Friday, February 21, 2014

My dog and President Kennedy: The unexpected costs of pet ownership

Our little poodle is always exhausted after her time at "camp" while we are on vacation. Visiting your former foster family and playing wildly with their dogs and cat is great fun but wears her out. Kind of like a kid at camp.

This time when we picked her up rather late at night we got a subdued greeting and she looked very tired. Ok - maybe we woke her up and she was exhausted. The next morning she was moving slowly, wouldn't take her treat and had no interest in playing. Off to the vet and we all decided she had hurt her back or simply had weekend athlete sore muscles. The next day she had thrown up at least 3 times and wasn't eating much or drinking water although she did rally for a short walk. Then she laid down and started shaking. Back to the vet.

Xray and blood test later there is the diagnosis that she has Addison's disease as did President Kennedy. Basically her adrenal gland is producing zero cortisol and possibly not producing the hormone that regulates electrolytes (potassium and sodium). However her low level of electrolytes could be because she  wasn't keeping water down and was very dehydrated. They re-hydrated her and gave her a cortisone injection and a pill for the electrolytes after running another test to get a definitive diagnosis which will be delivered this morning. Given how much better she was after this treatment I can't believe the initial diagnosis will be proven wrong. A great explanation of the disease and treatment can be found here. (Update: The test showed she isn't producing any cortisol so now we just have to get her back to normal and figure out her maintenance dosages. She is doing much better today.)

The disease is treatable with monthly cortisone injections and possibly Prednisolone pills either daily or when under stress (boarding, grooming, etc.). With treatment she should have a normal lifespan. That means she will have monthly injections and possibly daily pills for 10 plus years which brings me back to the unexpected costs of pet ownership. We are fortunately in the position that we can handle the cost of her care readily, but many people can't. It is easy to take on a pet and they are great fun and bring lots of love and joy to your life. It can be much harder to decide how to handle an expensive illness or injury when they need care.

I was talking to a neighbor about my poor pup and we decided there were probably three options for most people in these situations.

First, if you can, you can pay for the animal's care and, if needed, possibly negotiate a reduced rate or payment plan. Another possibility is to utilize a veterinary school's clinic for reduced cost care if that is available. There are no vet schools in Atlanta but the Humane Society does operate a clinic and perhaps that would provide reduced cost care if we needed it.

If you really can't pay for the care then you could decide to have the pet euthanized. Always a very difficult decision for me even when the best choice when the animal is suffering terribly and can't be treated and will die soon anyway.

The third option would be to work with the vet and/or a rescue group to find someone who can afford the care required and who will adopt your pet. I don't know that I would have thought of this option but my neighbor brought it up and I think it is a good alternative if needed. I have heard of cases where it worked out for the animal and humans.

I don't want to discourage anyone from taking on a pet in retirement, but think it is important to be realistic about your financial situation. Pets bring great joy and carry a lifelong responsibility in my opinion. There are other ways to enjoy pet companionship if you can't afford to have one yourself. Offer to take your neighbor's dog for a walk or pet sit when they need it. Volunteer at your Humane Society or with a rescue group. Assist with a dog training course or pet event. Be creative in your solutions either in pet ownership or accessing time with animals other ways.

7 comments:

  1. Here is Arizona, some pett owners who have to purchase medications on a regular basis for their pets, have a "Mexico run" periodically.. someone goes to Nogales or Algodones or Rocky point and gets meds much cheaper than in the U.S. Just a thought..

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    1. Thanks for bringing up the idea of reducing medication costs. On line sources such as 1-800-petmeds may also help. In our case she needs injections as well as pills so we will be seeing the vet monthly.

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  2. Although not quite ready for retirement, my husband and I are thinking about getting another dog (our last one passed away 2 years ago). I certainly want to, but am nervous about potential costs such as these. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

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    1. I have to say we are delighted that we brought this dog into our lives 3 years ago when she was 1 1/2. We had been without a dog for 8 years and were definitely ready to trade off the lifestyle and cost considerations for the companionship and fun. No regrets.

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  3. We love our dog, but it is certainly true that with pets come responsibilities, and expenses. As the father of a vet, I can tell you that they go to vet school for four years, at $40 or $50K a year; they typically come out of school with a load of debt, and then spend a year or two as an intern at minimum wage. So they have to charge for their services ... they have bills to pay, too!

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    1. Tom, I didn't mean to imply vets don't deserve every penny - actually I think they are underpaid. I do think though that people don't think through the potential costs of pet ownership when they fall in love with that cute dog or cat. Sometimes people have a change in financial circumstances too and need to look for options to get care for a loved pet.

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    2. Sorry, didn't mean to get up on a high horse ... you are right abt. the costs, and it must be really hard, as you say, if your situation changes and you can't keep your pet.

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