Real cost of pet ownership: Navigating expensive vet bills, preventing pet homelessness

Solutions journalism aims to find real answers to today’s problems

ORLANDO, Fla. – We expect to save and set aside money for big expenses, like a new car or a down payment for a house.

But when we’re face-to-face with an adorable, playful, affectionate puppy, we are not thinking about the actual cost of owning a dog.

Routine vet checkups, vaccines, lab tests and surgery — it adds up fast.

So what are the solutions to making sure everyone can get care no matter their finances? Well, there are other options your vet may not be telling you about.

Navigating expensive vet bills

When many people hear terms like surgery or MRI, the first thing that goes off in their head is probably dollar signs.

Pet healthcare can be expensive and insurance may not be an affordable option for all.

But we’re talking about the spectrum of care and you have more options than you may realize.

Tip #1: Alternatives to expensive surgery

Instead of extreme medical intervention, some pet owners turn to other forms of care, such as physical rehabilitation. This can be an option for older pets and owners with less money to spend on pet healthcare.

Tip #2: Know your goals for your pet

If comfort is a priority for your pet, experts say it’s worth exploring as many options as possible when it comes to healthcare. That includes lower-cost medications and low-invasive therapies. Just be aware that there are limitations to these treatments.

Tip #3: Understanding your options

Here are some questions you can ask your veterinarian:

  • Will these options change the outcome for my pet?
  • Are there any preventive medications I should give my pet?
  • Is pet insurance worth it?

Vet shortage

Pets are an integral part of our family, so it’s important to take into account how much of your budget will go toward caring for your pet over its lifetime.

While it’s easy to say someone shouldn’t have a pet if they can’t afford that care, are we really going to deny companionship to millions of families living paycheck to paycheck?

More American households have pets than children and veterinarians are working harder than ever to keep up with the growing demand.

Read more here from Solutionaries reporter Erik Sandoval here.

Missing Pets

What would you do if your pet goes missing? How far would you go to find them?

Turns out some people are turning to drone technology as a solution to track down lost pups.

Overcrowded Shelters

Sadly, there are more homeless pets than there are available homes in the U.S.

One of the main reasons why is that shelters have an overabundance of animals when owners fail to have their cats and dogs spayed and neutered.

“For Florida Animal Friend, that’s our total focus. Our goal is to help communities build better spay/neuter efforts,” said Joan Radabaugh, President of Florida Animal Friend.

It’s a non-profit organization devoted to helping fund organizations like shelters and humane societies so that they can provide low-cost spaying and neutering for homeless pets.

The group raises money through Florida Animal Friend vanity license plates.

$25 goes directly to fund organizations that offer free or low-cost spay and neuter services in Florida.

“When you look at why people don’t spay and neuter, it used to be that maybe because they wanted to breed their animals,” Radabaugh said. “But for the most part, it’s usually affordability that prevents people from spaying and neutering.”

Several Central Florida shelters are recipients of Florida Animal Friend grants, including the Central Brevard Humane Society, Orange County Animal Services and Concerned Citizens For Animal Welfare of Volusia County.

Another reason why many shelters are overcrowded is because of irresponsible breeding. Pitbulls or other kinds of “bully” breeds often represent the majority of dogs at overcrowded shelters.

“You have the dog fighting industry and then you also have drug dealers that like dominant aggressive dogs. These are the people that sometimes are breeding these animals,” Radabaugh said.

Osceola County Animal Services

Other popular breeds like German shepherds, Dobermans and French bulldogs are also appearing in growing numbers at shelters in Florida and across the nation because of over-breeding.

When shelters are severely overcrowded, the difficult decision is often made to euthanize dogs and cats for space, severe medical or aggression issues.

By adopting a spayed or neutered homeless pet, Radabaugh said it increases the chances that others will find their forever homes.

“If people are interested in getting another animal, the most important thing is to start looking at adoption,” she said. “Go to rescue groups, go check out shelters, don’t be in a rush to get an animal. And if you are going to purchase an animal, it’s very important that you do it from a responsible breeder.”

You can learn more by watching the full interview with Florida Animal Friend President Joan Radabaugh below.

Watch the latest episode of Solutionaries at the top of this article, on News 6+ for your smart TV (Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Google TV), on the Solutionaries YouTube channel, and every Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. on News 6.

About the Author:

Katrina Scales is a producer for the News 6+ Takeover at 3:30 p.m. She also writes and voices the podcast Your Florida Daily. Katrina was born and raised in Brevard County and started her journalism career in radio before joining News 6 in June 2021.