$3k pet tipping point: The sad reality of a cost-of-living crisis

Many pet owners can't afford vet bills.

Compilation image of pet dog in a stroller and another pet dog being walked
Aussies are splashing out a fortune on their pets each year. (Source: Getty)

Roughly $3,000. That's the ‘drop dead’ dollar amount for a veterinary procedure or surgery – or the amount at which pet owners would instead reluctantly opt to put their pet down.

In one of the saddest features of the cost-of-living crisis, this is the cost of dying for dogs or cats for 40 per cent of owners, according to research seen exclusively by Yahoo Finance.

Also by Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

PetSure asked more than 2,500 pet owners: “If you were advised by your vet that your pet required emergency surgery and the cost was likely to be around $3,000, what would you do?”

A full 40 per cent said they’d consider putting down their pet if the vet bill was more than $3,000.

The last time PetSure posed the research question was in 2022, one year after the COVID crisis kicked off and millions of Aussies were forced into isolation. At this time - when data show that a huge number of households had just added a pet or second, third or fourth pet to their family, for the companionship and mental health benefits - one in six pet owners (17 per cent) said they would consider ‘economic euthanasia’.

So, $3,000 seems to be the terrible tipping point. But, today, for far more pet parents.

How high could your costs go?

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, but their owners are struggling with the financial upkeep that comes with keeping an animal companion, particularly veterinary costs, according to Animal Medicines Australia (AMA).

Two-thirds of pet owners have considered not going to the vet when needed due to cost concerns, according to AMA research. The cost of even common health conditions in dogs, like gastritis, can vary from $500 up to as high as $28,000.

Vets and insurers point to a common misconception about affordability: there is no Medicare for pets. That means there is no safety net or base rate paid, as with Medicare, but the level of sophistication of pet health care is on par with human health. Take a repair for a dog’s cruciate ligament (in its knee). The cost is very similar for a human but the human healthcare cost is subsidised by a Medicare rebate.

“Vet hospitals are comparable to fully decked-out human hospitals, with a variety of specialist services often provided under the one roof, including state-of-the-art machinery and equipment, sophisticated diagnostic tools, administration of medicine and around-the-clock veterinary care,” PetSure CEO Alex Thomas said.

“Pet healthcare costs are rising due to the technological advancements in veterinary science, including the sophistication and more frequent use of diagnostic tools like MRIs and CT scans, greater accessibility of pet health care with ‘on-demand culture’ with emergency clinics and higher operating costs for bricks-and-mortar vet clinics.”

Inflation safeguards for your ‘guard dog’

It all speaks of the necessity to have an inflation-fighting pet plan… or face a traumatic time. You need the tools in place to manage veterinary treatment costs as - and when - they arise. That means knowing there are alternatives, which are similar to human money-mitigating costs.

Here are five money-safeguarding tips to help.

1. Use vet telehealth for non-emergencies

Yes, you can do telehealth for pets too. In fact, you can access videos to help or have live message consultations with qualified vets for advice and triage. Telehealth vet services are useful for non-emergencies and queries like gastrointestinal issues (for example, if your pet ate something it shouldn’t have) or for mild skin irritations or issues. Give it a Google.

2. Tell your vet about any financial concerns

It’s counterintuitive to stick up your hand and admit you’re financially stretched with any bill but conceding your little buddy’s bills are hugely stressful is important. Enquire early about the estimated treatment costs, notify your pet’s vet of any financial constraints you may have, and disclose whether or not you have a pet insurance policy – be aware these policies may have huge carve-outs for certain conditions and caps on payments as well.

3. Consider a gap-only policy

Gap-only cover allows you to claim, on the spot, the difference between the vet’s invoice and the insurance claim benefit for eligible claims. This means it reduces your upfront out-of-pocket expense.

4. Buy pet prescription medications online

This one isn’t suitable for emergency situations but you could, in some cases, save money by buying pet prescription medications through an online pet pharmacy. Examples where this might work include allergic skin conditions, arthritis pain or thyroid conditions.

5. Up your pet excess

Instead of dropping your pet insurance altogether, consider cutting the cost by upping your excess. It’s better for your family’s fur baby to be covered for something, rather than nothing.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at www.nicolessmartmoney.com. Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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