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Archive for Sunday, June 8, 2008

Paying a price for old pets

Animal friends living longer, but not for cheap

Gary Jankowski, of Washington, says he spent about $15,000 on two veterinary operations. He carries his dachshund Leah downstairs to avoid further injury. The American Veterinary Medical Association found that owners spent $24.5 billion on veterinary medicine in 2006, more than double what they paid 10 years earlier.

Gary Jankowski, of Washington, says he spent about $15,000 on two veterinary operations. He carries his dachshund Leah downstairs to avoid further injury. The American Veterinary Medical Association found that owners spent $24.5 billion on veterinary medicine in 2006, more than double what they paid 10 years earlier.

June 8, 2008

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Pennye Jones-Napier, left, and Julie Paez, here with Bodhi, Zorra and Tumo, own the Big Bad Woof store in Takoma Park, Md. Pet owners spent $9.8 billion on supplies and medicines last year, an industry group says.

Pennye Jones-Napier, left, and Julie Paez, here with Bodhi, Zorra and Tumo, own the Big Bad Woof store in Takoma Park, Md. Pet owners spent $9.8 billion on supplies and medicines last year, an industry group says.

With three cats, two dogs, guinea pigs and a bearded dragon, Susan Davis has figures she's spent $10,000 during the past five years on visits to the veterinarian and on medications.

Throw in vitamins, organic pet food and other items intended to promote a healthy lifestyle for her pets, and she's probably spent twice that.

"I try not to look at my credit card bills very often," she said. "My strategy is denial. There's vacations I might have taken, but I thought, 'Wow, there's not so much money these days. I wonder where it's going.'"

Here's where some of it went:

¢ More than $1,000 to have one dog's stomach pumped after the dog discovered, and quickly devoured, a pound and a half of raisins, which are toxic to dogs.

¢ $400 each time her arthritic Labrador retriever sees a specialist in Pennsylvania.

¢ More than $1,500 to treat her son's bearded dragon for a mysterious ailment that required a hospital stay.

"Oh, my gosh, I was horrified," she said.

Health care expenses are rising, not only for humans but also for their pets.

Affording Fido

According to the 2007-08 National Pet Owners Survey, 63 percent of U.S. households - 71.1 million homes - include a pet. Many of the pet owners are baby boomers no longer burdened with the cost of raising children and are willing to use whatever disposable income they have to increase the quality of life of their furry, or scaly, companions.

"As we become a more pet-friendly environment, people want to take care of their pets more," said Jerrold Boone, a veterinarian at Adams Morgan Animal Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Veterinarians and financial planners say that anyone thinking of buying or adopting a pet should consider the potential costs beforehand, especially if they want purebred dogs, which tend to have more health problems than mixed breeds.

"It's not unusual to have bills over $1,000, and that can have a major impact when people are not ready for that," said Anna Worth, a veterinarian and president of the American Animal Hospital Association. "Not only do you need to feed and house and water this wonderful new pet in your family, but you have to figure out how much it's going to cost to do preventative care each year. And what if something major happens?"

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet owners spent $10.1 billion on veterinary care and $9.8 billion on supplies and over-the-counter medicines last year. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that owners spent $24.5 billion on veterinary medicine in 2006, more than double what they paid 10 years earlier.

Kitty CAT scans?

One reason for the higher costs is not altogether a bad one. It used to be that a seriously sick animal would have to be euthanized. Now, MRIs, ultrasounds and CAT scans are regularly used to detect illnesses in pets.

Heart surgery, kidney transplants, laser surgery and even chemotherapy are among the many viable options. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture are also available. And there are more veterinary specialists to handle complicated conditions. With that expertise, however, comes a higher price tag.

"Certainly we have seen an increasing level of sophistication in the last five or 10 years. As we see the bond between pet owners and their pets grow, they are demanding more sophistication," said Ron DeHaven, an officer of the AVMA. "It rivals human medicine."

Longevity breeds problems. As is the case with humans, pets' bodies wear out the older they get. And they're not just experiencing the typical aches and pains of old age. They are also developing chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.

Pennye Jones-Napier, of Washington, lost her dog Elijah Blue, an Akita husky shepherd mix, to lupus and anal cancer last year. The dog was not a candidate for chemotherapy, so Jones-Napier decided on surgery to remove the tumor. She chose a surgeon in New York renowned for the procedure.

Elijah Blue initially seemed to respond well, but weeks later, he fell ill again. The dog had a second surgery at a Washington hospital but died a month later at the age of 8.

Jones-Napier, co-owner of the pet-supply store Big Bad Woof, said she did not regret the first surgery. She is not so sure about the second.

"I thought he might be able to beat it," she said. "In hindsight, I might not do it again. It took a terrible toll on him."

It also took a toll on her finances. All told, Jones-Napier spent about $14,000 for both surgeries plus food supplements. She had enough cash for the first procedure.

Not so for the second.

"That one really hurt," she said. "I had worked really hard to pay off my credit cards."

Often pet owners are faced with a difficult dilemma: Spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on a treatment that may or may not work, that may or may not make the animal suffer more, or let go?

