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The Price Of Pet Care

There was a time when veterinarians routinely recommended that seriously ill pets be put to sleep because treatment was not available or too expensive. Early Show Contributor and Veterinarian Debbye Turner tells us just how much times have changed.

Today, when pets get sick, there's generally a host of high-tech medical options from pace makers to CT scans. But that doesn't necessarily make the decision of what to do when your pet gets sick an easy one.
"Maggie's 11, so we had her a long time. She's just a part of our family," says Kathy Hart about her pet.

Last December, her Labrador retriever was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Maggie underwent neurosurgery to remove it and today she's going in for radiation therapy...

"I had two options: we could either put her to sleep or try and save her life, and we choose to keep her around a little longer, hopefully," says Hart.

So for three weeks, Hart, who lives in St. Louis, must drive three hours each day to take Maggie for treatments at the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital In Columbia, Mo.

"The way I look at it, if I can afford a procedure to save her life, I'm going to do it. I think it's all relative to what's important to you," says Hart.

After being anesthetized, Maggie is being treated on a linear accelerator, a multimillion-dollar device that can deliver radiation with pinpoint accuracy.

"You know, a dog like Maggie 20, 25 years ago probably wouldn't have had a diagnosis. Certainly once she got to the point of having diagnosis treatment options again would have been limited," explains Dr. Carolyn Henry.

Dr. Henry is a veterinary oncologist at the hospital. She says that high-tech medical care is no longer reserved just for humans.

"The field is just exploding right now and basically anything that you could get in human medicine in terms of diagnostics and therapeutics are available somewhere in veterinary medicine," she says. "We can do CT scans, we can do MRIs, endoscopy where we can look at the stomach from the inside without have to do a surgery. A lot of people still aren't aware of all the options that are available."

The irony of all this is that all these medical advances create options that often put pet owners in the difficult situation of having to decide just how much they're willing to pay to extend the life of their pet.

"Unfortunately, cost can play a major role. I've seen patients that I know we can help and it comes down to a financial problem that we can't help them," says Dr. Henry.

And the fact is only about one percent of pet owners have pet insurance. So even though procedures like orthroscopic surgery are available to pets, the price tag can be prohibitive.

Hart says that medical treatments for Maggie has totaled more than $ 5,000. But she's willing to spend the money in order to spend a little more time with her dog.

"I'd be happy to get two years or even a year," she says.

Though Maggie is responding well, she is 11 years old. So Hart knows the treatments at best will just buy them a little more time together.

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