Veterinary Care – What Happens When You Can’t Afford Surgery For Your Dog?

May 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Don’t feel guilty if costs prevent pet surgery, say Edmonton vets

The following article was written by Jamie Hall, Edmonton (26.12.11):  

“EDMONTON- Sylvia Smith has never regretted the thousands of dollars she and her husband spent to save their beloved dog, Sandy. She is one of many readers who responded to my request for stories and comments after I shared the incredible story of Relvis, the one-year-old English mastiff who spent more than two months in Edmonton’s Guardian Veterinary Centre.

After being struck by a fuel truck on a work site near Drayton Valley earlier in the fall, Relvis’s back legs were degloved — essentially stripped of skin — and it took several surgeries to repair the damage. Relvis’s owner Satchel Ravelli was presented with an unimaginable vet bill — $40,000 — which he paid, happily, just grateful to have his pet back by his side.

“I’ve spent more money on stupider things in my life,” he said. “(The vets) told me they could make him better, and they did.”

first aid dog

Veterinary technology has made what was almost impossible even a decade ago more accessible to pet owners, many of whom view their animals as members of the family. Still, making decisions when your pet is faced with a medical emergency is never easy. The financial — and emotional — toll it takes is often devastating.

“As veterinarians, we try to offer options as realistically as we can,” says Dave Fowler of the Guardian Veterinary Centre, “but it’s never something that we want people to feel guilty about, no matter what their decision. You make the best decisions you can for your pets, based on your circumstances, whatever they are.”

When Sylvia Smith’s cardigan Welsh corgi Sandy injured her back three years ago, she had only been part of the family for a short time, long enough to have stolen their hearts with her soulful eyes and gentle ways.

Initially, their vet thought the injury could be successfully treated with rest and steroids. When the dog’s back legs quit working altogether and her wonderful bushy tail stopped wagging, actually freezing into an odd curl, they knew the situation was desperate.

Things moved quickly after that. Referred to the Edmonton Veterinarians Emergency Clinic downtown, Sylvia was told there was a surgical opening later that same day, and that back surgery would cost a minimum of $5,000.

Unable to reach her husband on his cellphone, she grew increasingly distraught, aware that the window of opportunity to take the appointment was closing.

“When I finally reached my husband I told him our options, between sobs,” says Sylvia. “At first he said we would have to let her go but when he realized how upset I got even hearing that he said we should go for it. Somehow we would find a way to pay for it.”

They got Sandy to the clinic in time for the appointment. What Sylvia remembers most is how calm and reassuring the vet who examined Sandy was. He said that although the injury was serious, there was a very good chance it could be fixed through surgery.

He then left the couple alone so they could discuss it. At this point, she says, they were committed to doing everything they could. They gave the OK.

“She was operated on later that evening and we got word that she came through it beautifully,” says Sylvia. “We were allowed to come and see our dog any time day or night. The clinic staff were wonderful. They showed us how to help our dog walk with the assistance of a sling.

“They walked us through the medications she would be on and advised us on the best way to keep her comfortable at home. They also suggested we put her into physiotherapy. That came at an additional cost, of course, but we did it and didn’t regret it.

“Of course, each situation is different. We chose to do what we could to save our dog because she was still young and healthy. If she had been several years older, perhaps we would have chosen differently. We have never regretted doing what we could for her at that time.

“Our reward has been enjoying her funny and loving ways since. She makes us laugh and we love her more every day.

“Who wouldn’t pay for that?”

Of course, sometimes all the money in the world can’t stop an animal’s suffering.

Marie Reitzel had spent thousands of dollars on her beloved schnoodle Lacey by the time she made the heart-wrenching decision to have her put to sleep a month or so ago. For most of her seven years, Lacey had suffered the affects of a form of colitis, but the last bout was particularly severe.

“Watching her suffer became more than the money being spent,” she says. “We realized as we watched her struggle with this disease that it was about her and what she had to endure almost every day. Yes, she had good weeks but the bad ones were really bad. As hard as it was, and still is — I am weeping as I write this — I am glad she no longer has to suffer.”

She is also forever grateful to the vets and staff at the Terwillegar Veterinary Clinic who all worked so hard to keep Lacey as comfortable and as healthy as possible.

“They were compassionate and respectful and very caring when it came time to put Lacey down,” says Marie. “Two of their staff put together memory frames with Lacey’s paw prints and some of her hair, which now hang in our living room. They did a beautiful job.”

Reader Inga Gaedig has sacrificed a lot for her cats, not just financially but in other ways, too. She wouldn’t have it any other way; having them has enriched her life in ways she couldn’t even imagine. One cat, Olivia, has a rare skin condition and another one, Rufie, was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease this year — and a heart murmur. Needless to say, it’s been a costly year. Here’s the thing, though, says Inga: You never know what health problems will arise, but you also have to be aware that it could be costly.

“I am an animal lover and dedicated to the welfare of my cats,” she says. “You have to make concessions. My carpets are scratched and have pet stains but I can’t afford laminate flooring right now. My car is an older model with some rust spots and some dents, but it is still reliable. Some of my furniture shows signs of being used as a scratching post.

“Material things don’t mean anything to me; the welfare of animals is more important.”


Do you have any stories to share about how much you have spent on veterinary care and/or surgery for your pet? If so, I would love to hear about them.

Please consult a qualified animal naturopath for advice about nutritionally-balanced diets and naturopathic medicines for the treatment of animals.  

Yours In Great Health,

Sar Rooney BHSc., DC., ND., DASc., GDSc. (Hons) Zoology, MHATO, MATMS

Naturopathic Practitioner, Researcher, Lecturer, Canine Naturopath

Science-Based Naturopathy for Canine Wellbeing 


Canine naturopathic health care with a clinical focus on skin conditions, inflammatory bowel disorders, chronic infections, arthritis and disease prevention.

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Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended to replace any veterinary or medical advice or treatment. 

Natural Animal Health for pets, specialising in natural health for dogs. Naturopathic dog therapy with a holistic approach to animal health may complement conventional vet treatments. We offer expert naturopathic advice for dogs from a qualified animal naturopath that specializes in natural dog health. We are based in South Australia's Adelaide Hills region but consult throughout Australia and internationally, with clients in South Australia, Queensland, Victoria, the ACT, NSW, the NT, Tasmania, Western Australia, New Zealand, the UK, the US and other countries throughout the world. While we specialise in dogs health problems and natural animal therapy we also treat people with naturopathic medicine and offer clinic services in natural health. Many clients have found natural animal therapy to be more effective or less invasive than conventional vet services. Our clients have a common interest in the health and wellbeing of their dog and are looking for natural preventative health programs and natural remedies for dogs such as herbal medicines and homeopathy that are often not offered by veterinary practices or veterinarian clinics in Australia and New Zealand. Canine natural pain relief and natural animal therapy for inflammation are common conditions that may benefit from naturopathic animal health treatments and holistic pet care.

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