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Sally Swartz: There's no Obamacare for pets, and bills zoom into the thousands of dollars

As more human-style health care becomes available for pets, veterinary costs are trending into the week-in-Paris realm. I’ve sympathized with fellow pet-loving friends as they opened checkbooks when their dogs and cats got sick.



A few years ago, a friend spent upwards of $3,000 when his young dog contracted a life-threatening auto-immune disorder. Another spent $4,000 treating a dog’s joint problems and tumor surgeries.

A friend who lovingly treats his dog daily for eye problems and diabetes introduces the adorable mutt as “my $6,000 wonder dog.” A neighbor spent more than $7,000 on cancer treatments for a dog that died.

I’ve loved and lived with animals all my life, and while the sums shocked me, the decisions to spend them on beloved pets did not.

Last month, I joined the club. Overnight, my white German shepherd Maggy stopped eating and didn’t want to get up. Her veterinarian found nothing at first. Three days later, he found a high temperature, prescribed an antibiotic and sent a blood sample off to be checked.

Next day, the test results came in and Maggy went to the Animal Emergency and Referral Center in Fort Pierce, a state-of-the-art pet hospital that requires a vet referral for admission.

Maggy, who just turned four, was very sick, and no one knew why. The hospital vet ordered tests, prescribed medications and offered a tentative diagnosis of “immune mediated hemolytic anemia – idiopathic.” Translation: Her body is attacking her red blood cells. Cause unknown.

Treatment started immediately with antibiotics, steroids and sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber – the same kind used to treat human divers who get “the bends.” In Maggy’s case, the chamber forced oxygen into her tissues and bloodstream.

I got out a credit card and agreed to the terms. Tests and treatment would cost between $4,000 and $7,000, with no charges beyond the higher figure. Nobody had to tell me her grim prospects without treatment.

I visited Maggy the next day. She had started eating again. When I brought her home four days later, she was on more meds than some of my human senior citizen pals. The steroids made her hungry. She was weak and tired.

A hospital vet said that in 80 percent of cases similar to hers, the docs never figure out a cause. The hospital goes for long periods without seeing such cases and then admits a wave of dogs with similar auto-immune disorders. They suspect the cause is “environmental” but have no clues about specifics.

Test results also suggest problems that may have started before I adopted Maggy as a seven-month-old rescue pup. She’s on more meds to treat a canine version of cat-scratch fever, which dogs get from ticks.

About the money: I’ve sprinted past my pal’s “$6,000 wonder dog.” More costs could lie ahead.

My pet-loving friends and I are not alone. Spending on veterinary care increased 4.7 percent to more than $15 billion last year, and the American Pet Products Association predicts a 4.4 percent increase this year.

I considered insurance, especially since dogs with Maggy’s problem can relapse. But there’s no Obamacare in pet health insurance. Pre-existing conditions aren’t covered.

Maggy almost is back to her energetic self. She barks at the neighbor’s dog and the UPS truck. She wants to chase cats. She howls along with wolves she hears on a Facebook video. Our walks get longer each day.

Her red blood cell count is normal again. The chamber treatments are over, and she will stay on medications for the near future.

State-of-the-art veterinary care is expensive, but I’m grateful it’s available. For Maggy, a much-loved family member, it means she will have a future.

Sally Swartz is a former member of The Post Editorial Board. Find her blog posts and others at The Palm Beach Post Opinion Zone. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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