What to Do When the Expensive Treatment for Your Pet

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Section II: Going to the Dogs
(Or Cats)

11. If I absolutely cannot afford my beloved dog’s very expensive operation, what should I do?

Get a second opinion.

Veterinary practice, alas, is no longer the altruistic calling that it used to be; it is now part of the “pet industry,” which exploits people’s feelings toward their animals to extract amazing amounts of money.

You would never (assuming you have good sense) allow a doctor to do surgery on you without seeking a second opinion. The same applies to your dog: even if you buy what the present vet says, to be fully informed take the dog to another vet for a second opinion.

You may be surprised.

When my last German shepherd was about a year old, I took her to a vet suggested by a friend to have her hips X-rayed for signs of dysplasia; these X-rays were supposed to be sent to OFA for certification.

To my astonishment, when I arrived to pick up the dog, a tech came trotting out, stuck the X-ray up on a light display, and proceeded to tell me the dog was so dysplastic that she needed full hip replacements on both sides. This was going to cost thousands of dollars, but if I didn’t do it, she would be crippled and suffer terrible pain.

Well.

In the first place, the breeder had warranteed the dog against hip dysplasia and I had researched the dam and sire’s background. There wasn’t a lot of dysplasia in the line. I said thank you very much and, over this woman’s objections, walked out the door.

I called the breeder, who proposed that I should return the dog and he would give me a new puppy. Reading between the lines: he proposed to put her down.

Even if I were not by now deeply attached to this dog, let me tell you: raising a German shepherd dog from 8 weeks to one year is not something you want to do twice in a row! How much upholstery, after all, can one person afford to replace?

In prior years, I had lived in the company of a string of large dogs. My vet, who specialized in large dogs, had retired before I bought the pup; this was why I sought friends’ recommendations for a new vet.

He had sold his veterinary, which was well known for large-dog care. Possibly, I reasoned, the guy who bought the veterinary by now had enough experience to opine on the state of a German shepherd’s hips. So, I called the guy and made an appointment.

He took one look at the X-ray and said, “There’s no way anyone could diagnose hip dysplasia from this.” The image, he said, was so poorly made and so blurry that you could not make out any condition in the hip, and because the perspective was uneven the OFA would not accept it. He made another set of X-rays that fit OFA requirements and charged significantly less than the first outfit had.

When he looked at the resulting images, he said the dog had very minimal dysplasia that might bother her someday in her old age but probably would not. We sent the X-rays to OFA, and the certification came back indicating very low-level but acceptable dysplasia.

So. . . . I was very, very glad I’d sought a second opinion, not just for the dog’s sake but for the sake of my checkbook!

Trust no one.

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