Nearly Half Of Pet Owners Would Consider Euthanizing Their Pet When Facing High Vet Bills (NEW STUDY)

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A sad dog owner crying because of a bad diagnosis of her sick old Cocker Spaniel at the vet hospital.

The cost of vet care is rapidly increasing, putting pet parents in an exceptionally agonizing situation of choosing between their finances and their dog’s health – and even ending their pet’s lives prematurely in many cases. 

Canine Journal’s new study concludes that getting pet insurance can result in fewer pets being euthanized due to financial hurdles. Find out how much dog parents spend on health-related costs and how to avoid going into debt to pay for pet care.

6 Key Survey Findings

  • 48% of respondents would consider euthanizing their pets if they were diagnosed with a condition requiring costly treatment that was difficult for them to pay.
  • 36% said the most they’d be willing to spend on their dog’s medical needs to avoid euthanasia is $1,000. Meanwhile, 17% said there is no limit to how much money they’d spend to save their dog’s life.
  • 55% of pet owners would consider unnecessary euthanasia instead of paying $2,500 for vet care.
  • 18% of respondents are unlikely to spend money on costly medical treatment for a dog (less than 5 years old).
  • 41% of respondents have gone into debt to pay for their dog’s non-routine vet care
  • 55% of respondents wish they had pet insurance in the past to help cover unexpected vet costs.

Do High Treatment Costs Lead To Unnecessary Euthanasia?

Pet parents commonly mention that the cost of vet care is a major issue they struggle with. In fact, 48% of respondents said they would consider euthanizing their pet if they were diagnosed with a condition requiring costly treatment that was financially difficult for them to pay. Unfortunately, economic euthanasia is a common dilemma in the veterinary community, which weighs heavily on not only pet owners but also veterinarians and their staff.

What Is Economic Euthanasia?

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association defines economic euthanasia as
1. a condition in which euthanasia is elected based primarily, principally, or to a large degree on the cost of veterinary medical care;
2. a condition in which veterinary care is bypassed based on the anticipated cost of care, and the progression of illness leads to euthanasia; or
3. a condition in which veterinary care is sought and minimal or no testing/treatment is elected based on the costs of care, resulting in eventual euthanasia.
A pie chart showing if people would consider euthanizing your pet if costly medical treatment were needed and difficult for you to afford.

Other Factors That Lead To A Decision To Euthanize Pets

According to our survey results, 18% said the cost of medical treatment their dog required attributed to their decision to euthanize their dog. Overall, pet parents prioritize their pet’s pain as the primary factor in electing for euthanasia — nearly 2 in 5 pet owners (38%) reported this as one of the leading factors in their decision to euthanize their last pet. This was followed by 36% saying there was nothing they could do to prolong the dog’s life and 35% saying the pet’s overall health status.

A bar chart showing what were the main factors in the decision to euthanize last pet.

How Much Are Pet Owners Willing To Spend To Avoid Euthanasia?

Our data revealed that 36% would be willing to spend up to $1,000 on their dog’s medical needs to avoid euthanasia. The same percentage (36%) of respondents have spent more than $1,000 for non-routine vet care for their dog.

Meanwhile, 17% said there is no limit to how much money they’d spend to save their dog’s life.

A bar chart showing how much people would you spend on dogs medical needs to avoid euthanasia.

What’s alarming about these results is that 55% of respondents said that they wouldn’t be willing to spend more than $2,500 to avoid euthanasia. The cost to treat many illnesses and emergencies is far greater than $2,500. Let’s play out a scenario.

Gastrointestinal (stomach) issues are among the most common reasons dogs require emergency vet care. This can vary from ingesting something dangerous (e.g., bones, toys, specific human food toxic to dogs, garbage, and more) to a severe illness.

Let’s say a dog eats chicken bones and begins showing GI issues (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, loss of appetite, bloating, abdominal pain, refusal to drink, etc.). Bones pose an immense risk for dogs because they can become lodged in the esophagus, splinter and tear the GI tract, and cause other dangerous health concerns for dogs. Fortunately, in many situations, foreign body ingestion is treatable with medical intervention. However, the dog may have a potential obstruction or internal bleeding due to the bone ingestion, which can be very painful for the pup. In situations like this, the pet parent should seek immediate vet care for the dog.

