Leading vets called yesterday for a national blood bank for dogs in a development that marks the increasing medicalisation of everyday pet ownership.
Open-heart surgery, chemotherapy for cancer, hip replacements and cataract surgery are being carried out at costs of up to £10,000 to improve the lives of animals who would once have been put to sleep.
In a briefing for journalists organised by the Science Media Centre, members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and associated academic institutions defended the use of hi-tech medicine on animals and said they were responding to public demand.
Jerry Davies of the RCVS said: "When people see what can be done to themselves they want it done to their animals. Costs are rising at twice the rate of inflation because what can be done is getting more and more advanced. Insurance premiums are also rising."
Dr Dan Brockman, an expert in veterinary cardiac surgery, said a shortage of blood was the biggest constraint: "Blood-banking has the potential to benefit the biggest number of patients if we can get it formalised. But it depends on the owners of large dogs coming forward. If a dog gets hit by a car and needs a blood transfusion there is a problem. In human medicine there would be no second thoughts about giving blood. A blood bank would make a big difference to how much we can do."
Some breeds were more prone to heart problems, including retrievers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and keeshonds. Surgery costs £3,000 to £10,000. Dogs have different blood groups and donated blood would have to be matched.
One in four dogs develops a tumour at some point, many of which can be successfully treated. The commonest cancers are of the skin and soft tissue and often affect the jaw. Surgery costs £3,000 to £5,000 and may be followed by radiotherapy which, even if not curative, can improve the dog's quality of life.
Jane Dobson, a cancer specialist at the Queen's Veterinary School, University of Cambridge, said: "Cancer is a very frightening and emotional issue. But it is no different from other chronic diseases."
Hip replacement surgery, costing £2,500 to £4,000, was also performed, and knee replacements were being developed. Most surgery was carried out on dogs, but cats and other pets were also submitted by owners for treatment.
Asked if spending large sums on medical care for pets which was denied to people in the developing world could be justified, the experts said the public had a right to spend their money as they chose.
Professor David Argyle, of the Royal School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, said: "You could criticise people for buying new cars or new kitchens. It is not relevant. This is people's disposable income, it is not funded from the state. If we stopped giving these treatments to animals it would not change anything in the developing world."Reuse content