I may be treading into some very controversial territory, but I think this is super important to talk about. If you are in debt, struggle budgeting or are not a millionaire, this is specifically for you (I am also included in this category). I’m talking about “pet worth,” strictly from a financial point-of-view.
Our pets become family and oftentimes, we go into debt taking care of them. I have seen this over and over in my profession as a veterinarian. I have clients who make comments about not being able to keep their electricity on if they pursue emergency surgery, and then they do the surgery. Is that wrong? I believe debt is wrong. My husband and I are on the same page with this, and when it comes to finances, debt is wrong.
I have no idea what everyone’s personal finances are, but what I do know is people tend to make poor financial decisions when they are emotional. Let me give you two scenarios to think about.
Imagine your dog (or cat) is 2 years old, runs out into the road and gets hit by a car. You rush to the ER and the initial estimate is $2,000 for stabilization. You are frantic and say “Yes! Do whatever you have to!” Fluffy is now stable, but he will require surgery and may not make it, even with surgery. The estimate for surgery and post-operative care is $6,000-$8,000.
Are you prepared to spend that money? Do you and your spouse agree on what decision you would make? Will you be able to pay your bills if you do this? Is it wrong to say no for financial reasons when you aren’t guaranteed a good outcome?
Imagine your dog (or cat) is 8 years old and develops a condition that requires an initial workup of $1,000 and a blood transfusion $1,000. You are told, he may not respond well to the transfusion and may require a second one for another $1,000. If he responds well, then you are looking at multiple medications and frequent blood work monitoring for at least one year with the possibility of relapse and needing another transfusion.
Do you invest in this disease not knowing how your dog will respond? How much do you put toward this? If he was 2 years old would you be making a different decision? Do you do the initial testing and blood transfusion, but not go any further if he doesn’t respond well?
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions. Everything is going to be situational. I just want you to think about these scenarios and start a conversation with your spouse about it.
From a financial standpoint, I believe you and your spouse need to be able to answer this question:
How much are we willing to spend on _________(enter the name of your pet here)?
Now, before you get super mad and think I’m a terrible person, hear me out.
When my husband and I got married and combined our finances, we realized we were also combining our financial decisions. This is a really difficult thing because we had very different values. I grew up with pets that we took care of and did our best for. My husband grew up living the farm life where “pets” served a purpose. The dog was there to protect the livestock. The livestock was there to provide a livelihood. Their animals were a business.
Now, I am a veterinarian and my standard of care is the complete opposite of what my husband grew up with. I know what “the best” treatment is and all the options. I have all of that stuff available to me. Neither way of thinking about pets is right or wrong, they are just different. Now imagine us both looking at a situation of emergency or terminal illness with our beloved pet trying to decide what we can invest in their care. Freaking disaster!!
Even if you both come from similar backgrounds, this is very important to have an understanding before you are in a highly stressful and emotional situation.
Pro tip: I would recommend you find out for your area how much some common ailments can cost to give you a ballpark idea of price ranges.
For example, a torn ACL, would you do the surgery to fix it? (In Wisconsin, $4,000-$5,000). What about diabetes in a cat? (Insulin alone is over $200 a bottle every few months, plus lab work monitoring for the rest of his/her life). What about GDV?, when the stomach flips and they need emergency surgery ($5,000-$6,000).
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Why do I recommend having this conversation?
- If you have this conversation with your spouse at a time when your pet is healthy, you will be able to think clearly and rationally to come up with a decision that is best for your family.
- This will take the emotion out of your decision-making process.
- This will also allow for a joint, agreed-upon decision, making your marriage stronger. The last thing you want in a stressful situation is to be arguing with your spouse when you should be supporting one another.
- This will also allow you to not feel guilty when trying to choose how far to go with things for your pet. Meaning, you don’t have to feel guilty about not spending $6,000, if it means you are either fixing Fido’s knee or keeping food on the table.
Don’t be scared of talking about this. The number that you decide upon is not set in stone. You can always change your mind. The best thing you can do is just get the conversation started with your spouse. I think you will find it brings you closer together.
I haven’t been faced with putting this number into use yet (my dog, Zoe, and I shook hands and she promised to live forever……so far, so good). Ideally, when you are faced with these hard decisions, you at least have a point of reference to start with. Talking about this question will give you that starting place during an extremely difficult time.
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