Do our pets deserve the same access to healthcare as we do?

7 minute read

Resoundingly yes – and more than half of pet owners surveyed as part of an international research project agree.

“Would Fred like a relaxing aromatherapy blueberry facial today as part of his treatment? It’s an extra $10.” 

I hesitate. Fred loves blueberries – in fact he has them with yogurt every night with his dinner. Surely, he would love a blueberry facial, as messy and sticky as it sounds. 

And $10 seems like a bargain, right? My instinct says yes. But then I remember. Fred is a dog. And I could buy at least two punnets of actual blueberries for $10.  

“Won’t it stain his fur?” I ask. “Nope and the dogs love it” I am told.  

But reason prevails and I politely decline the blueberry facial. There are much more important things to focus on like the four kilos of hair that needs to be removed, and the nail trim and ear clean.  

Yes, I am a shameless pet parent, but I stop short of buying my dog a blueberry facial. Just. And I will never say never. Maybe one day I will say yes. 

I am not alone. More Aussies than ever before have a pet in their home and many are treated like pampered children. 

My four-year-old golden retriever Fred is one of the three shining lights of my life. The other two, my human children, often complain that the dog is treated better than they are. They are probably not wrong on all counts. 

To be fair – said humans are young adults in their mid-20s still living at home. Not surprising when you look at the price of real estate in Sydney, but they are responsible for their own living expenses, such as healthcare, mobile phones and internet. 

Fred on the other hand is a complete freeloader from a financial perspective. He pays nothing towards food, entertainment and healthcare. He does give back in a million other ways however, as a loyal companion, everyone’s best friend, fierce guard dog and a volunteer with Delta Therapy Dogs.  

I confess I am trigger-happy when it comes to when to call the vet. Unlike my parents who held the philosophy that dogs lived outside and ate scraps and fended for themselves for the most part, if Fred gets sick, I call the vet without hesitation.  

It never takes long for the bills to add up, especially if he is sent on to the specialist centre for tests or treatment. It’s not unusual for bills to get into the hundreds – even thousands. Thank goodness for pet insurance. 

Again, I am not alone. And international researchers have the data to prove it. They surveyed pet owners in the UK, Austria and Denmark and found almost six in 10 believed their pets should have access to the same treatment options as humans.  

Additionally, more than half thought their cats and dogs should have access to the same diagnostic tests as humans. 

“Modern veterinary medicine offers a level of care to cats and dogs similar to that available to their owners, including blood transfusions, chemotherapy and MRI scans,” the authors write in PLOS One

“The potential benefits to the animals of owners who can afford such care are obvious, but there can also be negative consequences if owners with strong emotional attachments to their pets pursue treatments that significantly reduce the quality of the animal’s life while attempting to prolong it. 

“Moreover, caring for a chronically or seriously ill animal can lead to emotional distress and financial and practical challenges for the pet owner.” 

Veterinary care has come a long way in recent decades. Many animals that would previously have suffered, died or been euthanised due to diseases such as diabetes, renal disease or cancer are now successfully managed in primary care practice by veterinarians using a wide range of drugs and life-saving procedures such as dialysis, blood transfusions and chemotherapy, the authors write. 

“Veterinary patients with more complex diseases or requiring advanced investigations or treatments can, in the same way as humans, be referred by their primary care veterinarian to colleagues who are specialists in fields such as orthopaedics, oncology and critical care, for advanced imaging (CT, MRI) or treatments such as radiation therapy, joint or heart valve replacements,” they write. 

My local vet specialist centre regularly puts a call out for canine blood donors to help treat a variety of illnesses. One social media post is usually all it takes for half a dozen four-legged donors to front up and offer the paw. 

“While the availability of such care brings obvious benefits, there are also challenges: AVC is only available to pets whose owners can afford it, potentially creating moral and financial stresses for owners with financial limitations. The increasing number of choices and complexity of treatment decisions that owners are being asked to make can also be potentially overwhelming,” the authors write. 

“As a broader principle, concern has also been raised over whether the prolongation of life (animal or human) at all costs is necessarily always in line with what may be considered the best interests of the patient, especially when the (animal) patients cannot express their own interests. For example, some may argue that it is not in a dog’s best interest to undergo chemotherapy involving repeated veterinary visits and hospital stays, and associated malaise, to gain an extra six months with its owner.” 

I certainly know pet parents who go way beyond traditional veterinary care to extend the life and quality of life for a pet. One has regular sessions with a pet psychic and animal communicator, as well as a naturopath and traditional vet. She has spent tens of thousands of dollars on her 20-year-old cat over the past two years. She won’t even consider euthanasia, buoyed by the message from her cat via the psychic – she’s not ready to go yet apparently. 

When to let go is a tricky subject. Most pet parents will tell you they know when the time is right. For many the decision is taken out of their hands. Others will hang on at any cost until the end.  

The reality is that when you first take that fur baby in your arms you know they will one day break your heart. But you do it anyway. Because every minute of their unconditional love – even if it lasts just a few years, is worth it. I have many old dogs watching over me from their side of the rainbow bridge. In all likelihood Fred will be one of them long before I shuffle off to the pearly gates. What makes that thought bearable to me is that I make every day I have with him matter. If he needs healthcare he will get it no matter what. But I will never use it to prolong suffering.  

Which brings me back to blueberry facials – surely every dog should have the opportunity to try one before they die?  

Who’s a good boy, then? You are! Yes, you are! Send me your stories, that’s it, send me your stories to Good boy! 

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