Is there a financial limit to pet care? How do you make this decision?
April 6, 2021 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Between our two cats we've had so many health issues, procedures and financial expenditures over the last year. How do we decide when enough is enough even when they are still relatively young and happy?

We have two cats, Henry and George, litter-mates around 9 years old. In the last year George had hepatic lipidosis which required months of treatment, a feeding tube, an ongoing saga involving a bizarre vet experience (see previous Askmefi posts), and a bunch of money. George survived and is still his sweet, loving self.

He also began overgrooming to the point that he'd make himself bleed on various areas of his stomach. Our (new, wonderful) vet tried several treatments and eventually sent us to an allergy specialist. We spent a lot of money there, did the full allergy testing thing, formulated a vaccine, began that treatment, things seemed to be getting better and then...George started vomiting after every meal. So now we're reducing the allergy vaccine, trying to find the cause of the vomiting (vaccine, his food, something else, etc.), which involves more vet visits, allergist visits, etc. More money, of course.

Meanwhile, Henry, his much smaller brother who has had far fewer health issues, has had a chronic sneeze and congestion/breathing issue since December. He sneezes every single day, snot rockets on the furniture and on us. Been through steroids, Cerenia, antibiotics. Vet recommended we see a specialist. Specialist has now recommended we do a CT scan and biopsy. The cost is high just for the diagnostics.

We are drained monetarily and emotionally. We love these cats so much. We have a 14 month old baby and the cats are so patient and wonderful with him. They let him hug and lay on them; it's amazing how patient and gentle they are with him. Our vet and her techs literally tells us that they don't see cats who behave the way ours do; drooling, purring, nuzzling, rolling over every time they visit.

But how are we supposed to afford to keep treating every health issue, which seem to just be one after another after another? When does it end? Are we supposed to just throw our hands up and choose to put them down? They are happy cats who love being around us at home, they don't hide, they continue to eat, to play, etc. How do pet owners deal with these decisions and costs? Pet insurance may have been a smart move many years ago but that's unfortunately not an option for us and it also might not have even covered some of these problems.

Any advice or words of wisdom would be very much appreciated.
posted by rbf1138 to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously it's a personal choice but it's understandable you're looking at your options. If you can't continue to support them you could look into finding a reputable fostering group that would find a new adoptive home for them before considering euthanasia. With the pandemic there might be a wealthy cat-lover who would be delighted to have two loving felines in their home regardless of the associated expenses.
posted by lafemma at 8:04 AM on April 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am so sorry you are going through this. I have two kitties who I love very much--I am actually getting ready to drop one off at the vet's for a very expensive surgery to remove bladder stones this morning. I can afford it but it will hurt to pay that much.

The thought process I went through in making the decision was about the fact that this is a finite issue. She has these stones, the stones are making it difficult to pee, and could result in a blockage that would be fatal. Once this operation is done, she should be better and we'll adjust her diet to (I hope) prevent it from happening again.

Like I said, I love, love, love, my kitties. If instead of a fixable, easily diagnosed problem, she had turned out to have kidney or bladder cancer or some other ultimately fatal disease, I might have made the decision to euthanize her rather that put her through months of unpleasant and expensive surgeries or treatment. If the same problem occurs again, I might not pay for the surgery. She is a loving companion, but I cannot justify bankrupting myself to buy her a little more time.

I am giving you permission to decide that you have done all you can. Sure, go ahead and call some foster groups to see if they can take your cat, but please don't feel guilty if this is the end of the road. This is one of the responsibilities we take on when we care for animals in our life. To do the best we can and then give them a peaceful ending when the time comes.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:13 AM on April 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

My cat also sneezes disgusting snot rockets every day - the vet suggested an over the counter (human) nasal spray that helps her congestion and I've also tried lysine treats to see if they help (she has a feline respiratory herpes virus). She also got antibiotics when her snottiness turned into a sinus infection. I carry a hankie around the house to wipe her nose.

I had a previous cat with an overgrooming problem, and after trying a bunch of different foods and remedies, clicker training distracted him enough that he quit tearing his fur out.

