When Do I Go To The Vet?
Red was sick today, he had severe diarrhea in the middle of the night for the second night in a row and I had to decide whether or not to take him to the vet. It is no longer a simple decision, this idea of going to the vet. Veterinary care has improved tremendously with new technologies and medicines, and the cost of veterinary care has skyrocketed as well.
According to the American Pet Products Association, the cost of veterinary care has risen 47 per cent for dogs and more than 80 per cent for cats in the past decade, and the American Veterinary Association cautions that 23 million pets live in households that are below the poverty line. This means that many animals do not get the veterinary care they deserve, and too many animal lovers go deeply into debt to care for them.
Health care for animals has been corporatized, just as health care for people is.
A few weeks ago, Fate was limping and we went to the vet for an examination. The care was excellent, profession and thorough, and tests could find nothing wrong. The treatment, which included X-rays and some pain killers, cost more than $400. I wonder if I will take Fate to the vet the next time she comes up limping, or let her limp for a couple of days.
I love my vet and the people who work there, they have helped us in so many ways and kept our animals healthy. But we live on a tight budget, and we have a lot of animals. We just can't afford to blow our budget.
When Red got sick yesterday, I have to admit I initially decided not to bring him in for an examination. Like Fate, I wanted to give him a couple of days to get well, which dogs often do, especially border collies. I didn't want to spend another $400 when I knew the problem would likely resolve itself. Dogs eat stuff on a farm, get sick, get over it. Mostly.
I believe my vet to be very honest, they are responsive, thorough and candid. I did take a stool sample and bring it in, and Cassandra, a vet tech I trust completely, and who knows Red well, suggested I bring him in for a look. She was concerned about dehydration, and we both knew that would be a much nastier process and much bigger bill. Red is older, and he looked very uncomfortable.
I knew she was right in this case. Cassandra convinced me to bring Red in and I knew her only concern was his health, she has been giving him laser and massage treatments for months.
I have a close relationship with the people at my vet, they sensed my unease – this is not something I ever used to have to think about, but I decided not to raise it unless I saw things were spiraling.
In a rationale familiar to so many of you, I thought about how dear Red is, how much I wanted him to be well, so I decided to let the process proceed. I just want him to be better, he is dear to me and many others.
The last thing I ever want is to deny Red medical treatment for money, the next to last thing I never want is to ever be in debt again.
I know the history of dogs, and I know for most of their history, few of them ever saw a vet at all. People just didn't spent a lot of money on animals. When I grew up, and dogs got sick, they either got well or were put down. Nobody ever spent a lot of money at a vet, it was unthinkable for a pet. I know farmers can't afford big vet bills, when their animals get sick, they often go down.
Dr. Roosevelt examined Red and I didn't need to mention my concern about the cost, she did a brief and thorough exam and suggested we go slowly and cautiously, she gave me some antibiotics for Red and said we should hold off on any further treatment until we saw how he was tomorrow. The bill was under $100, something I could handle, but I knew many of my neighbors would find it a strain.
I don't like having to think about money when it comes to our animals, but I also live in the real world, and I have to. Between Red, Fate, our pony and dying sheep, we spent well over $1,000 on veterinary care this month. We managed it, but we felt it.
In the future, I will discuss this issue openly with my vets and try to honest, rather than embarrassed or hesitant about it. I remember going through this when Minnie's leg was amputated, and it cost us nearly $2,000. We could not afford it, and I am not sure to this day that we should have done it.
I don't know a real farmer anywhere who would spent $2,000 on a barn cat.
I have interviewed people who spent tens of thousands of dollars on their dogs and cat and go deeply into debt, and I have often felt they tend to equate how much they spend with how much they love their animals.
That is manipulative and unhealthy, consciously or not. I know my vets to be ethical and honest, but I'm not sure I trust the corporate system behind them.
I think we need to be aware of our limits and open about them. I can talk to my vet about this, and figure out in advance what I can do and what I can't do, considering my health as well as the dogs.
I have written often about the limits of animal love, and it is something I deal with in my own life often. I believe in thoughtfulness, not emotionalizing and reflexive decisions.
Fortunately I have not been pressed to the limit, but I want to be prepared in case that should happen. A friend spent $18,000 on several kidney operations for her cat. It is her business, but I am certain I would not do that, not even for Red. It seems over-the-top and unethical to me in a world where so many people have no health care at all. As much as I love Red, I hope to never forget he is a dog, and I have a life to maintain and protect.
And I am one of the lucky ones, I write about dogs and think about this often and earn money with my writing. But it is not discussed nearly as often as it should be.
I also know many of my neighbors go to any lengths now to avoid going to any vet. They say they used to go often, but just can' afford it any more. That is a serious problem for animals.
I have written extensively about animal lovers and animal illness, and I know the system can greatly exploit the emotional attachment people have to their animals. Ethical vets don't do that, but the costs of veterinary health care, like human health care, has exploded. Poor people suffer, for sure, but the animals of poor people suffer more. When you think of your dog as your child and best friend, the moral equations involving treatment become cloudy.
Red is resting comfortably, and I will find out tonight if his diarrhea is under control or not. I hope so, I need the rest. If not, I will decide what to do in the morning.
But I realized today this is a subject that is on my mind often, but have rarely spoken about, so I'm glad I did write about it. More to come.