Six months of rent money will be sucked out of your bank account if your dog develops a very common knee injury. If you’re looking to use new stem-cell therapy to aid your ailing kitten, that will cost you a couple of years of car payments. The surprising part? Pet owners are more than willing.

While people are still facing financial losses, being laid off and limiting expenses, the pet population is faring rather well.

As a country, we spend $45 billion a year on our animals and that number is expected to rise by 5 percent this year, according to Fast Company magazine.

The reason? One explanation may be the new and expensive medical treatments available at animal hospitals:

  • Interventional Radiology circumvents the need for surgery by using catheters and stents in a minimally invasive procedure. “You’re closing something that ought to be open or you’re opening something that ought to be closed,” said Dr. John Berg, a small animal surgeon at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, a Tufts veterinary school teaching hospital in North Grafton. But it’s not necessarily cheaper than surgery. You can pay up to $2,500 for the implant, anesthesia, the procedure itself and lab work.
  • Dialysis, which can cost up to $20,000, is another popular new treatment. When an animal’s kidneys aren’t working, a machine does the job for them. Armelle De Laforcade, part of the Emergency and Critical Care Team at Fosters said the hospital dialyzes about 25 pets a year, often because the animal has ingested a toxin.
  • Mood-altering drugs are now available for dogs with conditions such as separation anxiety. Berg said they are certainly helpful in certain situations, but that “the danger is that the drugs could get overused.”
  • Stem-cell therapy, not yet approved for human use, is now available for small animals. Vet-stem, the company that pioneered the procedure, has had over 1,000 vets take their online certification course since January, according an article in Time, which places the total cost between $2,000 and $4,000. Cells taken from the pet’s fat are injected into the site of an injury, repairing it much faster than surgery would.

But these new procedures aren’t the only expensive treatments on the market. Knee injuries in dogs are very common and cost $3,000 to fix with surgery.

Orthopedic surgery for horses can run over $100,000 while cancer in dogs and cats can cost up to $10,000 to treat.

Paying for pets is undoubtedly a burden, but it’s one many are happy to carry for the animals they love. So, how can PEOPLE deal with these often unforeseen expenses?

“They’re not just going to die of old age. Your pet will get sick,” said Berg. He recommends saving about $5,000 for when that time comes. He said that pet insurance will only pay off in the event of catastrophic illness and that saving is the better choice.

De Laforcade disagrees. “In general pet insurance seems like a good idea,” she said, “as it will offset some of the cost for something like a broken leg.”

According to Berg, only about three to five percent of his patients have pet insurance.

But they also see owners who can afford to treat a pet, but don’t. Said De Laforcade, “Occasionally we see people who can afford the care but choose not to pursue it, and if the pet has a bad disease that is very much understandable. If the pet is very fixable it is harder for us to deal with. In these cases sometimes we have no choice, and sometimes someone will adopt the pet and give it the care it needs.”

Said Berg, “Sometimes people shouldn’t get animals. They should have expectation that at some point they’re going to pay veterinary bills.” He added that for most people, veterinary care is very affordable.

Despite the fact that the exact same machines and treatments are used on humans, medical care for animals is much cheaper. “If you want to know how much medical care costs,” said Berg, “look at veterinary medicine.”

According to Berg, medicine for humans is jacked up because of forces not present in animal medicine. These include malpractice lawsuits, bureaucracy and insurance.

But expensive or not, most owners are willing to pay to keep their pets healthy. “I think if there’s an ‘oh wow’ factor to that, it’s how much people care for their animals,” Berg said. “If people didn’t care so much, this hospital simply wouldn’t exist.”

About The Author

Erica J. Marcus is a Blast Contributing Editor

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