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Posted on 06-26-2017
How do I Prepare for a Veterinary Emergency?
By Jim Young - Manager, Bellalago Veterinary Hospital
It is hard to prepare for an emergency, but there are some things families can do to ensure that emergencies go as smooth as possible. This can be a very tough discussion but makes tough times in the future much easier. I grew up in the Midwest where certain family discussions simply don’t happen; however, having seen some pretty rough situations in the hospital here, I strongly recommend that these discussions happen. I assure you that the discomfort during the discussion will be worth it should an emergency occur!
“What am I willing to spend?”
The first thing I recommend is that you determine how much you’re willing to spend. I know many of us would say they can’t put a price on their pet. However, the reality is that we might have to at some point. Be realistic in your planning. If treatment is going to cost $1000, is that doable? What about $3000? $5000? $10000? While few emergency treatments cost that much at the time, if there are ongoing treatments, that amount could become reality.
As a husband, I know that my wife places far more value on our cat than I do. However, don’t forget to factor in the costs associated with an upset spouse! We all know firsthand how costly upset spouses can be! What about children? Are you ready to have the talk about death with your kids? What value do you place on their feelings? These non-tangible costs can be hard to estimate. Some of these costs aren’t even measured in dollars. Consider the value you put on your animal very carefully, but be realistic!
How absolute is this value? If you say, “I’ll spend $2500 in an emergency” and the bill comes to $2550 then what? How far are you willing to bend on this? It is a firm number that cannot be crossed? Or, is it more of a guideline that can be pushed in one direction or another?
“Where can I get the money from?”
Nearly everyone lives on a fixed budget. We only make so much money each month and we often don’t have extra money just laying around “in case of emergency.” A financial planner might suggest that you regularly set aside a small amount of money for emergencies of any sort (your car breaks down, you get sick and miss work, veterinary emergencies, etc.). This can be hard to do for even the best of us and I applaud those that can.
It isn’t uncommon for people to spend most of the time their pet is being stabilized trying to find friends and family members to borrow money from. This can be painful to watch as the value that friends and family place on your pet is often much less than you determined before. For some people this is their only option for getting money quickly; however, I suggest another route altogether.
Some people love their pet but don’t have a lot of money on hand and borrowing from friends and family can cause a lot of problems. We understand this and suggest that you apply for CareCredit now. CareCredit is a line of credit that can be used here and at many human medical offices. They have promotional rates which are often 0% interest for 6 months on charges over a certain amount ($200 at the time I posted this. More information can be found here.). This amount is low enough that almost any emergency would exceed it. This allows pet owners to carry the cost of emergency treatment for 6 months and pay it off slowly without increasing the overall bill. There is no cost to apply and no annual fee. This gives families more options in the event of an emergency and often eliminates euthanasia as the “best” or “only” option.
“How much time and effort are we willing to dedicate to our pet?”
This can be hard question to answer. If your child is on a seasonal sports team and requires you to drive him or her to or from practice, then you might have more time during some seasons than others. Additionally, some treatments can be done while doing other things. For instance, you can get an IV drip going on your cat and then attend to other things while the cat is getting fluids. However, your hands are very full if you’re having to take your dog out to potty in a sling! Remember that these sorts of things can be very frequent (how often does your dog potty?) or once every few days (such as with the IV fluids). It’s best to know limitations like this ahead of time. If everyone knows what each other can and cannot do given everyone’s limited time and abilities, then this can prevent a lot of hard feelings.
Some people also don’t think about longer-term needs. If your pet loses use of its hind legs, is your home doggie-wheelchair accessible? Can it still get outside when it needs to potty or will it not be able to get through the doggie door? Is your cat going to scratch at your face each time you come close because it associates you with the daily pill? Am I willing to pay for expensive prescription food for the remainder of the pet’s life?
“Who will take care of the pet?”
Most families have one person who feeds the pet daily. While the kids promised this was going to be them when you got the puppy, it often ends up being an adult. Is this same person going to be responsible for ongoing treatments? Are they willing? Do they have the time? It is often easy to say something isn’t a problem when you assume someone else will be doing it!
Don’t forget that someone might have to stay home with the pet if you don’t want to have it boarded at a medical facility. Do you have vacation days to use? Can you afford to take unpaid time off of work (remember to include the emergency bill in your calculations)? Do you have a neighbor or family member who is available to pet sit? Do you know a good pet sitter who you trust to leave alone in your house? Do you have some money set aside to pay them? All of this should be thought about ahead of time and the proper arrangements made.
“At what point is euthanasia the only option?”
There may be some lines in the sand for some of us. While we might be willing to spend a bit more than we initially discussed, there might be things which simply cannot happen regardless of costs. It is important to know what these are. Are you willing to take care of a permanently blind dog? Give daily insulin injections to an unwilling cat? Wake up throughout the night to let out a dog with poor bladder control (or face the consequences in the morning)? Perhaps your spouse has a weak stomach and can’t clean a litter box full of some of the nastiest things ever produced. Do you want to force a pill down your pet’s throat for the rest of its life? It’s best to establish these “deal breakers” upfront.
As a Family, Plan Ahead!
Emotions run high in an emergency and emergencies are already full of drama. Too often there are some tense moments in families when people disagree as to what is and isn’t a possible course of action. Often times these families try to negotiate but this often doesn’t really help as the negotiations often ask for family members to choose between love of each other and love for the pet. Hurt feelings, anger, and sadness are all too common in the aftermath. Additionally, the need to make fairly large decisions (literal life and death ones!) fairly quickly can cause lots of regret and questioning later on. Did you do the right thing? Did you forget to consider something? It is all too easy for a “Monday-morning quarterback” to point out all the mistakes that may have been made. Having these discussions and knowing each other’s’ feelings, limitations, willingness, and financial abilities are important!
Most people never consider a veterinary emergency as something to plan for, but everyone at the hospital can tell you that you should! Have the discussion even if you have to trap your family in a moving car so they don’t run away. Be prepared financially, have the needed supports in place, and know everyone’s feelings. With a little planning ahead of time, the actual emergency will be your only problem!
We were so happy to have the support of the Bellalago team when faced with a rough decision, but the way this article was constructed was outstanding and will help in future scenarios. Although we had to make an emergency decision previously, being encouraged to carefully consider all of the 'what-ifs' and formulate a solid approach will certainly help to avoid the noted Monday morning quarterbacking. Don't wait until it is too late!!!