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Written By Colin Graves

Hey freedom fighters!  This past week was a tough one, as we had a close call with our dog Molly.  We were facing a potentially huge vet bill, and some very difficult decisions.  Fortunately things worked out, but the experience got me thinking about the amount of money people spend on their pets.  From doggy daycare to costly medical expenses, we’re spending billions caring for our furry companions.  It seems everyone has  a different opinion on the topic.  While we did what we felt was best for Molly and for our family, I gained a better understanding for anyone who is faced with the decision of prolonging the life of their pet, often at a great expense.  You can read more about our experience below, and I would love for you to join in the discussion in the comments!

spending money on petsThis week, we experienced first hand the truly difficult decisions that arise when a family pet is suddenly ailing.

Molly, our beloved 9-year old Havanese Shih Tzu, began walking with a pronounced limp last Thursday evening.  My wife and daughter recalled that she had missed her step hopping out of the van earlier in the day, and while they didn’t notice anything at the time, we figured she must have tweaked something when she jumped onto the curb.

While she was clearly favouring her leg, she didn’t seem too bothered by the pain.  As such, we decided to keep an eye on it for a day or so, in case the limp subsided.

It didn’t.

In fact, it became more pronounced.

On Saturday morning, we took Molly to the animal hospital. The vet looked closely at her back legs, and informed us that at first glance, she appeared to have a full tear of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in her back left leg.  In humans, this is referred to as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

He went on to explain that she would require surgery, should we decide to repair the injury.  My heart sank.  I’ll admit, all I saw was dollar signs, at least a couple thousand of them.  Regardless, we decided to have a consultation with the surgeon on Monday morning, to get a more thorough diagnosis.

Is it Monday yet?   

The weekend wasn’t easy.  Plans were shelved, and let’s just say I wasn’t writing any blog posts.  We dreaded having to break the news to our kids.  After all, we assumed that by opting out of surgery, we would have to put Molly down.  Their seemingly perfectly healthy dog, may only be with us for a few days.

While we didn’t want to present the situation as hopeless, we needed to prepare them for the possibility.   Needless to say, there were lots of tears all around.

Bad to worse

Monday morning we returned to consult with the surgeon.  He informed us that the ligaments in BOTH of Molly’s back legs were torn.  However, it wasn’t from a freak injury as we had assumed, but the result of CCL ‘disease’, a very common degenerative condition which had likely been progressing for some time.

In short, Molly would require surgery on both legs, at a cost approaching $3500!  Ouch.  Furthermore, the recovery time would be at least 8 weeks, with very limited activity.

I should have been a veterinarian

Upon our initial visit to the vet, we shelled out $200 for an x-ray and some pain meds.

Meeting with the surgeon for 10 minutes the following Monday set us back $130!!

As we left, I scoured the parking lot for this guys Lamborghini. I mean, he’s pulling down about $800 an hour, according to my math.

I suddenly realized that I should have paid more attention in Grade 10 Biology.

Over the next couple of days, we considered every possible scenario.  We, gasp, even thought of paying for the surgery.

Prior to this experience, I would have scoffed at anyone for considering such a thing, but after this week, I have more understanding for people who spend large sums of money on their pets.

It’s easy for someone to say they would never do it, but when faced with the decision, things become less cut and dry.

Family Meeting

spending money on petsWe don’t always involve our kids in major decisions, but we felt it was important this time. We wanted to hear their perspectives, to make sure everyone was on board.

My wife and I told the kids that we didn’t feel surgery was an option, but we didn’t make money the issue.

Instead, we expressed our concern with the lengthy recovery, and the trauma of the surgery itself. Of course, there was no guarantee it would prolong Molly’s life for any extended period of time.

I should mention that the vet noticed the beginnings of arthritis in Molly’s legs, which will only progress over time.

We explained to the kids that if they decided it was best that we let Molly go, we would do that.

Feelings of relief

The other option we discussed was asking the vet about the possibility of taking a ‘conservative management’ approach, and see whether Molly could manage with the condition, and still live a comfortable life, with little to no pain.

