When my veterinarian told me it would cost $800 to have my dog Max's teeth cleaned, I almost fell over.
"Isn't that a little steep?" I gasped.
"We have to remove a few of them, and we'll have to put him under," the vet explained. "Plus he's older, so there are some risks involved with putting an older dog under anesthesia."
Due to Max's age, (and the hefty price), we decided to let our dog suffer through stinky breath rather than shell out the dough. (In my defense, the vet said he didn't think Max was in pain.)
So I posted on Facebook, "I think $500 is my pet spending limit!" And then the responses flooded in.
"You can't put a dollar value on it Jen," wrote Anna Neumann Voeller. "I just paid $500 on just getting 'check ups' for my 2 cats. It was ridiculously high and I think we got ripped off, but they're worth it."
"We spent $900 last year for surgery," said Jay Rosicky. "Love my dog, but can't afford it. Wouldn't do it again."
But people are doing it -- again and again. According to the American Pet Products Association, $47.7 billion will be spent on our pets in 2010.
"Five years ago we spent $3,000 on our 10-year-old lab who had a brain tumor -- only to have her put down 2 weeks later," said Karen Bennett Peck.
"To most pet owners, their pets are like their children," says Tracy Ahrens, author of "Raising our Furry Children" (slated for release July 2011). "Some people cannot afford extensive veterinary care, but some veterinary teaching institutions offer financial assistance to pet owners through charitable programs. Always ask if that is available."
One helpful source, Ahrens suggests, is a credit card called Care Credit, which can be used to pay for veterinary care. And then there's always pet insurance.
"You can find pet health insurance information through a veterinary office, pet-related magazines and doing a general search online," says Ahrens. "Monthly premiums range from $10 to $100, with annual deductibles of $50 to $500 and annual or lifetime maximums of $1,000 to $14,000."
But even if you have insurance, just like humans, you can be dropped if you have too many health issues. Steve Levitas' insurance was canceled after needing too many procedures for his Labrador.
"Two shoulders and a hip before he was three," he wrote. Ten thousand dollars later, Steve's dog is doing just fine. "We call him 'the lemon', but he's 10 now and still kicking like the energizer bunny."
TEN GRAND? I'm starting to feel like a real jerk for not paying $800 on Max's teeth.
"For me, it's not about the cost, it's about what kind of condition it is," wrote Win Reis. "If it's something from which he's expected to make a full recovery then I'm likely to spend it."
But sometimes you don't know your pet's chances of survival until you do some digging.
"We spent nearly $2,000 on our cat Truffle when he developed lung cancer," said Elizabeth Johnson of Chicago. "He died within days of his biopsy. We had the best intentions but we only prolonged his suffering. I wouldn't do it again."
And we all know those people who keep a sick pet alive way too long because they refuse to let them go.
"End of life issues are very personal, and everyone is different in what they feel is best for their pet, themselves, and their family," says Dr. Tamra Rahn of Bramer Animal Hospital in Evanston. "After providing the information to make an informed decision, I try ultimately to support the owner's choice."
Here are five tips from our experts on keeping tabs on your pet's health.
Feed your pets high-quality food. Even scraps from the table can be better than some of the brands on the shelves. Check for dyes and chemicals whenever possible.
Take your pets to see a veterinarian. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that pets have an examination twice a year.
Have your pet spayed or neutered. Consult with veterinarians and shelters about low-cost options in your area.
Provide your pets with adequate exercise and mental stimulation.
Purchase pet health insurance. But be sure to do the research to get the best rates.
And regardless of your spending limit, know that your pet's best medicine is taking the preventative route.
"Our pet is part of our family," wrote Corrin Foster. "By bringing him into our family we took on the responsibility of providing for him. I've been unemployed for nine months, but there is not limit. Different things are a priority to different people."
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