By JeanneBennett

Spirit staff Pet Advocate

jbennett@myspiritnews.com

If you feel it has gotten a whole lot more expensive to keep your pet healthy today than just a few years ago, you are right. According to a 2011 report by the American Pet Products Association, the cost of routine and surgical vet visits has risen 47 percent for dogs and 73 percent for cats over the past decade.

Pet owners spent about $8 billion on vet care in 2000; by 2013, that figure climbed to more than $14 billion.

If you need more proof about the profitability of veterinarian care, look no further than to the portfolio of candy maker M&M/Mars. According to a report that recently aired on NBCNews.com, the food giant recently acquired animal hospital chain VCA Inc., expanding its veterinary portfolio, which already includes Banfield Pet Hospital and BluePearl Veterinary Partners, by another 800 locations to a total of 1,700.

As the cost of health care for pets increases disturbingly, many owners are reacting to sticker shock by not bringing in their pets at all. “An estimated 23 million pets in the United States are in homes where the caretakers live at, or below, the poverty line, and that typically leaves the animals without access to veterinary care,” Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle said in a November 2014 blog post. “Close to 80 percent of their pets have never seen a veterinarian,” he surmised.

When owners can’t pay, clinics offer payment plans — but at a price. Next time you are in your veterinarian’s office you can probably find an application for some type of credit card that allows you to manage the cost of your pet’s health care. Make sure you read the small print.

In a pinch, such a plan can be a lifesaver. Without them some people could never pay for what is usually lifesaving emergency treatment for their pet but before you sign on the dotted line make sure saving your pet’s life won’t kill you, at least financially.

These cards usually have very high APR’s. One option available to pet owners is one-pet health insurance, but Consumer Reports says it’s rarely worth the price and if you have multiple pets, like most people these days do, the cost of premiums for all of them can be cost prohibitive.

So most pet owners are forced to take the chance that they won’t have an emergency and can manage costs by using clinics and other alternative methods of providing health care.

In an interview, a spokesperson for a very large company who provides these services, affirmed that well over half the animal hospitals in the United States accept the company’s card.  An independent study found that vets who routinely offered the card to customers, earned 17.2 percent more total revenue per year.

According to a 2013 settlement after an investigation into alleged predatory lending practices by the New York state attorney general, “Approximately 65 percent of CareCredit card holders apply for the card while they are in a provider’s office.” In other words, these decisions are made when your pet is in distress and you, as the pet owner, just want them to get better.

“In many complaints to the Office of the Attorney General, the provider completed the application information and submitted the application on behalf of the consumer,” the settlement states. “Some consumers were led to believe that they were signing up for an in-house, no-interest payment directly to their provider.” Here’s what they got instead: A deferred-interest credit card with charges that accrued at a rate of up to 26.99 percent on the total bill after a promotional period.

Some pet owners have been able to manage the outrageous cost of pet care by getting services through non-profit organizations that offer everything from spay and neuter services to well office visits. Unfortunately these organizations are not able to provide emergency care or other services such as x-rays. So many pet owners find themselves faced with hard decisions when their pets need emergency care.

If you've taken a trip to the veterinarian lately you must have realized medical care for pets is becoming as expensive as human medical care.

If you’ve taken a trip to the veterinarian lately you must have realized medical care for pets is becoming as expensive as human medical care.

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