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emergency pet costs?

You all know I'm a good financial planner... I was reading up on the "things you could dip into the emergency savings funds for" and here was the basic list that most financial experts seem to agree on:

  1. Medical bills
  2. Car repairs
  3. Appliance repairs/replacement
  4. Job loss
  5. Pet's medical bills

Items 1-3 I've encountered before and pretty much know what they'd cost, I know what our healthcare deductable is and I like to have $1000-$2000 ready in case a car needs it, since we have older cars and stuff in that amount has come up before, when a few weird things cluster together. "Job Loss" would just be a cluster no matter what, but I like to think it's somewhat unlikely at this point.

The pet thing is what I wanted advice on. We have a dog now, and I know from guinea pigs that the bills can be weird, hell we joked that our beloved billy dee was like a $400 "free" guinea pig after one year of several unfortunate infections and incidents in a row. I still say it's worth the $80 just to see an x-ray of your guinea pig, it's hilarious. But I digress... there were people in the guinea pig forum who were spending THOUSANDS on complicated things for guinea pigs! Surgery, cancer treatements, you name it. I told marc one day, "I hate to sound insensitive, but I do not have $5000 worth of love for any one of our guinea pigs." Probably not even all of them combined. I don't know what the price is, but at some point I didn't even think it was kind to subject a tiny creature to so much medical treatment. There's gotta be a line.

Oh but dogs.

I tried to google how much you should emergency save up for a pet, and all I ran into were articles about how you must have pet health insurance because it's just IMPOSSIBLE to save up enough, it could be like a hundred thousand dollars, they're just like people, just add insurance to your monthly expenses and don't bother with savings.

All these articles were written by people who sell pet health insurance.

When we adopted Judy we were offered "sheltercare" insurance, I looked up their site and they had plans that covered stuff like "accidents up to $5000"... well WTF, if half these other articles said vet bills could be tens of thousands, what good does $5000 worth of insurance do for us? I thought the whole point of insurance was to pay for stuff you couldn't POSSIBLY afford?

I also got to thinking about how much I love my dog. More than the guinea pigs. But not $100,000. So if that was the vet bill, well... sorry...

Okay, back to my advice questions for the gallery here...

1) Am I really the only dog owner who doesn't have pet health insurance? (pre-hint: if you sell pet insurance for a living, I do not care to hear from you).

2) What's a normal expense? For example in guinea pig communities, we make it well known to new owners that you'd better have $100 for an x-ray if you drop the thing and break its leg, or if there's an infection that requires a vet visit and prescription. If you're not the kind of person who has $100 you should not own a guinea pig. It's not a nintendo, it's a life. But I don't know if leg breaks are a common dog accident, or if it costs $500 or $10,000 to have it fixed.

To put my financial situation in perspective, I do have an emergency fund. So if repairing the dog is comparable to repairing the car, I don't feel like I need insurance. I'm just not sure how to get an unbiased viewpoint on this except for average run-of-the-mill pet owners.



( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 15th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
We don't have pet insurance for either of our cats or our dog (honestly if I were to get some it would be for the black cat who seems to think eating "shiny" things is a good idea. The $700 needle comes to mind).

I have toyed with the idea. Our dog is a rescue, and before we got him had been shot three times with different guns. He has lead in him that we can't get out (bird shot), and that will probably cause problems in the future. But ... he's a great dog, but he's still a dog.

Putting my cat to sleep and the other things we did at the end of his life before we knew it had to end I think ran me $2500. I'd guess that's about where my personal limit is, maybe a little higher (since we put him to sleep because there was no chance of additional surgery fixing things but I would have done the surgery if it would have helped.)
Dec. 15th, 2012 02:30 pm (UTC)
We don't have pet insurance for either of our cats, but to give you an idea of the cost of having Brucey's issue diagnosed, dealing with the complications from the diagnosis and the meds, last week cost us $6000.

Bean cost us about the same over the last few months he was with us? At one point when we were getting his tumour diagnosed, each trip to the specialist was a minimum of $2K. Then getting his diabetes diagnosed and under control, getting his heart looked at by a cardiologist and properly diagnosed. He was an expensive cat, we often referred to him as "our little trip to Europe", but he was worth it.

The final costs for burial/cremation, etc. was about $800, but we had a vet come to us so it was about twice what it would have been had we taken the cat in.