The dog is taken to the vet. After the emergency exam fee, blood work, diagnostic tests, anesthesia, exploratory surgery, hospital stay, prescription medications, intravenous fluids, and other vet care are performed, the dog is on the mend and expected to make a full recovery. Unfortunately, the pet parent faces a vet bill ranging from $800 to $7,000.

According to our survey results, 64% of pet owners would potentially opt for unnecessary euthanasia instead of paying thousands of dollars to treat their dog’s foreign body ingestion. This is just one example of how one small thing can quickly become a massive cost for pet parents.

Many other common dog health issues can easily reach or exceed $2,500 in vet costs. Some include:

Many of these conditions are treatable and can lead to a dog living a long, happy life with the proper vet care. In these instances, where vet treatment costs exceed $2,500, only 45% would be willing to spend the money. Furthermore, only 29% would be willing to pay more than $5,000.

Is A Dog’s Age A Factor In Euthanasia?

Accidents and illnesses are more likely to pop up as a dog ages. According to our survey results, 31% of respondents said their pet’s age was a contributing factor to their decision to euthanize their dog. Notably, 18% would likely not spend money on costly medical treatment for a dog who is less than 5 years old.

The majority of those surveyed (44%) reported that their dog’s age wouldn’t be a factor until 14 years or older. Still, almost 2 in 5 would opt out of costly medical procedures for their less than 5-year-old dog.

A bar chart showing at what age would people would not spend on a costly non routine medical procedure for dog.

What does this mean for the dogs of those pet owners who fall within that 18%? Owners may opt for palliative care for pain management, symptom control, and quality of life until euthanasia is more of a last resort due to the dog being in pain, a veterinarian’s recommendation, or other reasons.

However, palliative care expenses can add up quickly and may result in dogs being euthanized due to the lack of funds for symptom control and quality of life. It’s an unfortunate decision either way.

Example Of Age vs Cost Considerations

Breed impacts a dog’s lifespan. For instance, Great Danes live 6-8 years on average, while Australian Shepherds can live an average of 12-18 years. The expected lifespan of some pet owner’s breed or mix of breeds impacts their decision on whether or not they spend money on costly medical treatment for their dog.

Here’s an example of how this could play out in real life for a pet owner who has a dog with cancer, which is one of the most common health issues for dogs. Someone with a 4-year-old Great Dane may opt against expensive cancer treatment for their dog. Meanwhile, another person with a 4-year-old Australian Shepherd may approve more or all the surgical and medical cancer treatments available for their dog.

Many factors can lead a pet owner to this decision. However, one that is sometimes attributed is that the Australian Shepherd could still live 14 more years while the Great Dane could live only 2 to 4 more years. The potential lifespan for the breed can make it difficult for the pet owner to spend $6,000 to $10,000 on surgery, chemo, and radiation (the actual cost of cancer treatment can exceed $10,000 for some cases) if the dog breed’s expected lifetime isn’t much longer.

What Are Parents Paying For Non-Routine Vet Care?

Unexpected trips to the vet can quickly rack up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on your pet’s ailment. Over one-third of respondents (36%) have spent more than $1,000 for non-routine veterinary care for their dog due to an illness, injury, or a chronic health condition.

Non-routine veterinary care consists of unexpected accidents and illnesses that require medical treatment. Things like annual exams, vaccinations, flea/tick/heartworm treatments, and other items related to preventative care are excluded and fall under routine vet care.

A pie chart showing how much people have spent on non routine vet care due to an illness or injury.

Are Pet Owners Willing To Go Into Debt For Their Pet?

The best thing you can do to avoid going into debt for your pet is to prepare for emergencies and routine expenses. According to our survey, 41% of respondents have gone into debt to pay for their dog’s non-routine vet care. One way to prepare for these unexpected vet expenses is by signing up for pet insurance.

A pie chart showing how people have paid for non routine vet treatment in the past.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Pet insurance is the pet equivalent of human health insurance. Depending on the plan, unexpected accidents (e.g., broken bones, torn ligaments, foreign body ingestion, etc.) and illnesses (e.g., cancer, allergies, arthritis, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.) may be eligible for coverage. Routine expenses, like vaccines, deworming, wellness exams, etc., are excluded from pet insurance coverage.

Of those surveyed, 37% had pet insurance, and 55% wished they had pet insurance in the past to help cover an unexpected vet cost.

A bar chart showing if people have pet insurance or wish they had it.

