How Much Would You Spend on a Sick Pet?

Last Updated on August 17, 2020


I have two 17-year-old male Siamese cats named Kit and Oreo. They have been in my family their whole lives. Due to changes in our living arrangements, Kit (my cat) and Oreo (my sister’s cat) have been moved around amongst us over the years, but have both been with me for the last 6 years.

Overall, we’ve been lucky. Our cats have been happy, healthy, and very budget-friendly. I’ve only been responsible for one trip to the vet with Kit, when he caught a kitty-cold from my roommate’s new cat. It wasn’t fun or cheap, but after a few days, he was back to normal.

But, the morning after our little trip to the E.R., we had to take Oreo to the vet.

Since mid-June, we noticed a lot of “accidents” happening just outside of the litter box. After monitoring the cats, we discovered that Oreo was no longer using the litter box properly and therefore was constantly leaving a mess on the floor.

We tried a few different things to correct this behaviour, but it didn’t make any difference. So we decided to keep the litter box in the bathtub. It’s not the ideal solution, but it is a hell of a lot easier to clean up and it’s not causing any damage to the floors this way. And that’s when we started noticing blood in his urine.

After some researching online and chatting with Alicia of Financial Diffraction, it sounded like Oreo might be suffering from crystals (which is a urinary tract disease where crystals or stone develop and creates a blockage). It hadn’t crossed my mind that it could be a health issue. He was acting normal, never seemed to be in any pain, and only had one or two symptoms of crystals – but the blood indicated that it was time to take him to the vet.

Naturally, money was a concern. With me on E.I. and R not getting the hours he was promised all summer, our finances are tight. But I wasn’t going to let Oreo suffer over an $85 check-up fee.

Unfortunately, the vet wasn’t able to find any issues with Oreo with the routine exam. He was going to need more testing including blood work and a urinalysis. I had two choices: spend another $215 for the testing to hopefully figure out what’s wrong with him, or walk away after spending $85 to learn nothing. I opted for more testing. We left him with the vet and headed home to wait for a phone call to come back and get him.

I was NOT prepared for the phone call we received.

The vet started talking in medical terms that I didn’t follow at all and she then said something to the effect of “we don’t like to give time-lines in situations like this because it could be a few months or a few years“. I completely lost it and didn’t hear much else of what she said. We had brought Oreo to the vet expecting he had a urinary tract infection and now I’m being told he’s dying from kidney (renal) failure?

Suddenly, money didn’t matter anymore.  I would pay whatever I had to to help Oreo.

The vet sent us home with some basic information and a $55 round of antibiotics. I paid the bill without even looking at it and booked a follow-up appointment for a week later.

Thankfully, I had been keeping my sister and her husband in the loop and they had graciously offered their financial support. It really helped take some of the stress off.

But it was still a really hard week. Oreo did not like taking the antibiotics at all. R’s stitches were bothering him. We were once again dealing with mould in our living room. And then a family member was rushed to the E.R. and spent a few rocky days in the hospital (but has since been released).

The more we learned a lot about kidney failure in cats that week, the guiltier I felt. Was it my fault that this happened to Oreo? I was only feeding them dry food (which is apparently bad for them) because they stopped eating wet food. I was trying to buy dry food with meat as it’s first ingredient, but I still opted for the cheap grocery store brands versus a better quality brand. R and I were having a lot of stomach issues which we traced back to the tap water – so we switched to bottled water, but the cats didn’t. Basically, I hadn’t changed how I took care of them as their needs changed.

But, we also learned that feline kidney failure is pretty common and that cats can still live for years with it by simply changing their diet and increasing their fluid intake. (Why didn’t the vet tell me this?)

We were much more prepared for Oreo’s follow-up appointment – thanks to our researching and getting some personal insight from KK of Student Debt Survivor (who has unfortunately had to deal with this too). But the antibiotics didn’t work and there was still blood showing up in Oreo’s urine. So for another $200 the vet sent a urine sample to a lab to test for cultures – which came back clear. Meaning after all of that, we still don’t know what’s causing the blood.

Oreo is still in the early to mid stages of renal failure, which means we might be able to prevent him from getting worse by just changing his diet: more water, more wet food, and little to no dry food. R has even started making them home-made cat food (which they love!) that should help their digestion. (Incidentally, this change of diet should also help reduce the risk of kidney problems for Kit.) So for now, unless something changes in his health or behaviour, that’s all we need to do.

I’m obviously relieved that things aren’t nearly as bad for Oreo as the vet initially made it seem, but I’m questioning why we had to spend $600 and a week stressing out to basically learn nothing more than dry food is bad for older cats. Was I purposely told my cat was dying in order to manipulate and “up-sell” me on tests and medicine that he didn’t need? Or was I being prepared for the worst while they ran these tests to accurately diagnose him?


So, how much would you spend on a sick pet? 

Apparently, I’m willing to spend a lot more when I’m told it’s a fatal condition (even if that may not be true).

Amanda Kay

Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.

This post was proofread by Grammarly. Try it - it's FREE!

16 thoughts on “How Much Would You Spend on a Sick Pet?”

  1. Oh dear, I hadn’t realized it was diagnosed as kidney failure in the next visit. We have an old cat (he’s 18-19 now), and this is always a question we have when we take him to the vet. Not because we don’t love him (quite the contrary) but because who are we doing these measures for? Him, or us? There is something to be said to be in control of another creature’s fate, and making those decisions is so difficult.

