Furry Family Members
Although dogs are considered to be part of the family for most people in the world, decisions regarding expensive healthcare are always difficult. Unlike in humans, most surgeries in pets are considered elective. For example, a surgery to fix pelvic damage after a car accident is considered elective in dogs, but would be performed without question on a human. Some families simply can’t afford the expensive care suggested by a veterinarian. Other times, especially in the case of chemotherapy, people feel it is wrong to put their animals through that kind of pain.
Either way, veterinarians across the globe must help pet parents make difficult decisions. While it is true that one should not own a dog unless they are ready to handle the responsibility, most people cannot predict that their animal will need surgeries and treatments costing up to $5000.1 The cost of both the surgeries and the time spent in intensive care add to up large numbers that have to be paid out of pocket. However, as these surgeries and treatments become more common, pet insurance policies are also becoming more common. However, these insurance plans can be expensive. The average cost of a pet insurance plan in 2014 was $473 for dogs and $285 for cats.2 Still, these insurance plans do not cover the full cost of expensive procedures.2
With humans, doctors do not simply suggest surgery to fix a torn ACL or to provide intensive care after a car crash; they instead make it seem absolutely necessary. With dogs, veterinarians suggest these procedures and then must wait for approval by the pet owner. Sometimes owners are forced to make an impossible decision and put the dog down if they cannot afford the cost of care. Some veterinarians and pet owners may see this decision to end a dog’s life because of a financial issue as the wrong decision,but they can understand the burden that expensive treatments place on families.
Another case where medical care in human family members and animal family members differ is in cancer treatment. Not only are surgery and chemotherapy expensive, but they are also very taxing. The goals of chemotherapy in dogs are different than in humans: in humans, the goal of chemotherapy in most cases is eradication, whereas in dogs it is to extend life and improve the quality of life.3 The field of veterinary medicine has come to a consensus that forcing dogs to go through the pain of eradication is unfair because the dogs cannot understand why they are being put through that torture.3 Instead, doses of chemotherapy are monitored by the pet owner and veterinarian to reduce the side effects on the dog’s body as much as possible. Even with this monitoring, chemotherapy can be tough on the dog and does not necessarily make the dog cancer free. Therefore, some families cannot justify the cost of chemotherapy for their pet.
These decisions make for an important ethical question: should it be required for pet owners to provide as much care as they would a human? After all, both are living things. Should we as a society push for equal treatment? Do dogs and cats have a right to healthcare in the same way that humans do? At the end of the day, the utilitarian model of though would argue that cancer treatment for a dog can add maybe 10 years, but treatment for humans can extend lives by much longer. Therefore, one could see it as the costs outweighing the benefits. However, if we were to consider animals to have the same rights as humans, then health care should be provided to these animals.
 “Actual Claims and Veterinary Costs.” Trupanion. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://trupanion.com/pet-insurance/actual-claims.
 Walker, Mandy. “Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost?” Consumer Reports. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://www.consumerreports.org/pet-products/is-pet-insurance-worth-cost./
 “Chemotherapy for Dogs & Cats.” WVRC. Accessed December 20, 2016. http://www.wvrc.com/veterinary-specialities/veterinary-oncology-wi/chemotherapy-general-information/.