Pet insurance allows you to make the best decision for your pet when an emergency arises instead of the least expensive one. Your dog’s health emergencies can cost thousands of dollars, and knowing when they will occur is impossible. Knowing your pet will have access to medical care, regardless of the cost, can make it worth having pet insurance.

“It’s evident from Canine Journal’s new study that the soaring costs of veterinary care are forcing pet parents into heartbreaking decisions between their finances and their pets’ well-being,” said Amber Batteiger, Spokesperson for Embrace Pet Insurance. “This situation, exacerbated by inflation, illustrates why pet insurance is no longer optional, but essential. This survey’s findings shows that it’s heartbreaking to acknowledge that many pets could have lived longer if not for these financial burdens. Ensuring pets remain part of their families without financial hardship is paramount. These difficult choices don’t reflect a lack of love but the harsh realities many face. Pet insurance emerges as a critical tool for keeping our cherished pets healthy and by our sides longer.”

Example Where Pet Insurance Is Worthwhile

My senior dog, Daisy, is 12 years old and going through a cancer diagnosis. We don’t have insurance on her and cannot get her coverage at this late stage in her life. When I adopted her, pet insurance was something I didn’t know much about and didn’t feel was a worthwhile investment. In fact, I had been told by more than a few people that it was a scam. I know better now.

Daisy has a couple of medical issues that led the vet to believe she has cancer. These include several hard bumps (over 10) on her body and a sore on her leg that will not heal. After trying a few different treatments, we were faced with the complex and heart-wrenching reality that something was going on with her that we may not be able to treat.

For Daisy, there are just a couple of options: costly treatment like surgery and chemotherapy or less expensive comfort care. Surgery and chemo could give her a little more time with us but add a massive financial weight on us. Comfort care would allow her to live out her life, however long she has, with treatment to manage her pain, but not treat the cancer. Even going through a cancer diagnosis without insurance has a price tag of several thousand dollars.

As her dog mom, it’s a heartbreaking place to be. I don’t want her in pain, and of course, I want to keep her alive as long as I can. While having insurance might not save her life, it would certainly make more treatment options available by assisting with the financial responsibility. Instead, we are grappling with the decision to move forward with expensive treatment that could keep her alive longer or move forward with less costly comfort care options that will result in less time with her.

Danielle DeGroot, parent to a Pitbull Lab mix

What About Routine Expenses?

Wellness plans are not pet insurance products and are always optional. They cover preventative care, such as annual exam fees, spay/neuter procedures, routine blood panels, heartworm testing, and vaccines.

About one-third of survey respondents (34%) have gone into debt to pay for their dog’s routine vet care. One way to avoid debt for your pet’s annual vet expenses is by adding a wellness plan to your pet insurance policy.

A pie chart showing how people have paid for routine vet care in the past.

How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?

According to NAPHIA (North American Pet Health Insurance Association), the average monthly premium for an accident and illness dog insurance policy in the U.S. is $53.34 ($32.25 for cats).

However, the price varies based on your pet’s specific details (breed, age, location, etc.) and the pet insurance provider you select. Use our quick, free quote form below to get a price for your dog, and read our pet insurance comparison to learn more about the best companies.

Our Study Methodology

Canine Journal commissioned Pollfish on December 5, 2023, to conduct an online survey of 1,000 pet owners in the United States (U.S.). Of the pet owners surveyed, 100% currently had a dog or had one in the past five years and were asked to answer questions based on one dog who has experienced medical treatment in the past.

The survey was created to better understand how uninsured pets are at risk for economic euthanasia and how insuring pets may result in healthier pets who live longer.

Note: Figures represented in percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number.

Why Trust Canine Journal?

Canine Journal is an industry authority on pet insurance, writing about the topic since 2013, well before other conglomerates discovered the rising popularity of health care for our pets. Many of our authors have personal experience with pet insurance, including Kimberly Alt, who spends countless hours analyzing survey data to deliver insights to our audience. Kimberly is Canine Journal’s go-to expert for pet insurance covering nearly every possible facet related to pet insurance for more than a decade. Kimberly knows the subject so well that she can answer a breadth and depth of pet insurance questions immediately. And on the rare occasion she doesn’t know the answer off the top of her head, she can find it within minutes due to her extensive list of resources. Michelle Schenker, a licensed insurance agent, offers additional expertise and authority in Canine Journal’s ability to accurately write about and assist readers in purchasing policies.

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