As pet owners, we'd do just about anything for our four-legged friends, but what happens when you're faced with a large medical bill for your pet?
It could take a toll on a household budget. It could also force pet owners into making some difficult decisions.
Alice and Sam Marks of Duluth share a special love of pets.
"I can't tell you how many dogs we've had in our almost 54 years of marriage almost that many dogs," says Alice.
The most recent additions to the family include two small lap dogs. A three-year-old American Eskimo pooch named Rudy.
Sam says, "he's a very very sweet dog." And an eight-year-old Pomeranian named Mikey. "[He's] a little feisty, they get along very well."
Both bringing plenty of joy and excitement to the Marks household. But it wasn't always easy living, for the family.
Rudy was brought home as a pup and it wasn't long until his health started to deteriorate. Sam says, "he had a hip problem."
The Marks brought Rudy to a Duluth vet after noticing their newest family member was in pain. "They brought a surgeon up from the Twin Cities, and they said you know we have to operate before he's a year old. If we don't then it's a total hip replacement," says Sam.
The veterinarian informed the distraught couple that the surgery would cost nearly $3,000. Something the Marks had never planned for. Around the same time, the couples older dog, Mikey, started behaving strangely.
According to Sam, "he wasn't eating... [it hurt]."
Mikey had eight teeth that were infected and needed to be pulled. "Those dollar signs sparkled in our eyes knowing how each tooth is going to cost," says Alice. "We thought, we got the credit card that's getting pretty far up there anyways just with their usual visits, but we went ahead."
After both procedures, a credit card charge of nearly $4,000 dollars forced the retired couple living off their pension to make some financial changes.
Alice says it wasn't an easy choice. "It did get us into trouble because we topped out on the card and all of a sudden we are just overwhelmed with credit card debt. We only lived in the house two years and we had to take out a second mortgage."
The couple says looking back on their decision during a time of panic, maybe they hadn't considered all of their options.
According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners are projected to spend over $72 billion on their pets in 2018. of that, over $18 billion is expected to be spend on vet care."
So what options are available so you don't find yourself in the same situation?
Michelle Sternberg from Animal Allies Humane Association says, "If you set yourself up with pet insurance prior to anything happening, not only is a good set of peace of mind for yourself, but it's great for your pet because if something does happen down the road, you've got that extra safety net in place."
It is recommended that you set up pet insurance early on in owning your pet, as it will not cover preexisting conditions. Something that disqualified the Marks from using that option for Rudy's surgery.
You can typically set up pet insurance through insurance companies providing a variety of policies for pets... but read the fine print.
Many disqualify certain breeds and pet visits.
The Care Credit program is available to healthcare providers so that patients can use the line to cover the deductible portion of a medical procedure.
"It is a really important and kind of an easy thing that folks can do for their pet," says Sternberg.
Experts say a great benefit of this program is that it comes with an interest-free payback period. Unlike pet health insurance, you can use Care Credit to cover expenses for any type of pet that you have.
You can apply for credit care through most vet offices.
Pet Savings Account
"one of the best things that you can do for yourself is to set up kind of an emergency fund. Set aside $10 a month, set aside $5 a month, you know whatever you can afford."
It's arguably the easiest and best option for pet owners as it is easily accessible money and if your pet doesn't end up needing it, the money goes right back into owners pockets. The downside? The amount of time it would take to save.
There are a dozen vets across the Twin Ports that have the potential to fit your pet care needs. Sternberg says, "one of the things I think we can encourage the most is just take a look around your local community. Do some research. See if there are some other low-cost alternatives out there."
The Marks made the financial choice to pay out for their pet's surgeries on personal credit cards rather than give them up or the most extreme option... euthanization.
Being able to afford pet care is something Sam says he and his wife take seriously. "You own a pet, it's a responsibility to care for them because they can't care for themselves."
Now, over a year later, both the Marks dogs are happy and healthy.
Alice says, "we chose to have pets and I always felt you should give them the best care you can."
The Marks say it was worth it to them pay for their pets care.
However, the couple encourages other pet owners to look the options available before going into financial debt.
Owning a pet can come at an expense.
Often pet owners are faced with sudden expensive vet care bills that force them to make difficult choices.
Alice and Sam Marks of Duluth had to make the decision between paying for very expensive vet care for their two dogs Rudy and Mikey or giving them up.
A little over a year ago when their beloved dogs suddenly needed life-saving surgeries, they made a decision that had a major impact on their budget.
Alice says, "we chose to have pets and I always felt you should give them the best care you can but it is getting compromised just because of cost"
What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?
Join us tonight on the KBJR 6 News at 10 as we break down the options available to keep your pet healthy without breaking the bank.