Caring for a pet can be costly, especially if they become ill and need special medical treatment. Medical bills are just one of the many things the pet industry doesn't really want you to know about because it could result in a reduction in the number of pets people decide to own.

Consider this. A cat with cancer can run you $20,000 and up just for the treatment.  We all love our pets but it appears that our relationship with domestic animals has become very expensive in recent years.

A friend who adopted a pug from a rescue society recently told me he spends over $1,000 a month on medication and vet visits to deal with eye inflammations, ear problems and other ailments common to the breed.

"It's crazy to spend that much money on a pet, but he is such a jolly little character that I can't imagine not providing him with the best care," said my friend, who asked not to be identified because he feared public ridicule.

A lot of the exorbitant expense is due to medical breakthroughs and innovative treatments that just didn't exist a few years ago. But now they do and decisions once not even considered are suddenly on the table.  According to a report by market-research company Packaged Facts we spent $20 billion on veterinary bills this year. That's an 8.5% increase from 2009 and more than double the amount spent 10 years ago.

The increase in medical bills for pets has helped grow a newly industry of pet health insurance. What used to be considered a joke, medical insurance for dogs and cats, has become popular as a way to ease the financial burden of a sick pet.

One of the many things the pet industry doesn't want you to know is that some breeds of pets are healthier than others. Now that's something you usually take into consideration when you're about to either save some poor animal from certain death or buy that cuddly little creature at your local pet store.

Dr. Jerold Bell is a geriatrics professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. In an interview with Smart Money magazine, Dr. Bell says you if you don't do your research on a potential pet, you're risking a great deal of expenses and emotional strain.

Bell says that common problems such as hip dysplasia or cardiac conditions are breed-specific and are often detectable in the pets that breeders use to breed the pets they sell.

There aren't any regulators watching over the breeders, so it's up to you to know what diseases to which that particular pet is susceptible. You can check the Canine Health Information Center's web site for a list of disorders for which each breed of dog should be tested. Another way to increase your chances of getting a healthy purebred is by choosing breeders who use the services of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). That's a nonprofit foundation that tries to lower the incidence of genetic disease.

The OFA performs pre-breeding health screening services for many inherited diseases, including hip and elbow dysplasia, congenital cardiac disease, patellar luxation, autoimmune thyroid disease and others. Parents known to be free of genetic disorders are much more likely to produce healthy offspring.

Emergency care

If your pet does get sick, the temptation is to rush them to an emergency animal hospital when you could have probably waited until your regular vet's office opened. Around the clock animal clinics charge a lot for non-emergency procedures such x-rays and blood tests. So if you can wait, it pays to do so. You may even want to call your vet to get his or her opinion before rushing to the clinic.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, recommends giving your pet an annual physical exam to head off any medical problems that could be treated before they got out of hand.

If your pet is young and healthy, insurance is a bit of a gamble. And, as in humans, some policies don't cover the biggest procedures. As an alternative, you can set up a medical care fund in your pet's name and depositing regular sums comparable to premiums. If you don't use it, it's still yours but if you pay premiums to an insurance companies it belongs to them.

Kennel care

Leaving your pet with a kennel can come with its own set of problems. Most kennel operators are well-meaning animal lovers who have turned their passion for animals into a business. However, because the industry is largely unregulated, kennels can vary widely in their standard of care. So how can you know whether your pet will be housed in cramped, unhealthy conditions or put up in four-star luxury?

Ideally, you should pick one of the few kennels that are members of the American Boarding Kennels Association and have been accredited by the group. They have to comply with standards, including providing an area where dogs can be exercised at least three times a day. Make sure you take a tour of the kennel before booking a spot for your pet. Ask what health concerns pet supervisors are trained to detect.


Then comes the expense of training, although this is something cat owners rarely have to deal with. You can drop $300 an hour for your dog's obedience lessons, only to wind up with a pet who does little more than sit and stay. Unfortunately, anyone can call themselves a dog trainer.

There is a way to avoid inept or inexperienced trainers. Look for someone who has graduated from a program, such as the one conducted by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or is a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals. Ask how many years of experience a prospective trainer has. Training the family dog as a teenager doesn't count. And ask how many dogs he's worked with professionally and finally ask for references.

You should also consider what your pet will be taught. For example, in six lessons, you should expect your dog to be able to walk properly on a leash, stay and sit for three minutes in any environment and not just in your living room. He or she should be able to lie down for five minutes, come when called and leave the room when told. I know a few people who could use that training.

It's gotten to be a little trendy among some owners to send their dog or pet to an animal psychologist, but you may want to first attempt less expensive treatments. If the dog is suffering from separation anxiety, which is common among young pups, you could send the dog to a day care center two or three times a week. It could give your pet the physical, mental and emotional strength she's lacking.

There are pets who are removed from their mothers too soon and become overly aggressive or suffer from severe separation anxiety. In those cases, they very well could benefit from an animal shrink, provided they're certified professionals and actually know what they're doing.

A big thing the pet industry doesn't want you to know is that pet food doesn't have to be expensive to be good for your pet. Read the labels. Be especially wary of diet foods, which can be packed with added fiber to make pets feel full. Cutting back on regular food is a good way to achieve the same weight loss, as long as owners supplement it with vitamins.

As a general rule when it comes to food, look for pet foods tested and approved by members of the Association of American Feed Control Officials. That's an industry watchdog group that sets standards for animal-feed manufacturing. The most important thing is does your pet like it. If my cat Kimberly doesn't like a particular food, she'll tip over the plate and attempt to bury it. She's pretty picky too. But sliced turkey always seems to get eaten.