- 8 years ago
- Wedding: September 2010
I’ve seen a few posts lately about couples deliberating whether to get a pet and how to negotiate the financial minefield. I’m a veterinarian* and have worked for a couple of emergency clinics, as well as a shelter and normal private practices. With that in mind, here are the two topics that I think are the most important when it comes to your pet’s quality of care in an emergency situation:
(1) Discuss, in advance, how much you are willing to spend for emergency services. Obviously, no pet owner wants to end up at the emergency clinic. However, in the worst case scenario, you do not want to be discussing finances when you are distraught and your pet is in critical condition. When it comes to immediate, life-saving treatment (IV catheter, blood work, resuscitation, oxygen therapy, etc), as you are entering the clinic, you might be asked something to the effect of, “Do we have your permission to spend $800 in the next 15 minutes?” Every second you delay your answer will affect your pet’s prognosis. If your pet has reached this level of triage, while there’s no guarantee that he will live, it’s highly probably that he will die without treatment. You need to have at least considered what your response will be. And when it comes to the overall costs, I’ve seen emergency bills as high as $15,000. Granted that was an exceptional circumstances, where the dog required ventilatory treatment for almost a week and round-the-clock monitoring, but the price for emergency care can often be a most decidedly non-trivial amount. If the most you are willing to spend is $2000, you need to make sure the staff knows that right off the bat. Most emergency veterinarians are pretty good at estimating how much initial care will cost, and if that amount greatly exceeds your maximum, it’s time for a frank discussion.
(2) If your pet will be in the care of someone other than you (pet sitter, neighbor, boarding operation, etc), you need to provide them with your pet’s past pertinent medical history and specific instructions on what to do in the event that you cannot be reached. Do not assume that the person watching your pet will be able to contact your regular veterinarian. In an emergency, your regular vet might not be open. And it sucks for an emergency vet to have to proceed blindly because the pet sitter doesn’t know anything about the pet’s history. For reference, here’s what I include on the instruction sheet for my cat, and the information I request of my friends when I’m the one pet sitting, in no particular order of importance:
- Medications, including names (ideally generic and brand name), dosages, route of administration, how often they’re given, and how long the pet has been receiving the drug
- Current illnesses, ideally with the most recent lab work, which you should obtain from your regular vet
- Age, breed, whether the pet has been spayed/neutered, and how old it was at the time of surgery
- Any other past surgeries or illnesses
- Diet, including type of food and amount fed
- Vaccine information
- The name and contact information for your regular vet
- The name, contact information, and location of your preferred 24/7 emergency clinic, including directions on how to get there
- The name and contact information for you and your partner, including cell phones, hotel name/room number/phone number, and any other way you can imagine someone getting ahold of you
- A statement of “In the event of an emergency where neither I nor my partner can be reached, I authorize [pet sitter’s name] to spend [amount] on life-saving treatment, using [credit card information]. If the amount required for treatment exceeds this value, to alleviate pain and suffering, I authorize the veterinarian on duty to euthanize [pet’s name].”
That last one obviously sucks. And I wholeheartedly recognize that choosing that dollar amount in advance blows. But making that choice should be your responsibility, not the pet sitter’s. And the credit card used should also be yours, not the pet sitter’s.
And yes, I realize that a lot of this post has to do with finances. Lest you emerge from this thinking your vet is a money-grubbing bastard, I strongly suspect nothing could be further from the truth. When you consider that the quality of care provided is often equivalent to that given in a human hospital, dollar for dollar, your pet is receiving a higher standard of care than you would be. (I dare you to go into an emergency room with a critical illness and get out of there with a $3000 bill.) Unfortunately, there is no Animal Medicare to make sure your vet gets paid, and if they cut a deal for every single client, they won’t stay open long enough to help very many animals. Medically, your vet probably knows what to do, so that’s not the roadblock. Finances, though, are a different matter.
*Disclaimer: While I am a veterinarian, to offer clinical advice, there has to be a patient-owner-doctor relationship. If I know neither you nor your pet, and you PM me for medical advice, I likely will not reply. Legally, I can’t really offer any input. If I do know you, I’ll give you my opinion, to the best of my ability, but my advice will likely end with, “If you’re really worried, see your veterinarian so they can do a full physical exam and perform the necessary diagnostics.”