Evan Davis and Justin Webb took to Radio 4 in early February to ask a difficult question: When it comes to life-saving veterinary treatment, how much is too much?
This question is always an uncomfortable one to answer, but it is an important one. Unless you’ve got unlimited funds at your disposal, the limit might be dictated by your financial status. While owners have been known to take out credit cards, sell belongings and even re-mortgage their homes in order to pay for huge vet bills, not everyone has access to this extra financial flexibility.
There is no NHS for pets; if an animal needs treatment the government isn’t going to help. While some charities will help low-income families to cover the cost of veterinary attention, it usually comes down to the owner or their insurer to foot the bill. When you buy your pet, you might spend anything up to £10,000 depending on the species and breed, forgetting that the cost of veterinary treatment can also vary way above and beyond the pet’s original value.
Of course, the literal monetary value of your pet probably won’t have any bearing on how far you’re willing to go to save their lives. Whether you paid thousands for your pet or got them for free, you can’t put a cash price on your feelings.
There’s a lot in the press about the fact that vet fees are increasing, and this is undeniable. Part of the reason is that the treatments available have evolved and improved at such a high speed. Whereas even just five years ago a cancer diagnosis would have been a death sentence, there are now a huge variety of possible treatments to manage and even cure this condition. The same goes for various neurological conditions and physical injuries. As owners, we want to do whatever we can to keep our pets in our lives, so the availability of these treatments and medications is obviously wonderful, but like everything they come at a price, and for some this price is prohibitive.
As a dog owner myself, I find it very difficult to answer this question myself. Buffy is 12 now, and with age comes complications like arthritis, lipomas and tummy upsets. Luckily Buffy is insured, so for the majority of treatments we shouldn’t have to worry, but all the same it’s heartbreaking to try and assign a price limit on my dog’s life.
Of course it’s not just a case of money. It seems that there are surgical or medicinal solutions to all possible issues your pets might suffer, but just because they can be treated, doesn’t mean they should. There comes a point where you as an owner will have to assess your pet’s quality of life against your desire to prolong their life. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this, but you know your pet better than anyone else and it’s ultimately your decision.
Having a pet in your life is a huge privilege and as owners we owe it to them to have their best interests at heart, whatever that entails. If you don’t want your finances to dictate which medical procedures you can give them, insurance is a very wise investment.