Owners spend big bucks to treat ailing pets

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 15, 2013

When their pets are faced with a life-threatening illness, some animal lovers here rack up thousands of dollars at the vet's for their furry loved ones to have a clean bill of health again.

Make that tens of thousands of dollars, in the case of Mr Kelvin Lam.

When his golden retriever Happy contracted canine distemper - a viral disease that attacks a dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems - he was just four months old. In dogs under one year old, the illness often results in death.

Happy was hospitalised on and off for three weeks at Companion Animal Surgery. Subsequently, he also contracted pneumonia and a skin condition, which required additional treatments.

He is now a healthy one-year-old.

In total, Mr Lam, 37, who runs his own events and marketing business, spent more than $20,000 on medical expenses and supplements.

He says: "Some people might say that it is not worth spending so much but it is my responsibility to give my dog a fighting chance."

This is not the first time he has paid expensive medical bills for a dog. He also spent $10,000 on a four-month-old dog, which died of distemper last February. The pet farm where he bought the earlier dog offered Happy as a replacement.

He says: "As painful as it is on my credit card, I will still continue to spend on Happy because it means I get a few more good years with him."

In general, a healthy pet's yearly check-up at the veterinarian costs several hundred dollars at most. For a sickly pet, one with a critical illness that requires specialised treatment such as cancer and heart disease, medical fees range between $1,500 and $20,000 a year.

In the past, owners were more likely to put their pets down rather than foot expensive medical bills, says Dr Nicholas Woo, 30, practice manager and small animal surgeon at Companion Animal Surgery.

He adds: "There are still individuals who regard euthanasia as a solution but fortunately, this is not so common nowadays."

Pet owners form stronger bonds with their pets these days and spend more money on them to keep them happy and healthy, says practice manager Jeremy Lee, 35, from The Animal Clinic. He adds: "There is a lot more awareness that there are always options."

Teacher Rebecca Scrivener, 37, was prepared for the worst last year when her vet told her that her 12-year-old cat Socks had a heart condition and could die suddenly.

But Dr Ben Landon, 40, a veterinary specialist surgeon at Landon Veterinary Specialists, suggested placing a pacemaker - a device which regulates heartbeats - in Socks.

It is a common procedure for humans and even dogs. But pacemaker implants are rare in cats. Vets here say that Ms Scrivener's cat is the first one here to get a pacemaker.

The decision to go ahead with the $9,000 surgery was not easy for her and her husband Thomas Davies, 38, who works in sales. The couple, who have no children, moved here from Britain more than a decade ago. They used their savings to pay for their cat's medical bills which amounted to a total of $12,000.

Ms Scrivener says: "That is a lot of money to spend on a cat that is already quite old. We had to pay pretty much all of it at once. But we worked out that if Socks was to live at least two more years, the veterinarian fees would work out to be just about $350 or so a month. Having Socks in our lives makes us happy so we decided to do it."

The couple have had to cut back on their expenses such as eating out but they no longer worry that their cat's heart will stop suddenly while they are at work.

Watching a pet go through a critical illness is often a difficult process.

Earlier this year, Mr Ethan Quek, 40, who works in sales, spent an agonising two hours waiting for his four-year-old shih tzu, Kiki, who has a congenital liver disease, to emerge from a risky operation.

At the time, Mr Quek was fostering the dog for a teenager who could not handle its medical condition and the surgery, which cost $7,000, was funded by donors found through Facebook and word of mouth.

For the entire time the dog was under the scalpel, Mr Quek and his wife prayed at a Buddhist temple nearby for everything to go smoothly.

He says: "When the vet called me after the operation, I was shaking. I was not sure if it was good news or bad news. There was a risk she would not wake up from the surgery. It was a miracle."

The couple, who do not have children, grew so attached to Kiki that they decided to adopt her.

Another pet owner, Ms Linda Yusop, 35, a training officer, was so worried for her cat that she did not sleep well for two weeks. Her one-year-old cat, Hutchy, has a birth abnormality that affects its oesophagus so it has difficulty eating.

Last February, Hutchy started to regurgitate all his food and had to be rushed to the veterinarian. He was hospitalised for two weeks.

Ms Yusop says: "I have had him since before his eyes were open. I watched him learn how to crawl. When he was sick, I was so lost and depressed."

The cost of the hospitalisation as well as other expenses such as ultrasounds and X-rays amounted to about $3,000. Ms Yusop also paid $11,000 for an operation that would alleviate her cat's condition.

To foot the bill, she used her savings and borrowed money from her elder sister, a 37-year-old legal assistant, and her mother, an art teacher in her 50s.

The animal lover says: "I had the support of my family who said I should try to save him. When I see him fine and healthy, I forget about the money."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 15, 2013

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