I'd set aside at least $5000 for emergency care. I put $25 away every paycheque into a bucket. It adds up eventually.
Dec. 15th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
We have 4 dogs, and I do not have pet insurance. I do have about 5K in a savings that is "dedicated" to vet bills, but so far we have been very fortunate and only needed regular visits and checkups.
Dec. 15th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
So far, our vet expenses have topped out at about $2000 in a year (for our cat), for an eye issue that took a few tries (and minor surgery) to fix up.

We just hit up the emergency fund and general money for the cost — it helped that the cost was spread out over several visits and medication refills.
Dec. 15th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
I've had major issues with both my pets. My dog had to have surgery that ran 2000, I think. And my cat fell from the balcony, and that was about 4500 once all her surgeries were done.

I've got pet insurance, though. It doesn't help with the normal costs, really. But it was a big help when they had major stuff happen. I still had to pay the bill, but I eventually got back 1/2 or more. Pet insurance is mostly helpful if your pet get cancer or some other longer-term treatment.

Hope this helps.
Dec. 15th, 2012 04:45 pm (UTC)
I don't have pet insurance either.

Our beloved rescue dog (ie: he was free) encountered a really bad eye problem a few years ago. Glaucoma, detached retina, cataracts. He had emergency eye surgery to the tune of $2500 .... Of course, we didn't have that kind of money saved up, so we put it on a credit card. That added to the debt we already had, and it took years to get it all paid off.

I guess, it's hard to know exactly what things will cost, and exactly what might go wrong. :(
Dec. 15th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
I think I spent $2-3k (which I didn't really have) on my cat's oncology and related stuff. This was about ten years ago.

Every pet insurance plan I've seen has a cap-to-premium ratio that's just insulting. The worst one I saw was $100/month with a $1000/year benefit cap. So I suspect they're all worthless, but if there was one that wasn't, I'd consider it.

Dec. 15th, 2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
$100/month with a $1000/year benefit? Dammit now I want to go into the pet insurance business!
Dec. 15th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
We don't have pet insurance for either of our dogs or our cat. We pretty much do their 'basic maintenance' each year and have decided that we have a situational spending max of up to $2500 depending on which pet it is and what is wrong with them. We might be willing to spend more to say, fix a broken leg, but we're not willing to put an animal through major amounts of suffering for a small chance to be able to return to a normal, pain-free life. In the case of something like cancer, we'd be most likely to allow the disease to run it's course rather than try to treat or cure it.
Dec. 16th, 2012 12:26 am (UTC)
1) I don't have pet insurance. It's rarely worth the cost unless you have a show dog on whom you do a lot of preventative maintenance (teeth cleaning, special scans and tests for congenital problems, etc) you are wiling to do a $10,000 procedure instead of have to put them down. In fact the only person I know who has health insurance for their pet breeds show poodles and has a dedicated neurologist for one of his dogs that has some issues. Not joking. Danny and I have a limit that is much less than that at which we have to say, this procedure may extend my pet's life for a few months or years, but is it a) worth the cost and b) worth the pet's suffering during recovery? In the majority of cases, the answer is no. We consider our dogs a part of our family, but we do not consider them on the same par as a human being when it comes to health care.

2) We have had several bouts of "emergency" pet care over the past year. Raisin got a UTI and had blood in her urine ($300). Then she got a kidney infection ($400). They both got vaccinations and heart worm meds (absolutely outrageous, $580). Olly had an allergic reaction to said vaccinations ($500). Basically anytime you go to an emergency vet you're going to get charged at least $100 just to see the vet on off hours, plus another several hundred depending on what tests/treatment you and they decide is necessary. Obviously if it's something that can wait until your normal vet hours you can considerably reduce the price, but sometimes (like when Raisin literally couldn't pee, or when Olly's face was swelling up from his allergic reaction), you have to do what you have to do.

In past years, we've had other random non-emergency expenses. Sedated teeth cleaning runs us nearly $300 for both dogs. The biggest one we've had was when Olly was 9 months old: he needed 11 puppy teeth extracted because his adult teeth didn't push them out and they didn't fall out on their own. That was $900. I looked at him and said, "It's a little early in your life to be getting this close to the price limit, dude."

It all comes down to what you and your family decide is your limit on what you'll pay to "repair" the dog. You should have at least that much in your emergency fund or be able to get it pretty quickly in case that repair is an emergency. The good news is that most vets are very good about laying out multiple options with their associated costs and give you enough information to make a good decision. If your vet doesn't, find a new one.

