The price of life Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Thursday, 24 June 2010 18:30
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In this column veterinarian Dr Liesel van der Merwe provides practical assistance for common problems in companion animals. She is a specialist physician at the Onderstepoort animal teaching hospital and a senior lecturer in the section of small animal medicine. Send your questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

One of the hardest things for me as a veterinarian is to have to euthanize a patient due to cost constraints if the prognosis for recovery is reasonably good. This goes against every emotion I have, both on behalf of the patient and the owner. I often hear that veterinary care is too expensive. But the realities of life are harsh. It is expensive to run a veterinary practice.

I would like you to compare what happens to your dog at your vet after an accident to what happens to a person in hospital. Your vet will evaluate your dog and stabilise any shock, maybe do some minor lab tests on a blood sample, before taking x-rays of any affected area. All treatment and hospitalisation will be done at the veterinary practice, including surgery and dispensing medicine.

To perform all these functions your vet needs a well-equipped clinic with a microscope, x-ray machine and developer, good kennels, an operating theatre with a gas anaesthetic machine and theatre lights as well as a complete set of surgical instruments and autoclave sterilising machines as a minimum. Support staff includes receptionists, kennel-hands and veterinary technicians or nurses.

The costs of the treatment of your dog will reflect all of this in one account. If a human goes to hospital, the admitting clinic or emergency section will evaluate you. X-rays will be taken by the radiology practice. If any surgery is performed the patient will be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon. Surgery time will be charged separately from pre and post operative costs.

Medication may or may not be charged together with the hospitalisation, which is a separate account as is the account for the laboratory tests. Each practice will bill the patient individually. If you’re on medical aid, you will not receive these accounts, but only pay in what the medical aid will not cover. We are never confronted with an all inclusive account for treatment.

Veterinarians are highly qualified medical professionals who have to finance a complete mini hospital to cope with the majority of cases. Their overhead costs are high and their skills unique. I feel that animal owners’ perceptions should change and people should place more emphasis on budgeting for veterinary costs.

Owning a pet carries with it the responsibilities of good basic care such as shelter and food, preventative health care such as vaccination, sterilisation and parasite control as well as the realisation that as our pets age they are prone to develop the same chronic disease which we do: heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis, cancers, cataracts.

Certain breeds are predisposed to certain diseases. Make sure you are aware of this when selecting a pet. Daschunds are predisposed to disc rupture with paralysis, this is an emergency, will require specialist surgery and will be costly. This also often happens at night or on weekends which incurs extra after-hours fees.

It is pet owners’ responsibility to take this into consideration when they get a new pet. I believe that it is important for children to grow up with animals and feel that everyone benefits from an animal companion. So be practical. If the budget is tight, select a tough little mongrel as a pet. They have less inherited diseases. Remember that smaller dogs eat less than big dogs.

Make sure a veterinarian checks the puppy before you commit to a purchase and if the dog is healthy, have the first round of vaccinations and deworming immediately. Prevention is better than cure.

But what about those expensive accidents like a dog fight or a motor vehicle accident. It is not fair to expect the veterinarian to waive or reduce fees because they are supposed to love animals; this is blackmail and adds a lot of stress to our lives.

There are two major pet medical aids available in South Africa, Petsure and Medipet. Some household insurance policies cover some pet accidents. Alternatively, start a unit trust fund for your pet as soon as you buy one. This can be a savings account for big unexpected expenses, and if your dog has a healthy happy life, you can still use the money.


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