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I nearly had to take out a second mortgage to pay for my dog’s cancer treatment

When beloved golden retriever Muggles got sick, there was talk of an oncologist, a dog chemotherapy suite, as well as after-surgery recovery with pain medication and dressings. It left his owner Charlotte Cripps with an impossible dilemma

Thursday 23 May 2024 18:17 BST
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When my dog Muggles had a cancer scare, it wasn’t long before it dawned on me that the vet bills were going to be astronomical
When my dog Muggles had a cancer scare, it wasn’t long before it dawned on me that the vet bills were going to be astronomical (Caryn Stanley)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

When Muggles – our beloved family dog – had a cancer scare, the vet bill wasn’t even the first thing on my mind. I was overcome with a tidal wave of grief. My mother had died of cancer years earlier and it hit a nerve. The thought of losing my fluffy white golden retriever was too much to bear.

He had a lump on his front leg. It’s all about what grade the tumour is, which you don’t know until it is taken out and sent off for a biopsy. If it is low grade, then it is unlikely to spread if they cut it out with a large margin. It all felt like a blur.

But it wasn’t long before it dawned on me that the vet bills were going to be astronomical. There was talk of an oncologist, a dog chemotherapy suite, after-surgery recovery with pain medication and dressings. Was I going to have to take out a second mortgage to pay for his cancer treatment?

The only hope was that the lump was benign – but whatever happened, it was going to cost me a minimum of about £2,800 for the removal of the lump on the leg, plus an ultrasound to check to ensure it hadn’t spread. That wasn’t including the initial consultation (around £75) when I was given the scary news, plus the biopsy (at around £170).

I was shaking when I reached for my bank card. I knew it was going to get worn out by excessive use at the vets. I even worried the payments might be declined.

But, really, what was I supposed to do? I had no option but to spend whatever it took to make sure Muggles had the best treatment possible – I wasn’t going to let him die. Muggles is nine, so he is older than my two daughters. He is like my firstborn child.

But while I had no other option, it stung as I paid the astronomical fee. I knew that I was about to be ripped off while I was in a most distressed and vulnerable state.

Charlotte says Muggles feels like her first-born child
Charlotte says Muggles feels like her first-born child (Charlotte Cripps)

The worst thing is that I am not alone – millions of pet owners have experienced sky-high prices at the vet and just wondered, “Why?” Even before Muggles’ cancer scare, I knew something was amiss with what I was spending on the family pet. I’d buy a 100ml bottle of Metacam – a strong pain-killer for dogs – from the vet, costing around £103, until I discovered that I could pay the vet £26.80 for a prescription and buy the exact same medication online for £16.98.

It’s shocking! Thank goodness the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced a full market investigation into the UK’s £5bn vet sector due to concerns that pet owners are paying too much on bills and are not given proper information about treatment options.

They’re right to – only two weeks ago, Muggles had a red-looking abscess wound on his paw. The vet tried to clean it and sent off a sample biopsy. Muggles was given an expensive pack of bog standard antibiotics which cost about £150. Then the vet told me that after the course of antibiotics, if it got sore again, Muggles would need to have the “lump” removed. I was, therefore, terrified when it blew up again, until a grass seed popped out. Now he is absolutely fine. Thank god I didn’t make him have surgery as the biopsy report advised.

Going to the vet is like a horror show. A friend of mine whose Pekinese dog needed emergency neurosurgery at Christmas for a slipped disc had to use all of her savings and set up a GoFundMe Page – so far she’s only recouped £740 of a bill that has so far cost her £7,200. She is hoping to raise £10,000 for the physiotherapy/hydrotherapy he needs to ensure a full recovery.

When I dropped Muggles off that day for his surgery and left him nil by mouth, I sobbed my heart out. I prayed that he wouldn’t have to go to a big cancer unit in Guildford with posh chemotherapy suites and a waiting room with orange and blue armchairs. It wasn’t so much the fact that I love him so much but also the cost that would have finished me off.

He was lucky. The pea-sized lump they removed that day turned out to be benign. He’s had many more since then. I honestly don’t bother to get them removed. Or if I’m worried, I ask the right questions – such as can we just watch to see if it grows?

Admittedly, I’ve since got pet insurance, but it costs me an arm and a leg: £120 a month plus I pay an excess of £110 for every new condition he has each year. I have been tempted to stop his subscription on many occasions.

Likewise, when the vet suggests probiotics when Muggles is on antibiotics, I turn them down. I don’t need all the add-ons. It’s no wonder we pet owners are up in arms. The vet sector has a lot to answer for – it’s about time they got called out.

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