'Miracle' Technology is Available to Save Your Pet, But Can You Afford It?

Updated: January 20, 2021
Published: February 11, 2016
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When I was in veterinary school, ultrasounds were the Next Big Thing. At the time, very few clinics aside from specialty hospitals had them, and even fewer knew how to use them. My class was the first to be fully trained in ultrasound technique as part of our core curriculum and it was a big deal to be able to tell potential employers we were proficient in such advanced technology.

Now, just a short (or at least not ridiculously long) time later, they’re pretty commonplace; rolled out in primary care hospitals for everything from pregnancy detection to getting urine samples. Tech moves quickly, and I never cease to be astounded at how quickly it improves our ability to provide top notch medical care to animals.

Just this week I read the story of Ziba, an eight month old Rottie puppy who was taken to my alma mater, UC Davis, after a car accident. A car had basically crushed her face, fracturing both cheekbones, her jaw, and her forehead. That type of injury would normally be considered lethal and, had she lived anywhere but Davis, Ziba would likely have been euthanized.

Fortunately for her, the surgeons at Davis are one of only a handful of veterinary hospitals in the world with access to 3D mapping software, which allowed them to plan an extensive reconstruction. Ziba is now Terminator Dog, with a head full of metal—though without a metal detector, you’d never know what she had been through. She looks like a perfectly happy, normal pup from the outside, and like a robot from the scans.

I am so happy to see our gains in advanced technique continue unabated in veterinary medicine, though I often wonder how this is going to play out for the average owner. Our ability to provide amazing medicine often outstrips our clients' ability to pay the bill, and it hurts to see people who know that treatments exist for their beloved pets but are simply out of their financial reach.

I don’t know what Ziba’s final bill after multiple surgeries finally amounted to, but I’m sure it’s not cheap. It is not too uncommon to hear of bills over $40,000 and even higher for very involved cases. I know I couldn’t foot that kind of expense, nor could most people I know. I am thrilled to know that patients like Ziba have options out there that wouldn’t have been possible just a decade ago, that veterinary medicine continues to offer the most cutting edge options out there, but I hope we also continue to explore ways to make basic care more accessible.

Every time I hear a story like this, I hope it is also followed by a note about who paid for it. My husband and I have a savings account now for our pets that we pay into monthly; most recently it covered Brody’s ear surgery. Many people are enrolling their pets in insurance programs to help in the case of catastrophic illness. It’s not nearly as exciting to speak about, but when it comes down to the average person, it’s the most likely way to save a life down the road.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang


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