How much should you spend to keep a pet alive? – Chicago Tribune

C.K., a reader from Madison, Wis., writes that she loves her dog and cats, each of which has been “a source of great comfort and love” for her and her family. Now, however, her pets are growing old and she wonders how to decide when it’s time to “let them die in peace or put them to sleep.”

“Technically,” C.K. writes, “our veterinarian can give us many medical supplies that will help them stay alive for a few more years. Unfortunately, these items also cost a great deal of money. How do we take care of our pets without wiping out our savings? Where do we draw the line without betraying (them)?”

Choosing when it’s time to euthanize a pet can be harrowing. The American Humane Association ( provides some useful advice on deciding when a pet’s quality of life has diminished enough that the time has come. The first step, according to the AHA, is to consult your pet’s veterinarian, who can help assess the situation.

Writing on the website, Dr. Andy Roark, a South Carolina veterinarian, advises to make a list of the top five things your pet loves to do. If the animal “can no longer do three or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.”

By far the hardest decisions that I’ve ever had to make. The amounts that I’ve spent have varied from a few hundred dollars to well over a thousand in a couple of cases where there was a chance of a cure. In the end it is a judgement call; are they suffering, do they no longer enjoy…

But C.K.’s question goes beyond diminished quality of life issues. She seems to want to know what the right thing to do is when it’s possible to provide medical care for an aging pet whose quality of life remains good, but the cost of keeping the pet alive presents a financial hardship for the owner(s).

When you adopt a pet, you do take on a financial commitment that includes day-to-day feeding, toys and accessories, and health care that can lead to sizeable veterinary bills. No one should be expected to be bankrupted to care for a pet, but ownership requires a clear sense of the costs involved.

There are agencies, such as the Fuzzy Pet Foundation (, a Southern California nonprofit founded by Sheila Choi (a former student of mine), dedicated to rescuing pets that have been abandoned by their owners.

But C.K. doesn’t want to abandon the pets she loves. The right thing for pet owners to do when facing financial hardship over veterinary bills is to seek assistance. Animal shelters and veterinary schools in some areas provide low-cost care. The Humane Society of America ( offers a list of national and state organizations (including those in Wisconsin) that can provide financial assistance. RedRover ( also has links to resources in the U.S. and Canada that provide emergency assistance to pet owners.

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