Over the previous day or so, I had noticed Molly already making adjustments to the way she moved, which provided more stability for her legs.  I realized that while the torn ligaments had limited her mobility, she wasn’t experiencing any pain.  The energy was still there. She still clamoured to play in the backyard and continued to follow us around the house, albeit more gingerly.

After discussing for quite some time, this plan made sense to everyone.  We agreed that if Molly’s overall condition were to worsen, or if she began to suffer in any way, it would be time to let her go.

My wife contacted the vet once more, to get his opinion. He felt that a ‘conservative management’ approach was a very reasonable solution, and assured us that the condition wasn’t causing much pain.


Thankfully, things turned out ok this week.  We did what we felt was best for our dog, and for our family.

Once the decision was made to forego surgery and take a wait and see approach, my wife and I felt a sudden peace about the entire situation.

While it would be dishonest of me to say money wasn’t a factor, (if the surgery was $200, we would have proceeded), we did our best to remove it from the equation, and take into account the many other important considerations.

Molly is still with us, but from the initial uncertainty our children were confronted with some level of grief.

I feel as though this was an important experience for them.

While it’s deferred for now, they have a better understanding of how to work through the emotions, and they know that when the time comes, they’ll be ok.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on pet ownership, and how much you’d be willing to spend on your pets, either for regular care, or to deal with a serious injury or illness.

I know there’s going to be a wide range of opinions, from “are you kidding me?”, to those who wouldn’t think twice about shelling out thousands.

Did You Know? 

In the US, over $60 billion dollars was spent on pet expenditures in 2015 alone.


  1. I don’t remember as a kid as many tales of expensive surgeries and procedures on pets. It was more minor things or you put them down. While I’ve yet to go through it with kids, which could make it harder, with us alone with pets we’ve decided surgeries are out. If something more significant comes along then it will be time for us to bid our pet ado.

    • Hey FTF! I think we fall into the same camp as you, but this week, prior to realizing we had a third option, boy was it a tough call. Pets really work their way into your heart, that’s for sure!

      • Our pet collection is a bit extensive. We have a great dane, a chubby cat, and a horse. About a week after getting our cat, (then a 4 week old kitten, and while we were midway through college) she had to have semi-emergency surgery (surgery had to be done within 3 days). The first vet clinic quoted us $3,500 and we were completely disheartened because we had nowhere near that much money and thought we were going to have to put her down. I called around desperately and found a vet that looked at the surgery as being a simple procedure and said he would just consider it the same as a basic spay.

        After that incident we decided that we needed to set reasonable surgery limits for our creatures. Currently they are scaled in relation to the size of the pet. Cat-$1000, dog – $2000, horse-???. Horses are difficult based purely on the large cost of them in general and the uncertainty with surgeries. One of our friends recently had to have emergency surgery for her horse and it cost $7,000 and the horse passed away on the table.

        A little while back our dog had to be put on meds that cost $120 a month (great danes get 4x the dosage of a small dog) for a few months but since she has been off of that it has cut back on the frequency of our vet visits which was costing us a lot of money at the end of last year. Its hard to say no when they are a member of the family.

        • Wow, I can’t imagine dealing with the expense of owning a horse. Beautiful animals though. We have a couple of friends who own horses (more than a couple, actually). It’s so much more than the medical expenses, all of the food and shelter costs can certainly add up. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh man, you’ve picked a sensitive topic here. For many, it’s like asking how much you’d spend for your child (though, I’d never put a pet / child on the same equal plane). That said, we’ve had a house bunny for the past 6 years and she is probably the best pet I’ve personally had. My wife loves bunnies – so it would be tough to see her go. We’ve definitely spent our fair share on some vet visits and she eats like a queen. I mean, if she is busting our budget and we end up having to eat ramen, I guess that would be the point where we’d say enough. I’m not willing to go into debt for the little lady though.

    • Hey Aaron, thanks for sharing! I hear you about the pet/child thing. I know people who have either chosen not to have kids, or haven’t been able to, and for them their pets really fill that space to some degree. We actually have 2 dogs, and have been fortunate not to have any major medical expenses to date. Perhaps that’s why this week was somewhat of a shocker!

