A sad topic for this week, but a necessary one: sick pets. While we don’t like to ever think of our little friends not in perfect health, the reality is that more often than not, we outlive them. This means we’re usually in charge of important end of life care issues, as well as making sure we give them a loving and memorable goodbye. During these stressful times, our emotions often overwhelm us- honestly, I’ve been having a hard time even writing this post because it is so sad to think about- and often, it is at those times that we’re most unaware of our finances. Stories of people getting into serious debt due to medical expenses are common, and naturally, we find ourselves unwilling to think about financial implications when it comes to saving the life of any loved one. While I’m not advocating being cold-hearted in order to be money smart; through careful planning, it is possible to be both financially prudent and emotionally indulgent.
1. Start an emergency fund: In the second post of this Reducing Pet Costs series, I mentioned having an emergency pet fund as an alternative to having pet insurance. If you have an older pet, or one with a history of chronic illness, having an emergency fund will largely buffer you from the initial sticker shot if your pet needs an emergency procedure. In addition, this emergency fund provides a built-in warning about additional expenses- if the costs of caring for your pet exceed the amount in the emergency fund, you have to have a conversation about how much additional money you are willing to spend.
2. Talk to yourself: If you do only one thing to prepare yourself for caring for an older pet, it would be to have a conversation with yourself about what your beliefs are toward end-of-life care. Since most people have not thought about this beforehand, they are unprepared to make informed decisions based on what they want, and instead just follow their vet’s advice. As Mark, a commenter on the “Reducing Medical Expenses” wrote
“remember, it’s not just a financial issue for you…it’s also a quality of life issue for your pet, particularly as you begin to treat a geriatric pet…when costs skyrocket…and quality of life can plummet.”
Start by asking yourself about your goals in caring for your sick pet: is it length of life, or quality of life, or something else? Being clear with yourself, and your family, about what you want for your pet, will allow you to make more informed decisions even during the most emotional moments.
3. Talk to your vet: Once you feel comfortable with your objectives in caring for your pet near the end of its life, have a conversation with your vet. Although you may have very clear objectives in mind, your vet may take a different approach. If you wait to have this discussion when your pet is already ill, misunderstandings about treatments options may ensue. Make sure you and your vet are on the same page regarding potential treatment. This is especially important for small-animal vets, who very rarely make the same recommendations than large-animal vets do.
4. Set general guidelines: An interesting article in Slate about the guilt and confusion around spending a great deal of money on pet medical expenses. Each of us will have a different opinion on the threshold of cost we are willing to spend on pet expenses- why wait until we get to those hard decisions to discuss them? The comments on the Slate article have a myriad of opinions on the subject, most from people who have been in this situation. It would be helpful to set down general guidelines about the upper limit of your spending capacity on pet expenses, just so you can be aware of what you are spending as you go along. Of course, these guidelines can change, but having a benchmark will keep you aware of your pocketbook in an otherwise distracting time.
5. Saying goodbye: Unfortunately, there will most likely come a time when treatment is no longer an option. I always get teary when I think about this, and vow in my next life to adopt a land tortoise, whose lifespan is usually over 80 years. For those of us with furry or feathered friends, this moment is something we all dread. Being aware of your options before you have to make those hard decisions will help eliminate regrets and guilt from the whole process. Hospice care has recently become a more acceptable way to care for pets for whom treatment is not a good option. More a philosophy of care than an actual location, hospice focuses on making sure your pet’s quality of life is maintained until the very end. And naturally, when that comes, be aware that there is usually a cost of about $50 per pet for euthanasia, if you decide to go that route.
6. Commemorating your pet: To end on a happier note, a memorial service can be one of the most loving and special moments in your relationship with your pet. When talking with friends about doing this post, one friend left me with a very dear story about an inexpensive, but very sweet, memorial for a recently passed cat, whose name was Rita. “When my friends lost their cat Rita, one of my other friends planted a flower in her honor and named it Rita. We all gathered around while it was planted and they read a eulogy listing all the ways Rita brought them joy, and afterward, in commemoration, we drank marga-Rita’s.” A memorial service can be as unique as your pet itself, and doesn’t have to break the bank either. The internet can be a great source of support and ideas.
I absolutely hate thinking about the day when I’m going to have to say goodbye to Francie and Hammel. Just thinking about it makes me so sad and upset, which just underscores my need to start facing some of these issues now—I can’t imagine how I would be able to make rational decisions when I’d be so emotional. Have any of you had to deal with this already? How did you do it? Also, do you have any other suggestions for thinking about this difficult time? Let’s try to make it as easy for us as possible—it will be hard enough!