People open their homes and their hearts to a pet and they plan to take care of the pet for his whole life. But when cancer strikes, the treatment fees can be astronomical! It is humiliating and emotionally debilitating for owners who cannot afford life-saving treatment for their beloved pet.
Veterinary treatment fees are high. Veterinary clinics are businesses, and they must show a profit just like any company
Without assistance, a diagnosis of cancer for people with no financial resources can mean a death sentence for their pet. There are ways to get a dog through cancer treatment with limited funds.
Minimize Treatment Costs
- Protocols are based on studies, where the highest percentage of dogs survived longest when particular drugs were given in a particular order. Or when treatments were given every X number of weeks, at a certain drug dose. But for some dogs in the study, the most effective plan was too often or too high a dose! If you cannot afford the protocol, you can adjust it to make it more affordable. This is better than your dog not getting chemotherapy at all.
- But chemotherapy is not an exact science! If the dog has a bad reaction to a drug, the protocol will be adjusted. It can also be adjusted for other reasons. For example, fees will be lower if you schedule treatment less often (i.e., every 10 days or 2 weeks rather than every week). Or if you ask the vet to give 75% of the recommended dose. Since some dogs can’t tolerate the full dose every week anyhow – if your dog happens to be in that group, this reduction will actually improve your dog’s chances of survival.
- For most cancers, there are various chemotherapy protocols that have good success rates. Ask your vet to suggest several of the most effective protocols (not just the one he/she uses routinely). Then, you can choose the least expensive one that still has a good survival rate.
- For dogs with lymphoma: a) The very expensive flow cytometry test is usually not needed. This tells if it is B-cell or T-cell, but 90% are B-cell. If there is nothing indicating that he has T-cell, skip this test! b) If your dog is having a CHOP protocol, ask them to begin with a Vincristine treatment, not an L-Spar (Asparaginase) treatment. L-Spar should be saved and given later if your dog comes out of remission.
- Find out if you can purchase the chemo drug, with a prescription from your vet. Many clinics will allow you to order, and then the drug fee should not appear on your invoice.
- Check prices of the chemotherapy agents (drugs). Often, you’ll find that you can purchase them (with a prescription from your vet) from a pharmacy at a lower price.
After your dog’s surgery, it is likely that you will receive the news “Your dog needs a 2nd surgery,” or “Now we have to give him chemotherapy,” or “He must have radiation therapy.” This may be because the vet did not get clean margins, and the biopsy report finds it is an aggressive, malignant cancer. In that case, it is your choice whether to leave it be and hope that the cancer will not progress any time soon. Or put your dog through additional treatment.
Very often, even if the surgery did remove the tumor with clean margins, the biopsy report says that “microscopic disease may remain.”The report really should say: “Microscopic disease or may not remain.”
If your dog is having surgery, save costs and trauma to your dog:
- If a diagnosis cannot be made on a mass without surgery, try to avoid having two surgeries done. Instead of a surgical biopsy and then a surgery to remove the tumor, just have the tumor removed with as clean margins as possible.
- Tell your vet that after this surgery, you may not be able to afford chemo, radiation, or another surgery. Ask them to make every effort to remove the cancer with clean margins in this one surgical procedure.
- Ask the vet to take wide margins, even if they aren’t sure whether the tumor is malignant or benign.
Cut Costs for Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy is often the most expensive type of treatment. Usually there are two options – your vet will tell you that he/she can provide “Curative Radiation Therapy” or “Palliative Radiation Therapy.” Your vet may say that if you want to really fight the cancer and try to save your dog’s life, you must choose the Curative protocol.
It’s important to note that curative vs. palliative is a judgement call! A palliative protocol may turn out to be curative (the cancer does not return). And a curative protocol may not be effective at all.
Curative: Curative radiation may require treatments everyday, Monday through Friday (5 treatments a week). Often, the dog stays at the clinic during the week and can go home on weekends. This is hard on the owners. Often, the dog has severe radiation burns and open wounds for months with danger of infection. Sometimes, the dog dies during the 5-days a week radiation therapy protocol.
Palliative: The palliative plan is easier on the dog, you don’t have to be without him for whole weeks, and of course it is less expensive. There are several protocols for palliative radiation. Some require treatment once a week, and others call for treatment three times a week. Your vet should agree to your choice of curative or palliative.
It is your vet’s job to tell you everything possible that can be done help your dog fight cancer. Everything from the standard treatments to the most excessive treatments. Including the standard treatment plan and Your vet would be remiss if they did not fully inform you of all of the possibilities.
And then it is your job to choose what should be done for your dog. You should not feel at all pressured to agree to everything on the list! Do not think that if you love your dog, you will have ALL of these things done.
To manage costs, stick to the tried and true standard treatments, without any unnecessary diagnostic testing.
Not only will this keep the costs to a minimum, it is also an important way to avoid putting your dog through unnecessary trauma!
Ask for Assistance
A lot of clinics have an in-house foundation or fund, to help their clients. Ask if your clinic has a fund, and how you can request funding.
Ask people you know, who love you or your dog, for help! If they each pitch in a small amount, maybe you can get the treatment done.
There are many nonprofit organizations that help people pay veterinary fees, so that their pets can have treatment. Apply to Magic Bullet Fund or other organizations here.
Choose carefully, don't apply to all of them! Don't waste your time, the organization's time or your clinic's time. Your clinic will have to fill out forms for each organization.
Ask if your clinic offers delayed payments. You could pay a small amount each month. It's like a loan, you will pay interest fees, just like any loan.
Does your clinic work with ScratchPay or CareCredit? If so, apply. These are like credit cards. If you do not pay on time, you will pay interest fees.