WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Despite tough economic times, Americans will spend billions of dollars this year on their pets.
In fact, some people put canine or cat care ahead of their own. Vets will tell you many owners will spare no expense to treat what's wrong, even if the bill is in the thousands of dollars.
Stella and Nika are two different sized dogs, with oversized medical bills.
Nika, a year-old Great Dane, suffered a leg injury before Shanna Dickens adopted her. Orthopedic surgery, confinement and rehabilitation allows her to run and play, but with an obvious deformity in her right front leg.
It's not painful, but it could be a problem one day, possibly adding to Shanna's vet bills that have already topped $5,000.
"I don't regret spending the money," said Shanna Dickens, who owns Nika. "I regret that her leg is not fixed."
Five years ago, Ann Seymour's dachshund Stella woke up one December morning unable to walk. Her 4-year-old furry friend had somehow ruptured a disc in her spine, and her back legs were paralyzed.
Emergency surgery at NC State's vet school and extensive rehabilitation added up to more than $3,000 of canine care.
"My vet, Dr. Weedon, gave her a good prognosis, and based on my taking responsibility for her post-surgical care," said Seymour. "It was a long way back - a year and a half to two years total."
These are just two cases that local veterinarians like Dr. Robert Weedon deal with everyday.
Pet owners are constantly faced with the shots, the pills, and the expected fees that come with having a four legged friend around the house. But, it's the un-expected life-and-death medical events, like a broken leg or cancer diagnosis, that can skyrocket health costs into the thousands of dollars.
Some owners can't afford it, and the animals are lost to what's called "economic euthanasia". Others base their decision on the animal's quality of life.
"If we can bring an animal back to where it was, then most clients will continue," said veterinarian, Dr. Robert Weedon.
Dr. Weedon says he is always up front with owners about the cost of care, and the possible outcomes, but he won't make the final decision.
"What would you do if it was your animal? I'll tell them, I'll educate them, I'll give them as much info as I can, but ultimately it is their decision," said Weedon.
Ann says the money she spent gave her old dog back.
Shanna knows Nika's medical condition may worsen again one day, and she'll have to decide what's best for her friend.
"Right now, I want her to be a dog, that's more important," said Dickens. "At some point, she'll need surgery for the ankle. What I plan to do is wait until my hand is forced, because I don't want to confine her."
Dr. Weedon suggests potential owners do some research on what types of ailments certain breeds of dogs and cats can develop. He says more of his clients are looking into pet insurance, and its best to do some research into that option as well.