On average, you will lose money on insurance because if you didn't, the insurance company wouldn't stay in business for long. You're paying a price to shift the risk of a pet's potential health problems onto the insurance company. Most of the insurances don't even cover some of the more costly procedures and don't cover 100% of preventative visits. If you have a good emergency fund and plan ahead for annual things like teeth cleaning and vaccinations, there's just no need to pay for insurance for the family pet. YMMV.
Dec. 16th, 2012 02:10 am (UTC)

I had a dog who needed emergency vet care (as in shipped out of town), blood transfusions, etc. etc. The bills ended up about $4,000.

Though I do have an aunt whose dog needed so many tests and things she ended up with $10,000 of bills. Crazy...

I don't know where the $100,000 idea comes from. Chemotherapy? Somehow I doubt the pet insurance company would pay it.
Dec. 16th, 2012 02:20 am (UTC)
Chessie's surgeries for her fibrosarcoma, her diagnosis, treatment, echocardiogram, and fancy oncologist came to around $4000. We would have paid four times as much, if we had to.

We need to get Sophie insured. Chess wasn't because she was a rescue and we didn't have an exact birth date, but I think rules about that have relaxed.
Dec. 16th, 2012 02:57 am (UTC)
we do not have pet insurance for Kade.

His routine, year-to-year care (vaccinations, check ups, minor injuries like a broken nail, a skin infection, etc.) runs us about $200 - 300 a year.

He's currently 8 years old and he's had two major costs-
The first, he had a severe accident where a stick went into his rib cage while he was running at 25 mph, requiring immediate surgery. This cost us $1500.

The second, he developed an eye infection that wouldn't clear up after several bouts of antibiotics, that eventually required surgery. Another $1500.

Brian chimed in that he's had three dogs before Kade, and during the span of their lives (~ 10 years), they each suffered one major accident that resulted in about $2000 worth of medical bills):
"Ruff was hit by a car, Bo fell down the stairs during a thunderstorm after hip problems, and Kaiser had end of life care issues."

End of life care, though, runs quite a lot. When it involves hip care, arthritis, loss of vision/hearing, bladder issues, then it ran us $2000 in Kaiser's last year of life.
Dec. 16th, 2012 06:27 am (UTC)
We do not have pet insurance for our (dearly, dearly) loved cats. My parents have never had it for any of theirs, nor my sister for hers.

In part, this is because if anything came up that would require medical costs beyond what I could pay out of pocket, I would seriously question whether the procedure was such that it would sufficiently prolong and improve the cat's quality of life to make it worthwhile. This is because I mostly think in terms of end-of-life illnesses (cancer, kidney failure, etc.), and not accidents, e.g., being hit by a car. Our cats are strictly indoor cats and so the chances of the latter happening are very low, though of course if it did, and reconstructive surgery held out a high chance of a long and happy post-surgery life, I'd do it, and would kick myself for not having prepared better.
Dec. 16th, 2012 09:48 am (UTC)
After having several dogs, they are less likely to have problems if they are fixed and don't have a tendency to eat stuff. (The one dog I had as a child that got hit by car was killed, so there was no helping him. I lived on a well-traveled road, though, where the speed limits are higher.) The biggest problem for outdoor dogs seems to be worms. I think with Judy, y'all will have to be prepared to put her to sleep if she gets to a point where treatment won't improve her quality of life. I've had to do that with some elderly dogs, and it's certainly hard. But seeing them suffer was hard, too.

We had to drop about $1500 on a cat earlier this year, though, b/c he had a large growth off his liver (turned out to be benign, thankfully) and also needed a blood transfusion, which he had to go to the overnight emergency vet for. Anytime there is surgery involved, I think it's gonna run at least $500-$1k, at the minimum. I've never had pet insurance though, so I don't know if there's any that's not useless. Pet costs are getting to be more like human medicine, though.
Dec. 18th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
Our biggest expense with Pickle was when she had to have a tumor removed from her shoulder. That was $1800, but also in NY, so it would probably be closer to $1400 in a normal part of the country. I'm SHOCKED at how inexpensive it is to go to the vet around here. A checkup and consultation with the vet here was a mere fifty bucks, and putting her to sleep cost slightly less than two hundred. I think anything over five grand would probably be too high in medical costs. I mean, if I had it, I would spend all the money in the world on my pet. But really, if something so drastic is required, are they going to have a good quality of life? We had a dog when I was a kid that had a tumor in his lower jaw. My mother took him out to Long Island for a surgery that would remove the first two inches of his jaw. At the time it seemed drastic, but really, that was all that was wrong with him and he had a lot of happy and healthy years after that. Totally worth it.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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