  3. I am a psycho pet owner, so I would shell out the $3,500 if Zap needed an operation–no questions asked. Mr. Picky Pincher would probably fight me on that, since he doesn’t treat animals like pets, but it’s a no-brainer to me. I do think the key here is to adopt animals that have less likelihood of suffering from disease. That does mean adopting “mutts” instead of purebred breeds.

    • Zap, that name rocks! : ) I hear you on the mutts over purebreds. Molly is a Havanese – Shih tzu mix, not quite a mutt, I guess. Our other dog, was a stray rescue, she’s a 90 pound ‘Heinz 57’, got some Shepard and Lab in there somewhere. Healthy as a horse so far. : )

  4. Oh man, pet expenses have been one of our biggest surprises lately. Our cat (whom we’ve had for 10 years) recently got sick with a mystery illness and it cost us $3,000 in vet bills before she was good to take home again. The only reason we spent this much was because it was random, and the vet expected her to live a perfectly normal life after (and indeed, she’s totally back to normal now), and she’s still got a lot of years left in her.

    Now, we’ve hired a private trainer for $450 because my bonehead dog seems to have anxiety attacks when she’s on a leash around other dogs. To be fair, she was viciously attacked as a pup by a herd of dogs while on a walk. We live in a very dog-friendly town and in the middle of a pet-friendly apartment complex, so it is worth it for our (and her) quality of life to fix this issue finally.

    While I do NOT think pets are the same as children by any means (they are not my “furbabies” – they are cats and a dog), I still think one has the responsibility to care for them if you’re going to take one on. If we face a large vet bill, we will find a way to pay it unless the animal isn’t going to live a good, long quality of life afterwards. Otherwise, just get a plant.

    • Hey Lindsay, thanks for reading and I’m glad to hear your cat’s ok! I’m sure the trainer will do wonders for your dog. Traumatic experiences early on can definitely take a toll, so it’s great that you’re helping her in this way. : )

  5. Ohhhh, I have been there. My first dog was seeing liver issues at the not so old age of 12. The vet told us about all sorts of very expensive things we could do, but as much as I loved her, it never felt like the right thing to do. Instead, we did just what you are doing – we watched her for any signs of discomfort. One day, she just sort of keeled over a bit, and we knew it was time. Saying goodbye to a pet is so heartbreaking. What you don’t always foresee is how a pet’s passing can come to symbolize a particular era of your life. This was our dog before having kids, and in our children’s very early years and when she died I really mourned not just her, but that entire last decade. But even having said that, I think that putting yourself in thousands of dollars of debt for painful and uncertain medical procedures for a pet is, for my family at least, not the way to go. We have another dog now and I am very careful before even take her to the vet – like when a weird enormous pimple started growing on her chin. It just went away. If I went to the vet, I’d be at least $100 poorer for no good reason. I’m an animal lover, but people are people and dogs are dogs, and maybe it doesn’t always make sense to treat a dog like a person. I jokingly say we take a somewhat “christian scientist” approach to our dog’s medical care. She gets all her shots and checkups and I brush her terrible greyhound teeth, but beyond that, it is kind of in God’s hands. And she needs to be at least a little responsible for not eating something poisonous. Because if she does, her time is up. It’s sink or swim in our family!

    • Thanks Linda for this, I really appreciate your thoughts. It’s funny, over the weekend I was considering the symbolism of Molly’s time with our family. While it looks like the era isn’t quite over yet, the whole idea of life being a collection of seasons that we move in and out of is something that certainly resonates with me. On another note, the experience you detailed above also helps to affirm the decision we’ve made. Thank you 🙂

  6. We know of people who have an 18 year old cat diagnosed with cancer and the cat recently had surgery to remove one eye and the cat is now going thru chemotherapy. I know they love their cat dearly, but I can’t see how this will extend his life by a lot of time or how seeing with one eye now is affecting him. For our family, if a senior cat is ill at 18 years old, it’s time to let him go and not suffer.

  7. Glad Molly is still with you and doing OK!

    We had 3 pets with varying ailments and associated expenses. One of our dogs had a partial tendon tear at a young age and when I was single with a fairly low income. I opted not to go with the $3000 surgery and complicated recovery and she adjusted well to a happy 3 1/2 legged life and didn’t have arthritis problems until her last year of life.