Pet insurance

To manage pet costs, Mark Collar, chief executive of Collar Financial Strategies in Illinois, suggests stashing at least $50 a month in a U.S. government bond or a fund that invests in Treasurys. Or you can simply set money aside in a savings account, other planners and vets said.

Another option is to pay for pet health insurance. Policies vary in price but typically cost about $30 to $50 a month.

Fewer than 4 percent of American pets are insured, according to a study released last year by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. But the industry is growing, with more than two dozen companies offering plans.

The industry sold $230 million in policies in 2006, according to Consumer Reports.

Vets and financial planners warn pet owners to be wary of policies. Many policies have restrictions, such as not insuring older animals or breeds that are prone to certain ailments.

There is also plenty you can do to keep your pet from getting seriously ill. The most important thing, Boone and other vets said, is to take your pet in for regular checkups, preferably twice a year.

Comments

yoornotmee 5 years, 8 months ago

"Blatant racism? HA HA!"Yes. People are often fearful of my dog because of his breed. Is this any different than being fearful of a black man because he's black? For all you know, that black man might be a wonderful kindergarten teacher, and my dog might be a wonderful therapy dog. Racism and breedism are the exact same - judgment of an entire group based on an ignorant, pre-existing idea....I'm not sure if "breedism" is a legit word, but it works so I'm just going with it.

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gr 5 years, 10 months ago

"To say that one suffers at the expense of another is a logical flaw."One must admit that whatever one spends on one area, the other area doesn't get as much as it could.A question to consider is, if you are in debt, would you go further in debt for a pet, especially if it only had a few years left. Would there be a limit to how much you would go in debt and for what time extension of your pet's life? Also, just because someone else is wasting money (Government, your neighbor), is it responsible for you to do it? The government is wasting your money and can always steal more from you. Your neighbor may be out of debt and is in the position to waste money on his pets.

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bastet 5 years, 10 months ago

I think you will fnd that the compassionate people who spend money on their pets are also people who donate to other worthy causes including world hunger. To say that one suffers at the expense of another is a logical flaw. It's also self-righteous and inhumane.

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disgustedagain 5 years, 10 months ago

confrontation is probably living up to his screen name out of boredom or piles. whatever. comparing food for starving children and taking responsible care of your pets is comparing apples and oranges.

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person184 5 years, 10 months ago

I wonder if Confrontation has sponsored an orphanage or something.

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kerplunkr 5 years, 10 months ago

Confrontation (Anonymous) says:"We have children starving in this country and people waste this kind of money on pets. Really screwed up priorities."We have starving children in this country and our government wastes money on a war we can't win. Billions of dollars each year in fact. So, what's worse ... Americans spending money on their pets who with every year grow to be more special companions? Or Americans spending money to wage war?Maybe if the government would use my tax money to help the people in this country I wouldn't have to feel guilty about providing the care I promised to my furry friends when I adopted them, eh Confrontation? Better yet, maybe its best I let them get sick and spread disease to other animals and humans. Yes, that's the answer. You better thrown down and stop all of your hobbies now because your money should be going to starving children. I guess that life-size Millienium Falcon will have to sit in your garage for awhile.

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Confrontation 5 years, 10 months ago

Such a mature piece of fruit. People wasting money on pets definitely has something to do with not spending money more on worthwhile causes. I'm not surprised you can't see the connection, especially with your head so far up your ***.

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pomegranate 5 years, 10 months ago

confrontation,Oh you "holier-than-thou" piece of doo-doo. One thing has nothing to do with the other. People's pets are part of their family. You take care of your family to the best of your ability. I have one dog and one cat and I love them dearly. I also give food items to the food pantry and donate to the salvation army, and my church.just what are "your" credentials, confrondoo-doo?

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Confrontation 5 years, 10 months ago

We have children starving in this country and people waste this kind of money on pets. Really screwed up priorities.

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themiddlechild 5 years, 10 months ago

Don't go around blaming pit bulls for everything; that's no different than blatant racism.-----------------------Blatant racism? HA HA!

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yoornotmee 5 years, 10 months ago

Woah, I have a pit bull, a husky, a rottweiler and two cats and none of them cause injury to each other. Actually the pit bull often breaks up dog fights by restraining the attacking dog until a human comes to take over the situation. He has also stopped a stray dog from attacking me by getting between us and pinning the stray down (without injuring the other dog). I have 6 nieces and nephews under the age of 4 and he lets them pull his tail and poke his eyes and is great with them. Don't go around blaming pit bulls for everything; that's no different than blatant racism.

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themiddlechild 5 years, 10 months ago

but I thought, 'Wow, there's not so much money these days. I wonder where it's going.'"---------------------------My friend who has 13 dogs and 2 cats would said the same thing each month on how she doesn't have money left. But she won't accept the fact that her pit-bulls cause serious injuries to other dogs might be one reason why her money is disappering so fast.

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bearded_gnome 5 years, 10 months ago

There is also plenty you can do to keep your pet from getting seriously ill. The most important thing, Boone and other vets said, is to take your pet infor regular checkups, preferably twice a year.New KU 2008 National Champions Watch - Limited Edition - Shop Now!--can't believe this article ommitted:flea, tick, and heartworm prevention!

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