Euthanasia: Hard times call for hard decisions

Euthanasia: Hard times call for hard decisions

State of the Profession 2009: DVMs alter strategies to assist economically strapped owners
Mar 01, 2009

Easing the burden: "We see a number of people who have lost their jobs," says Dr. Jennifer Hicks of Indianapolis. To accommodate them, her hospital looks for cost-saving ways to help them afford to treat their pets.
National Report — "I think every family and every individual has a limit in their mind — not only cost, but stress to the pet — that they will reach before they stop treatment," says Jennifer Hicks, a small-animal veterinarian at Brookville Road Animal Hospital in Indianapolis.

As the recession widens, the decision to treat or euthanize is coming earlier, DVMs say.

On average, veterinarians report most of their clients will refuse or stop treatment for their pets at $1,407, according to an exclusive DVM Newsmagazine survey (see story on p.18 for past comparison, other findings).

But that amount varies widely from region to region — from $100 to $1,700-plus.

In the Midwest, arguably the hardest hit economically, veterinarians report clients stop treatment on average at $1,175. In the Southeast, the number is $1,383. In the Southwest, it's about $1,460, while veterinarians in the Northeast report the highest stop-treatment point, about $1,747.

Gary Holfinger, of the East Suburban Animal Clinic in Northwood, Ohio (near the state's northwest corner), says his clinic definitely sees the effects of the brutal economy.

Basic medicine: While Dr. Jennifer Hicks would like to send in every tumor for a biopsy, she knows that's not an option in her Indianapolis practice.
Not only are veterinarians seeing an earlier stop-treatment amount, but also fewer clients willing to go through the expense of testing to rule out or confirm various illnesses and disease.

"Unemployment is high in our area of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana," he says. "Whether people have the cash flow now or not, they are trying to hold on to what they have because they think things are going to worsen."

While Holfinger sees the stop-treatment point at $700 to $800 at his clinic, it's been consistent, despite the economy.

What has taken a more drastic hit is diagnostic procedures.

"We're not doing as many work-ups, and more empirical treatment is becoming the norm."

Quality vs. cost: Owners want to do what is best for their pets, but they can't always pay for it.
Hicks reports her clinic's stop-treatment point is about the same as Holfinger's, but in some cases less.

"We see such a variety of lifestyles and incomes here," Hicks says. "We do have clients, especially right now in this economy, who stop sooner. And we have clients who say do anything necessary."