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On Dogs, Health and Costs

Anyone who has been following my Facebook page is aware that my youngest dog, Beau, is struggling with a left foreleg limp that we cannot seem to figure out and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while.

Dogs and Health: There is a lot of talk about what health nightmares pure bred dogs can be. And yes, pure bred dogs can have health issues. But there is an equally strong belief that mixed breed dogs are healthy. And that is not entirely true. Simply mixing together a couple of breeds does not magically give you a healthy dog. Some of the sickest dogs in our rescue have been the mixes.

In my own home, I’ve generally had very healthy pugs. But some of my mixed breeds have not been so lucky. In my case, it’s been usually a two breed mix…shih tzu/poodle…..and many of the ones I’ve fostered and adopted had health issues from both breeds. So I caution folks to be careful about falling for the “All mixes are healthy”. They may be, but they may have many of the genetic disorders of both breeds. Certainly with a pure bred dog, you want to do your research before getting one and you definitely want to do your research about where you get one. But you need to be equally savvy about buying into “Our dogs are healthy cause we mixed pugs with (insert other breed here)”. The reality is, any dog at any time can end up needing extensive vetting and you need to be prepared for that.

Beau with his unicorn hot water bottle.

Beau and the Zombie Leg: So….my youngest dog, Beau, is the muttiest of mutts. He has 9 different breeds in his DNA. And he generally tested clear of genetic health disorders and yet...we now have a mysterious foreleg limp that has been going on since April and we still don’t have a definitive diagnosis. We have done X-rays twice,

biopsies twice, MRIs twice, blood work twice. Nothing conclusive.

Making things even more confusing, just as we were convinced we were looking at a nerve sheath tumour, he suddenly got better. Like…the limp went away, muscle returned and happy happy joy joy. Until it came back 4 weeks later. Pretty much the same presentation and progress. That’s when we did the second batch of x-rays and the MRI. At this point, we simply do not know what the heck is going on with that leg.

And this hasn’t been cheap. We are about $11,000 into diagnostics. And that is what I want to talk about. Preparing for this possibility in life.

No, Vets are not ripping us off and no, what we’ve paid is not out of line: Good health care costs money. In Canada, pet owners are inclined to get stroppy about vet costs because we have almost no idea what things like lab work, X-rays, MRIs cost. So, it’s easy to think it’s outrageous when, in fact, it’s not. Specialists are just that…they’ve devoted years to their specific area of specialty.

Beau recovering from his Zombie Leg biopsy.

Beau has seen neurologists, a surgeon and a radiologist. Not to mention the various important vet medicine staff who managed his anaesthesia for the MRIs and biopsies. The specialty hospital where he was seen has the best MRI in North America. Some human hospitals don’t have an MRI as good as this one. So, yes, it cost money. And yes, we didn’t get a definitive diagnosis. And yes, it’s incredibly frustrating for me, but also for those vets.

They’ve been fabulous to my dog and he’s had great care. But sometimes, medicine just doesn’t have an answer.

The tests he’s had have been worth every penny in that I could not just say “No, I’m not doing that. It’s too expensive”. I could afford it. I had planned for this eventuality. I knew some day some dog was going to run me into some money. And I can’t just let him live with it without trying to figure it out.

Preparing and making a plan: As a rule, if I can insure my dog, I do. I have insured my pug (who has, of course, not cost me much money). Beau is not insured. Most of my dogs have not been insured due to age, pre-existing conditions, etc. So I’ve always had a back up plan for costs besides basic vet care:

*I have had a savings account for years and years that I add to bit by bit. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to dip into it often. And Beau has hit it hard. * I have the ability to generate some income by selling off some investments. I’m incredibly lucky I could do that. * I also know that IF we hit a point where I don’t have the funds, I may be able to borrow the money from family or friends with the understanding that it would be repaid. * Last but not least, IF I was unable to provide him the care he needs then I have the option to seek out a responsible rescue who may be able to provide him the care if I cannot. This would, obviously, be a last resort. And I don’t mean the rescue would pay for his vetting for me. I mean, I would have to surrender him to a reputable rescue for his well being. What I won’t do is start a GoFundMe for vet costs for a dog I own. I know folks do it, but I won’t. It is part of my responsibility to care for my dogs and if I must ask folks to donate to pay for my dog’s vet costs, then I need to seriously examine whether I can actually afford a dog.

Zombie Leg close up

And here’s my point: Prepare yourself. Have a plan. Up to and including surrendering your dog to a reputable rescue who CAN provide the care. Vet costs are one of the more common reasons owners surrender their dogs to a rescue. There are organizations that can assist owners with vet costs, but I have never qualified for that help and frankly, I’d have a tough time even asking since I do know the limits on those kinds of organizations and not only do I not qualify, I shouldn’t qualify. I have other options.

We still don’t know what’s happening with his leg. We may end up having to amputate it or it may be an auto immune issue that comes and goes. The reality is it was completely unanticipated, unpredictable and not preventable. What saved him was that I had my little savings account, I could liquidate some things to generate cash. I had a plan.

We need to accept and face the reality of this kind of “out of the blue” medical event. We need to be aware of it as a possibility and not hope that luck or breed mix or what have you will prevent/avoid this. And most of all, we need to NOT blame our vets and their staffs for charging for their expertise and their skills. The issue isn’t that they charge, it’s that you didn’t have a plan and weren’t prepared.


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