My point is that there's a middle ground between top-of-the-line medicalized care and euthanasia. Talk to your vet about your concerns and the cost/benefit tradeoffs for treatments and testing. Get a second opinion. It's possible that treating the symptoms can give your cats a good quality of life without bankrupting you. You're not a monster for not going into debt for your pets.
posted by momus_window at 8:31 AM on April 6, 2021 [15 favorites]

My approach: you set a budget. If you're exceeding the budget, you stop treating, only try cheap things, or euthanasia.

Your problems are the hardest ones, with no easy answers and pets who are still happy. You have my sympathy.
posted by flimflam at 8:34 AM on April 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

i have two perspectives to come at this from.

perspective 1. i am lucky enough to have a savings account these days. i set aside money specifically for vet care and it has a few grand in it. so i don't worry about it too much.

perspective 2. when i was deep in debt i put "reasonable" stuff on a credit card. when they wanted to do an mri to check for a lung mass, i said no. it was far too expensive. and i made the choice that if it was cancer (it wasn't!) we'd just give him the best life possible as long as we could.

i think there are some things you/your just have to live with. if it is possibly deadly or drastically affecting quality of life, that is when you pay for it if you can. if you can't--and i know a lot of people can't--that's when you look into re-homing or surrendering them to a rescue who will find them a good home. heartbreaking and hard, but best for the cats in the long run.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:55 AM on April 6, 2021

Our approach is more or less the same as flimflam and misanthropicsarah. We set a budget and stick to it. I'm sure it sounds mercenary to some but we have two children and other financial constraints so in my mind it is practical. This has meant turning down multi-thousand dollar treatment options recommended for our cat by the emergency vet on two occasions. In our case we've been lucky and he recovered from both issues (seizure related) largely on his own and is going strong many years later. We were prepared to have to euthanize him if things grew worse or he was suffering too much and had made our peace with that.
posted by Cuke at 9:02 AM on April 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

IMO it is absolutely okay to have a budget for pet care and stick to it.

Couple things I learned the hard way at the vet:
1. If they are recommending a particular supplement or medication, esp. if it is something the pet will take for a long time (like allergy meds), ask how much it costs. If it is pricey, ask if there are lower-cost alternatives. Also, you can always say, "Let me think about it." Then go home and google the med/supplement and see whether there is any evidence that it does anything.
2. Any time the vet wants to do something expensive and diagnostic (MRI, scan, etc.), ask how the results will guide the treatment. Ask what they would do without the scan. Often the answer is "try this medication anyway."

Source of experience: Our elderly dog had a large mass in her abdomen and we opted not to pursue an aggressive course of scans, surgery, chemo, etc. In discussion with the vet, we talked about how long the treatment could take, what the results might be, complications that could occur, and so on.
posted by tuesdayschild at 9:50 AM on April 6, 2021

I so so sympathize with where you are at; I could have written this same question about my (recently euthanized) senior dog, and also about my (still with me) senior cats.

It strikes me that it seems like both of these kitty issues are not urgent. Assuming you can get George to a place where he is not vomiting, my general rule with my many senior pets is that if it's a quality of life issue for them, I pursue treatment, otherwise I just...let them do their thing.

You've gotten some good advice in here about easy and inexpensive things to try for your kitties. I would also urge you to seek out vet recommendations; my vet actively discouraged me from doing a very spendy test on my dog this year, and generally takes a more hands off/economical approach which I appreciate. I've gone to vets who are very much the opposite and it doesn't work for me and my approach to my animals.

Someone explained the idea of the "three As" when it comes to deciding if an animal needs to be euthanized. Activity, Appetite, and Affection. If all three are there, your pet is most likely happy to be with you. If only 2/3 are, it's a warning. Once all three are gone, it is time. This held true for me. If your cats have all 3, and it sounds like they do, I don't think you're there yet, or that you need to feel obligated to spend 1000s of dollars.
posted by nancynickerson at 9:51 AM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

Back in the nineties, I had a cat suffering from chronic kidney disease. People on a mailing list I joined for helpful hints were talking about the possibility of a kidney transplant for their cats, which was difficult to access and was hypothetically priced at over $4000 ($7000 in today's dollars). I realized that I could not justify taking that much of the money that should go to my children's college education, to prolong my beloved cat's life by just a couple of years. If I hadn't had kids I might have considered it, or of course if I'd had enough money to pay for college more easily. So, as it turned out, there was a specific amount of money that personally would have been too much for me to consider ethical for me to spend, given my duty to my kids. I found this to be a useful thought experiment.

