Euthanizing Cats Because Owners Can’t Afford Care: Economic Euthanasia

The Impact of Economic Euthanasia in Cats

Ideally, the decision to euthanize a cat would be made after many years of happy life with every party feeling they have done all they could and they have given their pet the longest, happiest life possible. But what happens if you simply do not have the means to treat your pet for a long-term or costly illness? For some owners that answer might be euthanasia, commonly referred to in the veterinary industry as “economic euthanasia.”

Unfortunately, veterinary clinics are seeing more and more economic euthanasia due to changes in the economy, unemployment and underemployment, and the rising cost of living. Many pet parents have trouble affording wellness visits or routine care so they aren’t going to the veterinarian at all. In other cases, owners that do bring their pets to the vet clinic are declining heartworm, flea, and tick prevention purely due to cost.

Owners being reluctant to vaccinate and skipping preventative medicine are a large contributing factor to this issue. Some problems which could be prevented can cost hundreds of dollars to treat.

When emergencies arise (such as a pet getting hit by a car, a urinary obstruction or developing an intestinal obstruction), they require immediate medical attention and many owners have very little time to save. Unfortunately, just the diagnostic tests for these issues can cost an average of $500 for a cat, in addition to treatment that can cost thousands of dollars.

Economic euthanasia is a sad, everyday reality in animal shelters, which tend to be underfinanced and overflowing with unwanted and abandoned animals. According to the ASPCA, around 7.6 million animals are brought into American shelters per year; 2.7 million of those are euthanized. Many veterinary professionals and shelter staff find this to be the hardest aspect of their job. The fact that the technicians, kennel workers, and doctors have cared for, vaccinated, and treated these animals makes this situation heart wrenching.

It is extremely difficult for all involved when owners can’t afford to treat their pet’s medical problems. Veterinary staff wants to do the best for the pets but this is not possible when owners can’t afford the recommended care. Cat owners often cut corners, neglect vaccinations, or even refuse to treat medical problems.

According to Dr. Debra Primovic, as little as 10% of cat owners approve of their veterinarians’ recommendations. (This depends on the practice location and the affluence of the pet owner.) The statistic for pet owners who are more affluent or live in certain locations can be closer to 50%. Some veterinarians cited that when an expensive medical problem is diagnosed, only 10-20% of owners will provide the recommended care for their cats, another 20-30% will cut corners and try a less expensive option or treatment, and the rest will euthanize. Many of these health problems can be completely cured with the proper treatment.

How To Avoid Economic Euthanasia?

There are ways to plan for unexpected veterinary bills that will help you minimize the risk of euthanizing your cat due to your financial limitations.

Here are some common methods to avoid economic euthanasia:

Pet Savings Account Some pet parents will put aside money in a savings account for emergencies. This is a great way to plan for pet care; however, it can take a long time to accumulate enough money in this type of account to pay for expensive problems.

Pet Insurance Most comprehensive policies are only $15-25/month for cats and $30-50/month for dogs and can cover examinations, diagnostic tests, medication, surgeries, cancer treatments, and emergency care. Some plans also offer options for wellness care including vaccinations, heartworm prevention, dental procedures and more. Pet insurance does not require a credit check to purchase a plan.

Care Credit This is a credit card that can be used in emergencies on its own or together with your pet insurance. It’s a great option for clients that have no insurance but have a credit score high enough to qualify. Rates are usually reasonable and if you pay your balance in a certain amount of time you can often avoid interest charges all together. The problem with this method is that many people who need Care Credit can’t qualify due to poor credit.

Other Credit Cards Some pet owners keep a credit card with enough available credit to cover an emergency, or a “hidden” card in case of a problem. This can be a great solution but many cards have high interest rates and the bill will eventually come due.

Donations A select few veterinary clinics have funds available (often donated by clients) to prevent tragically euthanizing animals who could potentially live a healthy life if their current problem were resolved. This is assessed on a case-to-case basis to make sure it is not being abused and is used to its full potential.

I hope this helps you understand the impact of economic euthanasia and options you can consider to prevent euthanizing your cat due to financial limitations.