Dear Liz: Due to lack of work over the last few years, I finally began my Social Security benefits this year. I can afford only catastrophic health insurance, so I hardly ever see a doctor anymore.
So here’s the problem: A pet! I have had my cat Jackie for nearly 14 years. Jackie has a growth on her neck that has been growing since last fall. Last week, I took her into a pet clinic that offered free first visits. Their suggestion was to remove it and have it tested for cancer. The cost was $450 just to remove it, with another $150 to have it tested. Ouch! If it is cancer, I can’t afford the treatment.
The vet says Jackie seems remarkably healthy and could live another five or six years. Do I spend that extra money for a possible negative assessment of something I can’t afford to cure, or do I just let her live out her life with the growth continuing? I feel like I am not being a good parent.
Answer: A pet may feel like a family member, but your cat is not your child. Although most parents would willingly bankrupt themselves to save a child’s life, you don’t face a similar obligation to extend a pet’s life.
You do have an obligation to make sure a pet doesn’t suffer, and you may have more options for treatment than you think. Discuss your situation with the vet who assessed Jackie to see if more affordable diagnostic and treatment options are available. If you’re willing and able, your vet may consider allowing you to work off a bill by cleaning kennels or answering phones, according to Humane Society of the United States.
If not, contact your local animal shelter to see if it can recommend a veterinarian willing to discount his or her services. There are also a number of national and local organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. You can find a list at the Humane Society’s website.
If you get another pet down the road, consider buying a health insurance policy for the animal. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates a typical policy for a cat would cost about $175 a year, although premiums vary based on deductibles and what the policy covers. Veterinary costs have spiraled to the point where these policies can provide real protection against catastrophic bills.