    After I married Mr. Grumby our second dog had a series of cancers. We had the mast cell and another tumor removed in 2 separate surgeries at a total of a few thousand $ and some time off work to manage the recovery. She was happy and energetic and goofy through it all, but when a 3rd tumor showed up a year after surgery #2 we decided to go with palliative care.

    We also has a cat that passed away this past February.

    Details about our experience with her here:

    Our thoughts on pets in retirement and pet expenses are in this post:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with Molly. Hope she continues to do well without a need for surgery!

    • Hey Mrs. G! Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely be checking out the links you shared. Sounds like two very difficult experiences to go through. This is really the first serious medical situation we’ve had to deal with, so it’s all new. I’d like not to deal with another one for a while : )

  8. You’re right, we can talk about not being willing to shell out significant amounts of money for our pets, but when it comes to that point in time, it’s a much harder decision. While I wouldn’t do it for the cats, our Sammy (a shih poo) is a completely different story. $3500 is probably more than I would spend (maybe…). I would have done exactly what you guys have chosen to do with Molly (she’s adorable by the way!). Until we got Sammy, I never would have understood spending any significant amount of money on a pet, but she is such a huge part of our family now! So glad Molly is coping better and still happy! 🙂 Can’t imagine what your weekend must have been like.

    • Amanda, thank you! While I know not everyone would have made the same decision that we did, it’s encouraging to hear words of affirmation. We definitely felt a peace about the decision. I’m actually sitting with Molly as I write this, with the basketball game on in the background. Fun times! 🙂

  9. We adopted our Gracie (2 year old shepherd mix) and she still young. I do wonder what will happen once she’s older. We have incidental (broken bones etc.) but not preventative (check ups and shots etc.) Since she’s young we’re playing the math game. If something happened with her but it’s totally fixable my husband would pay up to $20,000 (he adores Grace). But if it’s $3,500 and the there’s a host of other issues with time against the dog, I personally would think it’s time to let go. Give them a day full of cheeseburgers and kisses first.

  10. This is why we don’t have pets. I can’t cope. Growing up, my parents’ dog (their baby before me) was even on dialysis to prolong its life. But when it started to suffer, they put it down. I can only imagine the thousands of dollars my mom pumped into that pup. And I honestly can’t say I’d do anything different. Which is why I opt to dog sit and pet dogs on my runs but not own one.

    So glad your family found a plan that works. Sorry about the scare.

    • Love it when you stop by, Penny! It’s definitely easy to go down the rabbit hole on vet expenses, that’s for sure. Taking a few days to decide allowed us to make a more rational decision, and I’m glad we did. Thankfully Molly seems to be back to normal. Her vertical isn’t what it used to be though. 🙂

  11. I’m really sorry to hear about what happened, but glad that you guys have a solution that isn’t breaking the bank.

    Years ago, we adopted a stray cat that my parents found in their garage. She was only a year and a half old when we got her and she had everything – mites, tapeworms, etc. We laid out the big bucks to get her spayed and get all the bugs out of her system. She was the most amazing, loving cat and we were really happy we had adopted her.

    A year and a half later, she started coughing with liquid coming out of her nose and her breathing was fast and labored. We brought her in to the emergency vet and had her there for a full week. Oxygen, lab tests, etc all set us back $2500. I was floored by the cost but we couldn’t have had it any other way – she was family.

    Sadly, at the end of the week she passed away without us ever figuring out what went wrong. Even with all this, I don’t regret spending the money. It was well worth it at the time.

    That said, this experience is a part of the reason we don’t have pets today. We’ll likely have pets again someday but at this point we want to focus on travel and financial freedom. Once we’re a bit more financially and location stable, maybe we’ll get back into pet ownership 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing Chris, that must have been a very tough situation. I understand your wanting to wait before having another pet. When the time comes and we do eventually have to part with our two dogs, we’ll take a break as well, to allow for more flexibility to travel.

      As for Molly, a few weeks have gone by, and she’s doing better than I expected. She’s made her own adjustments for her condition, compensating for the lack of strength in her legs. She’s got lots of energy, and other than the fact she can’t hop up on the couch or tackle the stairs, she’s doing just fine. We’re very thankful for that!


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