! LOL Well, veterinary profession anyway.

November 4, 2010 at 21:02
 

Haha Jana! And more bills to pile up for you this Tuesday!

November 7, 2010 at 04:02
 

I find pet owners like that particularly
egregious. If your dog is ill or suffering from something painful they NEED to see a vet ASAP!! I’ll bet that owner would be the first in line at the ER screaming about a splinter in their finger. Seriously, what’s wrong with people?!

November 4, 2010 at 19:45
 

I’m glad you enjoyed my post, Lorie (this is tough; I saw you too many times at BlogPaws to call you Dr. Huston but I don’t want to be disrespectful). I’m glad you don’t have any problems with specialists.

That is one sad story about the chihuahua. It sounds like you managed to save her — right? — but I can’t imagine how people would be able to stand to see a pet in so much pain.

November 8, 2010 at 21:55
 

Edie, my friends call me Lorie and I consider you a friend. So absolutely no offense taken :-)

Yes, we saved the chihuahua (thankfully), but it still bothers to think about what they put her through. Some people just don’t get it!!

November 4, 2010 at 20:17
 

Like Edie, I do without for me. I was fortunate to have a greyhound who lived to be a few months short of 13. For about 2 years, she went every month to the vet for an acupuncture treatment. I’m sure it prolonged her life and her pain.
I gave up stuff for me like clothes, less vacations, and more.
And I would do it all over again if I had to.

November 4, 2010 at 21:01
 

Karyn,

It is good to hear you think your pets are more important than the latest purse. We see a lot of pet owners that are decked out with designer bags, but won’t bring in their pet until it is almost too later.

We too are still paying off university animal hospital bills–yes we are vets that like specialists and use them ourselves. Vets pay vet bills too. :-) Thanks for reading.

November 4, 2010 at 23:02
 

No kidding, up to our ears in debt. My wardrobe is become a serious safety hazard.

November 5, 2010 at 02:31
 

That is a new one. I suppose it is because dentals are one of the bread and butter procedures for us vets? It would be like telling your dentist you want to go to an EENT specialist for a teeth cleaning. I refer all the time for oral masses, complicated extractions and the like, but if the oral pathology is not complex I feel we can do a pretty bang-up job.
You know my hot button items: you’re not a real doctor and why aren’t you doing this for free. :)

JedSchaible
November 5, 2010 at 16:12
 

Don’t forget Dr. V, dentists aren’t “real doctors” in the eyes of the public either…lol!

November 5, 2010 at 21:00
 

Well, in the old day, dentistry used to be performed by black smiths! LOL

November 5, 2010 at 21:07
 

That’s right! When you think about it, veterinary dentists have two strikes against them, so maybe the one I interviewed was overcompensating. ;-)

November 5, 2010 at 21:06
 

I think it was the interview I did with the head of the association of veterinary dentists for the aforementioned Your Dog article that led me down the garden path, Dr. V. He suggested that if you don’t get a full set of actual dental x-rays — as opposed to skull x-rays, which is what most vets provide — you would be remiss. There were other things he suggested were essential too but it was the x-rays that stuck with me!

Alexis Madison
November 30, 2010 at 14:48
 

Where to begin personally on this very touchy subject? FIRST I do understand vet school is expensive as I formerly worked in higher education and it is truly shocking. That having been said, IMO vet expenses are completely and utterly out of reach for the average person. I make a lower-middle-class living and have ZERO luxuries – but there is no way I can afford what I have spent at the vet for my dog and my horse which is over $12,000 in the last 18 months. And that isn’t even getting them all that the vet wants them to have – exotic and repetitive diagnostic imaging, prescriptions costing over $400 per month, etc etc ad nauseum. And if you think pet health insurance is a good idea (or that you can actually buy it for an older pet) you need to read the fine print because it definitely is a waste of money better spent paying the vets directly.

December 2, 2010 at 13:21
 

Alexis, Pets are very expensive indeed, especially horses! I grew up with two horses, and know how quickly thousands of dollars can be dropped.

While I do believe basic testing is needed when a pet is sick, prescriptions are really an area where Dr. Jed and I are vehemently opposed to. There are hundreds of generics that are available at human pharmacies for $4 / mo or less. You don’t buy prescriptions from your MD, so why do vets still push medicines? I look forward to the day when this is not the case–it’s gotta be coming. Thanks for reading!