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Retired couple overwhelmed by $4,000 hospital bill for their cat

Joan Morris, The Mercury News on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

Dear Joan: On June 29, we took our 1-year-old ailing Maine Coon mix rescue cat to an emergency veterinary hospital in San Jose. The vets diagnosed our cat with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).

Our cat was treated at their clinic for seven days and since coming home has been OK. The 72 itemized expenses on the bill added up to $4,001.18 for this service. Some itemized examples include one radiograph view, $145.00; urinary collection-bag, $25.36; Abaxis Chem 8, $72.00.

We are a retired couple and feel this cost is overwhelming and does not fit into our budget. Finally, we believe we were placed into an emotional dilemma, which was, wanting our cat to be healed and remain alive, and not be put to death and then having to live with the guilt.

-- Bob and Carol

Dear Bob and Carol: I think there probably are very few people who haven't run into a similar situation with their beloved pets.

We love our pets and when they are sick and in pain, we want to do everything we can to get them better. But pet medical care, just like the human variety, is expensive. The main difference is while that most of us have health insurance that picks up a large chunk of the costs, fewer people have invested in pet health insurance.

I checked with some area vets and the prices you were charged are not out-of-line with what other practices charge. A 7-day hospital stay can be quite expensive. I can't really help you with what's already been spent, but I do have some tips for the future.

Before I get into those, however, I did want to talk about your feelings of being emotionally manipulated. Whenever I've had to make life or death decisions regarding my pets, I've always felt frustrated because the vet won't tell me what to do. The bottom line is, they can't. They can only lay out the facts and give you options. The decision is always yours, and you shouldn't be judged for it.

If you feel a vet has tried to guilt you into a costly course of action, you should report him or her to the California Veterinary Medical Board. You should also get second opinions on expensive or complex treatments.

 

So what about future costs? Now that you know your cat has a history of FLUTD, take precautions to avoid another costly flare up.

Feeding your cat a diet designed to prevent urinary tract infections will help in that regard, as will regular check-ups with your vet. The recommended diet is high protein and wet food, rather than dry.

Make sure you have a regular vet. You might be sent to specialists by your doctor, but emergency care is generally more expensive. If you have a vet who sees your cat on a regular basis, he or she will be in more of a position to catch issues before they develop into emergencies and that will lower costs. An office visit is much cheaper than a trip to an emergency hospital.

Consider getting pet insurance. It won't cover everything, but it will help. An alternative would be to set aside a little money every month for pet emergencies.

If you are having financial hardships, check with pet rescue groups. Many have funds to help people pay for care they can't afford.

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