DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for always having a wonderfully informative and impeccably honest column about our pets! I wish there were more vets with your mindset -- unfortunately, that has not been my experience.
Over the years, there have been times when I've had to let my pet go without a suggested treatment. My nearby vet charges $38 just to stop in and say "hello." I once went in to have nails clipped ($10), and I walked out because the "hello" charge was four times the cost -- it would have cost close to $50.
In another incident with the same vet, I was there for a basic shot. The dog (a longhaired minidachshund) had a small lump/cyst on his back about the size of a quarter. The quoted price to operate was close to $800. I just couldn't do it. About a year later at another visit, I was taken care of by the vet who owned the business. After taking care of an ear problem, the vet was horrified by the size of the cyst, which was the size of a tangerine. I explained that I just couldn't afford the $800. He looked sincerely dismayed and displeased at the quoted amount. He said he could do it for $350. He agreed to $150 down and an installment plan.
A quote for Willie's teeth cleaning and extraction was $850. Shocked, I went home and called five other vet places in the nearby town, and the prices ranged from $450 to $850 for identical work. In my complaining to other seniors, everyone suggested I try All Creatures, a clinic about 20 miles away from me. My friends said it provides good care, is inexpensive and is up on the latest information. So I called, describing yet again the potential needs for his teeth. The girl quoted $65 for everything (anesthesia, checkup before and $5 for the meds after)! I was certain that she didn't understand me; I thought $65 for each tooth -- no, it was for everything. I paid in full immediately -- no long-term debt.
A few years later, when my beloved Willie got Cushing's disease, the vet was obliged to tell me it was time to let him go. He was so kind during my torrent of tears. He said, "Why don't I let you two have a little time together? I'll be back." It was invaluable to the healing process! -- V.G.
DEAR V.G.: Your letter will be appreciated by many readers and will alert veterinarians to the serious problem of increasing veterinary service costs, inconsistent charges for treatments and animals in need not receiving appropriate professional care because the owners are financially challenged.
My advice to readers who are in financial difficulties is to do what you did -- shop around and get price quotes in writing. If possible, ask for referrals from pet owners and your local humane society/animal shelter.
There are no simple solutions to the rising cost problem, as I emphasize in my new book, "Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health," where I stress the importance of good nutrition, preventive dental care (especially for smaller dog breeds) and annual veterinary checkups -- which do not need to mean more vaccinations and costly tests. When checkups become too costly, animals suffer the consequences by not being taken in until they are seriously ill, which means greater animal suffering and financial expense.
FINDING A HOLISTIC VETERINARIAN
The best medicine is prevention, and a holistic, integrative approach to companion animal health calls for a revision of vaccination protocols, of feeding highly processed commercial pet foods and of overmedicating -- especially with so-called preventive medications like those sold to keep fleas and ticks at bay. There are effective -- and cheaper -- alternatives available that pose far less risk to animals' health and to the environment.
For further information, contact a holistic veterinarian in your area. A searchable list can be found at www.holisticvetlist.com. Veterinarians wishing to learn more are encouraged to become members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at www.ahvma.org.
U.S. PET SPENDING TOPS $50 BILLION FOR FIRST TIME
Americans spent a record $50.96 billion on pets in 2011, according to the American Pet Products Association. Pet services spending increased the most, from $3.51 billion in 2010 to $3.79 billion in 2011, a nearly 8 percent escalation. The veterinary care category saw a modest bump, from $13.01 billion in 2010 to $13.41 billion in 2011, though that number includes money spent on pet insurance, which totaled approximately $450 million.
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Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)