Let’s get real: If you got a pet to save money, you were barking up the wrong tree. The American Pet Product Association (APPA) predicts that American paw-rents will spend a whopping $63 BILLION on their fur babies in this year alone, and unsurprisingly, we’re spending the most on food, supplies, and veterinary care because we want our pets to have not only the best things in life but also, to have the best possible lives.  Yet where do we draw the line between what’s best for our pets and what’s best for us? How much is too much when it comes to what we spend on our fur babies?
With a record $16 billion in projected veterinary expenses for U.S. paw-rents in 2016, it’s clear that our society as a whole places a significant value on upholding the quality of our pets’ lives. In fact, most of the paw-rent population claims that they’d go into debt to save an ailing pet, and with the rising costs of veterinary services, some undoubtedly do.
When Barça required emergency surgery for the intussusception of her bowel (during her insurance’s probationary period, no less!), I didn’t think twice about plopping down my credit card for the $5,500 bill, despite not having that kind of money to spare. It was literally dollars or die and the latter just wasn’t an option for me, even if it meant pushing a few of my hopes and dreams to the side while I paid down the balance. When the dogtor tells you that the furry little love of your life’s best chance of survival is a several-thousand-dollar procedure, you tend not to think of your goals or your finances, much less yourself. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t have to think about anything other than the prospect of life without your fur baby before facing the dogtor with strong, teary-eyed resolve to plead, “Please do it.” Please save my dog and take my money. All of it. Please.
It should come as no surprise that when Barça fell ill again almost a year later, I spared no expense to find out what was wrong and attempt to make it better.
$2,700 for an MRI to determine what was going on with Barça’s back? “Please do it.”
$4,800 for a surgery to determine if her spinal lesion was an infection or tumor? “Please do it.”
I racked up a $7,500 tab for diagnostics alone. Unlike the previous summer, I came armed with insurance and the insurance company’s authorization to continue with all related treatments at their expense. I had peace of mind and the luxury of not having to deny Barça any chance of a longer, better quality life because of money. I was able to say, “Please do it,” to every treatment we were willing to do, without suffering any financial consequences. I thank Dog for that insurance coverage every single day, considering that the cost of Barça’s diagnostics, radiation therapy, follow-up visits, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, pain medicine, two different forms of chemo, and ultimately, euthanasia, totaled a staggering $18,400, paid by the insurance company. Only a very small portion of paw-rents insure their pets, and while I haven’t polled anyone on the matter, I can safely say that there probably aren’t a lot of paw-rents out there who don’t have insurance but do have that kind of money set aside for discretionary pet expenses. And even in the rare event that they did, is that the best use of their money?
Some of you might give a resounding “YES!”, and while I'm right there with you, I always try to see things from other pawspectives. With $18,400, you could fulfill every item on your pet's bucket list (and maybe then some); put a down payment on a new car (or fully pay for a used one); pay for the first semester of college at a private school; pay off or significantly pay down student loans; invest in savings; treat yourself to an epic wedding and/or honeymoon; travel; pay a year's worth of rent (including utilities in some places!); make home improvements or renovations; and/or donate to charity. These are only some of the ways in which one could otherwise use the money paid to prolong (not save!) Barça’s life, to benefit some aspect of their own (or others’) lives. Of course, Barça means the world to me and if I had paid out-of-pocket for her cancer treatments, the experience of having her in my life for a little while longer would have been worth every experience that I didn’t get to have because I was spending my time and income entirely on her. However, as much as I love Barça and never would have forgiven myself for losing any of our time together because of money, there are circumstances in which realistically, I may have been forced to limit my spending for both our sakes.
So at what points do I draw the line?
- When the financial hardship resulting from the expense of a treatment is so extreme that I could not possibly afford to adequately provide for my pet (or myself). Truth: even $10,000 out-of-pocket would've been detrimental to our lives. I have existing financial responsibilities that I can't just shirk off unless i want repo-men and loan sharks hounding me. When you add to those expenses a several-thousand-dollar treatment and the potential costs of specialized foods and/or medications, as well as follow-up dogtor visits (which are sometimes, but not always at no additional cost to the treatment), we wouldn't have the money necessary to survive, even if the pet survived the procedure. I wouldn't put our family through so much only to sabotage my pet's recovery (and potentially, put us through the original plight all over again) by not being able to provide the things essential to making their recovery and a good quality of life thereafter possible.
- When I wouldn't otherwise have enough money saved to compassionately end my fur baby's life if necessary. No matter how much you spend, not all treatments are entirely or even remotely successful. While dogtors strive to improve your pet's quality of life, there's always the possibility that your fur baby still might come out of a treatment unchanged or worse-for-wear, if they come out of it at all. If there's any chance that your pet's condition and/or a resulting procedure may leave your pet hopelessly uncomfortable, make sure that your finances are in order enough to give them the comfortable, dignified end that they deserve (if it comes down to that).
- When the circumstances are hopeless and the ramifications are overwhelmingly detrimental in several aspects of your life. When Barça had her emergency intussusception surgery, one of my first questions for her dogtor was whether or not the surgery would allow her to lead a normal, happy, and healthy life -- after all, ethics play a big role here, too. The dogtor assured us that Barça's prognosis with surgery was very good and that the procedure would only improve her quality of life and her projected lifespan of over a decade, so paying the big bucks for a long and happy future with our pup seemed reasonable. Barça's cancer was another story. Carlos and I knew from the day that she was diagnosed with cancer that she would not survive it no matter what we did, that there were certain things she'd never be able to do again, and that she just didn't have a lot of time. Had we been paying out of pocket, there's no way we could have -- or reasonable should have put down over $18,000 of our own money, especially knowing what the end would be and how soon it would come. You aren't absolved of payment if your fur baby doesn't survive and the likelihood that Carlos and I's relationship would have survived the grief, compounded by the enormous stress and insult of having to pay down a mountain of debt for an emotionally draining, hopeless treatment, was null. I know from experience that when faced with an emotional decision regarding your pet's life, it's almost impossible to reason, however, you truly do have to consider who and/or what will suffer most for your decision, how they'll suffer, and for how long they'll suffer. If the answer is yourself/your family, paralyzing financial and emotional hardship, and years through indefinitely, as hard as it will be, you sometimes have put yourself first.
What do you think? How much would you be willing to pay to extend or save your pet's life? Is there a such thing as too much? Where do you draw the line?
Worried that you might not be able to help your fur baby in their time of need? Check out our pawesome post about pet insurance!
 American Pet Product Association, “Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics: U.S. Pet Industry Spending Figures & Future Outlook”. (2016 March) Retrieved from: https://americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp
Kate is Barça's mom, as well as the founder and content author of Barcelona & Company. When she's not doting on her adorable pup, Kate is a full-time art and architectural researcher and writer.