But the alternative was not to have her put down, not until things were much worse. It was to use less expensive treatments to make her as comfortable as possible until that was no longer possible.
posted by chromium at 10:41 AM on April 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

I agree that setting a financial limit is totally a reasonable thing to do. I'd even go farther and say that it's the responsible thing to do.

I'd even go so far as to give you permission to decide that it would be in your family's best interest to re-home your cats even if they're merely annoying (cat snot everywhere... while you have a toddler....!) If your pets are financially and emotionally draining you and there is no resolution in sight, then it is perfectly loving and OK, to yourselves and to them, to work to find them a better place to stay. They are sweet friends and members of the family, to a point--but in the final analysis, they're pets, and if something has to give, it can be them.

Being an adult and making hard choices sucks sometimes, and this is one of those times.
posted by Sublimity at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

First, I totally get that this isn't just a situation where not spending the money lets you leave things alone; your cat is sneezing all the time, and this has to be dealt with somehow.

I think you have more than two choices here. My apologies if you've tried this already, but I know you care about you kitties, so it's time to be brave and consider some embarrassing stuff:

1 - Negotiate / ask for a break from your vet and from the specialist. To help with that, make up a list of ALL the cat-related expenses you've covered for the past few years -- you are trying to show that you are not asking for a break just because you don't think it's "worth it" somehow. Vets can feel like people don't value what they do as much as animals and other vets -- you are showing that you do value what they do, and you've backed that up with actions, and that your difficulty is genuine. Mention that you have funded all this on a teacher/firefighter/junior IT person's average salary or whatever, and that you also have been dealing with the normal but surprisingly high expenses and stresses of a new baby.

2 - Ask all the cat/animal rescue groups in your area if they know of an emergency fund or can suggest alternatives. This is unlikely to yield results, since the rescue groups have their own emergencies, BUT sometimes these groups mainly need people and do have dollars. Also, they face issues like this regularly and can advise you. I'm thinking you might talk to 2 or 3. If the first one says "there's nothing like that I've ever heard of", still contact a couple more; nobody knows everything.

3 - Probably you're not in a situation where pet health insurance could help (horse done left the barn), but check just to be sure.

4 - Look seriously at re-homing both cats. They should probably stay together if they like each other. And don't assume nobody will take them. There are some people that really want to adopt cats with sad stories and challenges, and I understand that impulse. You'll already have explored/contacted some rescue organizations in your area, so you'll know which one you trust, and they'll know that you're truly desperate.

There are fewer cats available for adoption lately, because tons of people fostered/adopted when lockdown started. Your cats might very well have a future with someone who is really able to take on their challenges.

Then, if you do re-home them, or even if it doesn't work out and you have to make a difficult decision, I want you to know that I respect you deeply for the time and care you put into making the best decision you could. You got handed a ton of problems and you dealt with them, while caring deeply about all concerned. Don't assume nobody will understand. I understand.

And please teach your children to care about people who knew they wouldn't have the resources or ability to raise children of their own, but who work to make the world more loving and joyful for everyone else's children. I know you probably would anyway, but some don't see this sacrifice - please, I hope you can :)
posted by amtho at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2021

Oh, and the first thing I thought of: this seems like a classic GoFundMe / fundraiser kind of situation. That's what I was thinking of when I wrote "it's time to be brave and consider some embarrassing stuff."
posted by amtho at 6:07 PM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

My mama cat seems to be allergic to ME (possibly all humans) which the internet says is possible. She sneezes around me and nowhere else. A workaround I've found is to stay downwind of her with a fan, which extends contact time, which she still enjoys. She is protective of me and stands guard when I'm in bed or in the shower, so she must think I'm worth it. Just a thought; there ARE the hardest decisions. Good luck.
posted by Evilspork at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2021

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