Friday Photo #2: Christmas show camels go for a morning walk in NYC

A Closely Guarded Secret: When the Camels Go for a Walk on the streets of New York.

How much would you spend on a sick pet?

Seeing how a dog's anatomy works helps demystify the proposed surgery.

One of the difficult things about making decisions about medical treatment for a pet is knowing so little about its anatomy. Visual aids help.

Most pet owners say that cost is a factor when deciding whether to seek medical care for a sick dog or cat. (Hardly a surprise.)

In a survey conducted in 2010, most pet owners (62%) say they would be likely to get vet treatment even if the bill reached $500. That means 38% said that $500 might be too much to spend on their pet.

What if the vet bill reached $1,000? Only 42% say they would be very likely to spend that much at the vet.

If the cost goes up to $2,000, 35% would pay, and if the cost reaches $5,000, 22% would foot the bill.

People earning below $50K answered about the same way as those earning $50K and up. (Interesting.)

 When faced with the prospect of spending up to $5,000 on a surgical procedure and related care for Luna, I was, well, confused, worried.   What criteria should I use to make my decision?

Rather than setting an arbitrary amount that I would be willing to spend, I found myself asking questions of veterinary medicine providers, my friends, family, and even relative strangers:

Luna's breath on my camera lens caused it to fog. This is how I felt when first facing the question about whether to get TPLO surgery for Luna: Very foggy.

I was in a fog about how to decide whether to get expensive orthopedic surgery for Luna. My choice became clear as I worked through my questions. Others may have come to a different conclusion.

“Will this surgery truly improve Luna’s quality of life or will it prolong suffering? How do other dogs do afterwards?”

 “What are the chances something will go wrong?”

“I am new to dog ownership. I can see Luna is aging at warp speed compared with humans. How does that reality enter into this decision?”

“Does Luna understand the dilemma? If so, what would she want me to do?

“How will I feel if I choose not to get the surgery done and see Luna become increasingly incapacitated and in more pain?”

“How would I feel if I ‘go for it’ and see her regain some function and quality of life?”

“What are the ‘opportunity costs’ of spending my hard-earned money on vet bills? What will I sacrifice?” (I am firmly ensconced in the ranks of the 99%, so sacrifice will be necessary.)

When I asked other people what they would do, many were amazingly opinionated. It was a kind of litmus test for attitudes toward pet ownership, the value of an animal’s life, and how one uses money. This made for fascinating conversation.

So, let me ask you.

How does a dog's knee work? What happens when the cruciate ligament ruptures? What will the surgery do?

How does a dog’s knee work? What happens when the cruciate ligament ruptures? What will the surgery do? How much function do dogs typically regain after the surgery?

How much would you spend on a sick pet?

What criteria do you consider when making a decision about veterinary care?

Have you ever paid for veterinary care that you later wish you had not pursued?

Have you ever had a feeling for what your pet would prefer? How did your pet communicate that to you?

What would you do?

Where did my last post leave us? Luna needed an x-ray of her right rear knee to help determine the source of her pain.

I set up the appointment for the x-ray, which included sedation. While Luna was “under”, the vet would check for the “drawer sign” to determine if her cranial cruciate ligament was injured. (The sedation, x-ray, and diagnosis cost about $300.)

Example of an x-ray of a dog’s rear legs: Google Image Result for

If you have followed along from the beginning, you’ll know what the vet discovered: A positive drawer sign—Luna’s ligament was either torn or fully ruptured.

More bad news: The chances were reasonably high that the ligament in her other knee was torn as well, or would be soon: This problem often comes in pairs.

The good news: The x-ray showed a minimal amount of arthritis in the injured joint.

What to do? I could–

“Here I am. In my element. What could be better than the scent of a field mouse in tall grass?

Do nothing and run the risk of Luna becoming increasingly, or, frighteningly, completely lame. (When I asked what happens when a dog has torn ligaments in both rear legs, the vet said, “I know of perfectly healthy dogs that have been put down because of lameness.”)

Try weight loss and swimming rehabilitation, which could help, but would not fix the problem.

Get a significant surgery, a TPLO (tibial plateau leveling osteotomy), requiring an overnight stay at a veterinary hospital, eight to ten weeks of recovery, real pain, and a real risk of complications.

Fortunately, some of the best veterinary surgeons to be found anywhere and a stellar surgical clinic were nearby.

But, a TPLO surgery would cost $90 for a surgical consultation fee, between $3,600 and $4,100 for the surgery, and from $300 to $600 for follow-up x-rays to check on the healing. And, there was a possibility Luna might need rehabilitation, which would be a few hundred dollars more. (OMG! That is totally scary on every front!)

Did I trust the vet who gave me this information? Completely. Unequivocally.

Did I know what to do next?  No.

What would you do?  More about this in an upcoming post.