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?

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Looking for information about TPLOs and talking to animals…

"A great day in the sun with my stuffed duck on a rope."

“Life is better if your knees work well. Even squeaky toys are more satisfying.”

In an earlier post I explained that just a few months ago I faced a dilemma: What should I do about my dog Luna’s ruptured cranial cruciate ligament in her rear right leg?  Would a TPLO surgery be a good next step? That would stabilize her knee joint, but at ten years old, could she survive the procedure and bounce back?

Voices around me were loud and opinionated.  Friends, family, and co-workers weighed in on next steps: “Luna is too old for that surgery.  If you go through with it she may suffer unnecessarily.“ “You go to work everyday so that you can afford things like this—why would you NOT do the surgery?”

"A run on the beach with a hint of bear scent in the air--life is good."

In her younger days, Luna loved to run on the beaches of the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island.

Eventually it dawned on me that the opinion I most wanted to hear was Luna’s: What did she think about this? Did she feel “up to” the surgery? What did she think of the prospect of a lengthy recovery? How could I find out?

Finding solid information about TPLO surgery was straightforward. My vet clinic’s website has an excellent description of the procedure. I found an “up close and personal” TPLO blog, too, complete with photos and super-recent comments.

Figuring out how to “tune into” Luna’s thoughts was more challenging and mysterious.  An 80-year-old friend with wisdom born of her years said, “People and animals have talked since the beginning of time. Only recently have we lost the ability. You can do it. I know someone you can talk to about it.”

My friend’s friend told me about people whom she knows that communicate with animals, including the woman featured in this video shot by KING5 Evening Magazine: Pet psychic has connection with animals.

Questions:  Have you talked with a pet or other animal? How did you communicate? Did the experience change your life? If so, in what way?

In just a few short hours..

At 11:30 a.m. today–just a few short hours from now here in Seattle–Luna the WonderDog and I will head to the vet for her “final check-up”. The vet will examine her to see how well her TPLO (Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy) has healed.  On July 26, about three months ago, she went “under the knife” so that her ruptured (translation: completely destroyed) cranial cruciate ligament could be removed and her tibia “leveled off” to provide her a more stable rear right knee.

I believe he will be very pleased with the results: Both Luna and I are.  She is walking without a limp, smiling in her old way, and seems younger, more vital to my eye. I also am smiling in my old way and I, too, seem younger, more vital having now “survived” this experience.

This blog is about the journey leading up to the TPLO procedure and about Luna’s recovery. I invite you to join me in the next few days and couple of weeks as I look back on the path that led us to this happier place. Luna will be at my feet as I write, as she is now, comforting me with her sleepy sighs. She may weigh-in here with her point of view now and then, too.

I also hope that you will weigh-in with your point-of-view, your experience, your questions. Perhaps this conversation will be helpful to someone else facing the same kind of dilemma.

The questions that troubled me for a few weeks as I decided whether to get the surgery for Luna most certainly have troubled others:  Should I get this surgery done? How should I go about making this serious decision? What criteria should I use? Can I afford to do this?

Is there a way to find out what Luna thinks about this? What would she do? How “up for this” is my dog with a gentle heart and sensitive spirit? She’s “dialed in” to the universe– she must have a feeling about this. (Luna’s adoption ad described her as a “Zen-doggie”, which proved to be an apt description. She has become only more so as she has aged into the glory of her senior years.)

What do I need to do to prepare in case things do not go well? What if I am faced with heartbreaking decisions because things “go south” after the surgery? Where will I find guidance and support? How will I know what Luna prefers to do if something goes wrong?

I hope you return later today, perhaps tomorrow, or the next day to join in the conversation.