Slumping economy puts crimp in pet care

For Christine Eide, raising Welsh Pembroke Corgi dogs is not a moneymaker. It's more like a debt-maker.

Even though veterinary bills and show-ring expenses cost her $10,000 last year – and she's discounted a remaining puppy to half price because of the economy – she won't cut corners on their care.

"I would not skimp on giving them their shots and what's needed," said Eide, who lives in El Dorado County.

Shots and genetic testing of all the puppies she sells give new owners peace of mind, she said.

The economic downturn could be giving some pet owners pause when it comes to veterinary care, delaying checkups and vaccinations for what could be deadly, contagious diseases.

A spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, based in suburban Chicago, said studies have shown that people will neglect themselves before they deny their pets. Still, some member veterinarians lately have noticed a drop-off in visits, said Thomas McPheron, the spokesman for the group representing 85 percent of the country's veterinarians.

Jay Griffiths, a Fair Oaks veterinarian who owns five clinics in the Sacramento area, has seen a 15 to 20 percent decline since last year in the number of patients who are current on annual checkups and vaccines.

Those who own exotics even choose euthanasia rather than pay for pricey treatment, said Marianne Brick, whose Fair Oaks veterinary practice includes small animals and exotics, such as lizards.

Pet owners are doing more comparison shopping, using credit cards, cajoling parents for financial help and delaying procedures such as spaying and neutering, she said.

"They'll come in and say, 'I have $50 in my pocket. What can you do?' " she said.

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