Are you borrowing money to pay for someone else’s healthcare?


I didn’t think I could have heard her right.

Oh yes doctor $2000. The vet lets me pay it back in instalments. He did the same a couple of years ago. He is very kind.

This old lady had visited me umpteen times. I knew she didn’t have a lot of money and that on occasion she would go without her pills because things were tight. She tried to make ends meet by working as chef at a greasy spoon. Her boss was a bit of a bully and often refused to pay her overtime. I had seen her through oesophagitis, osteoporosis and breast cancer. Each time she couldn’t afford to expedite the investigations and insisted on waiting months to be seen as a ‘public’ patient. But that weekend her dog had been paralysed and the vet had been authorised to carry out emergency surgery. Something she would be paying for months into the future.

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. The pet care industry in Australia is estimated to be worth $8.0 billion annually. 39% of households own a dog. In fact 50% of Aussies live in a household with at least one cat and or dog in it, whereas only 35% share their household with at least one child under 16.  Companionship is the driving reason behind pet ownership. Australians are showering pets with gourmet food, protecting them with insurance and pampering them with reflexology, acupuncture and hydrotherapy. Pet food has been compared to baby food in terms of resilient market performance. I notice that one of the major supermarket chains has half an isle now stocking chilled pet food.

Most pet owners consider their pets to be members of the family and this has a powerful impact on how and what people buy. Julie Power

This trend has taken medicine by surprise. It may be prudent to enquire if your patient has a pet and if that pet is well. This is especially the case for pensioners whose dog or cat may be the only company they have. The impact of pet ownership on health continues to be debated. On the one hand it is considered to be beneficial, for reasons unknown. On the other hand being responsible for a pet may negate all the benefits. It is stressful worrying about the dog barking and annoying neighbours or damaging property.

Health care practitioners might ponder the impact of these surrogate family members on the lives of people. For pensioners in particular:

High levels of grief may also be experienced in the event of a pet’s death. Other aspects include cost, time, and behavioural problems that may lead to further stress, anxiety and loneliness. Bradley Smith

It is helpful to know if the person who is consulting you smokes tobacco or drinks alcohol. We think nothing of asking other intimate details. However we often fail to ask if the person has a pet. It might explain a lot.

Picture by Malcolm Payne

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