    Things we’ve done in the past: our vet gives antibiotic shots sub-dermal (in the fat of their scruff) so you don’t have to try to give the cat pills. Some love those pill pockets, while others catch on to the tricks pretty quickly. If you’re concerned about the water consumption, we’ve even syringed water into their mouths occasionally, or mixed a bit with their wet food. I bet they’re LOVING the home-made food R is making. I haven’t gotten there myself, but it’s been on my mind.

    • Thanks again Alicia. I was so back and forth on if I should take him to the vet or not because we assumed it was behavioural. You definitely helped open my eyes to the possibility of it being health related.
      So far we can see a direct link between what he eats and how he is health wise. If he eats dry food at all there are bathroom issues, but then it pretty much goes away when he only eats wet food. (If only they weren’t so finicky with the food!) The homemade food R’s been making is pretty simple and affordable – it’s primarily chicken legs so it’s not balanced enough to feed them this only. We switch it up between the homemade stuff and canned food either within the same day or every other day. We’re hoping that that covers all the vitamins and whatnot that they need.

  2. I don’t think $600 is that much in terms of pet emergencies… but it also depends on the age of your pet. Our dog will be 11 in the fall. He;s not super old, but old enough… I love our dog to death, but even then, I Don’t think I could justify a $3k vet bill should he need chemo treatment or something… I think anything under $1k is doable…when it gets higher than that I start to wonder…

    • I would normally agree that $600 is no big deal, but right now that’s about 35% of my monthly income. (Thankfully I have a Line of Credit and some savings, though!) It would be a lot easier if the costs were spread out, or if I was back to work. But I wasn’t going to let him suffer because it’s poor timing for me. That’s not fair to him, and I couldn’t live with myself for neglecting him. So far, the things we’re doing seem to be helping!

  3. I don’t even dare say what we’ve spent in vet bills over the past few months. That being said, I would do it all again if I thought it could get us some more time with Patrick. I’m also very grateful for a vet who’s understanding about our finances and informs us how much each thing will cost and if it’s really “worth it” on a 12 year old cat. Curious if R is using some sort of recipe for the cat food? Liam is really finicky and only drinks the broth out of the wet food we give him.

    • Thanks again for your comments and help with this.
      I’m not 100% sure on the recipe that R made up, but I do know that it’s primarily chicken leg (we tried chicken breast and the cats didn’t really like it). I can ask him and let you know, but I know it’s missing a lot of the vitamins and things that are needed – so we feed the cats canned food too hoping that balances it all out.

  4. This time last year, one of our dogs was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease which is equivalent to Chron’s disease in humans. She had been sickly her whole life so this didn’t come as a big shock. The diagnosis cost $2.5k. We probably doubled that since with all the blood-tests and meds to get her disease under control, and I can tell you, it was worth every penny. Although the disease progressed to a severity that her little body could no longer handle and we ended up having to put her down a month ago, I can’t put a price on the additional time we got to spend with her.

    • I’m so sorry to hear about your dog 🙁 but I agree with you about the money. I’ve been so lucky to have these two cats in my life for 17 years. I’ve spent very little on them, so a few hundred dollars now is really equivalent to a few extra bucks for each month of their lives. I would gladly pay to have more time with them!

  5. Remember Sylvester, Amanda? This is what he eventually ended up passing away from. Please be very careful with whatever the vet recommends to you. They initially told me he had a UTI and he was put on anti-biotics. Then, when that didn’t work, they put him on antibiotics again which started a downward spiral. The antibiotics actually worsened his kidneys and he started degenerating really fast. There was nothing they could really do. All in all, when it got to that point I had already spent somewhere around $500 on him. I was trying to decide what to do next whether to proceed with testing and try to keep him alive or not, when he got so bad that he was urinating in the same spot he was laying, and didn’t move. I ended up deciding to put him down. He had a good 18 year life, and he was going through hell 🙁 I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s essentially up to you how much you are willing to spend on your pets. Some people won’t spend anything at all when it comes to health issues; When Megan’s dog was sick, they decided to put her down, and then paid to get a new dog from a breeder. I think you know what’s best for you and your cats.

    • Debbie, I had no idea that that’s what happened to Sylvester. Yup – the antibiotics they first gave us didn’t do anything to help with his kidney/UTI issue. (It did help his breath though, so I guess it wasn’t useless?) I’m so grateful that Oreo is still trying to use the litter box at least (although he sometimes only makes it to the bathroom). I think financially speaking, it will help if the costs don’t come all at once. Like, if we have to change their food and pay an extra $20/month, I can manage that, but $1000 for tests or something might be too much.

  6. We spent thousands having our cats diagnosis of feline IBS a few years ago and manage it via expensive vet food and quarterly visits. My sister just spent $2,000 on her cat for a similar issue that you described…she ended up electing to do exploratory surgery too… the change in food ended up helping with her blood in urine but took a few weeks. I would never get a pet again without pet insurance thats for sure!

    • I’m pretty sure I’d end up spending a lot of my cats if it was for a health issue that spanned a long period of time. It’s just very overwhelming when it’s a lot of money all at once. Pet insurance is definitely something I will be looking into for my future pets!


Leave a Comment