The Cost of Dog Cancer: The Four Budgets

It’s not only money you need to budget to treat dog cancer. You also need enough time, emotional bandwidth, and plain physical strength.

Key Takeaways

  • To be fair to our dogs, ourselves, and our family, we must consider whether we have the time needed for the required care after a diagnosis of cancer.
  • Not having the luxury of time to dedicate to managing a pet with chronic diseases is ok. Dogs have no concept of time and just want to be loved.
  • Even if a financial budget is limited, palliative care such as pain medications, appetite stimulants, etc. can help achieve the best quality of life possible with minimal cost until it is time to say good-bye.
  • Balancing the budgets of time, finances, physical ability, and emotional capacity can help to make the best, most peaceful, compassionate, and kind decision possible for you and your pet with cancer.

Dogs Give Us Everything, and We Want to Return the Favor

Being a dog owner is precious. Dogs provide us with unconditional love, tail wags and kisses, laughter, funny stories, and better health. In return for their devotion and companionship, our job as their guardian is to care for them and keep them safe.

We gladly invest our time, our money, and our emotions in exchange for a deep emotional bond with our dear friend. When our pets are healthy, the investments of time, money, care, and love are made easily. However, if our dog becomes ill, as is the case with cancer, it becomes trickier to navigate through what is best for you and your pet.

Four Areas of Responsibility

As we navigate through cancer care, we must be aware of four major responsibilities (time, physical care, financial care, and emotional energy) and how they impact our canine companions, ourselves and our family.

  • We must budget our time for the frequent vet visits.
  • We need to be physically capable, sometimes having to assist our dogs to walk, climb stairs, administer medications and keep them clean.
  • We need to be aware of finances and be able to pay for services and medications.
  • Lastly, we must be prepared to weather the emotional turmoil and stress that comes with being a primary caregiver to a sick loved one.

Making Hard Choices

There is no right or wrong answer as to what is best in any given chronic illness situation. What is right for one pet and their family may be completely different than what is right for another family. Personal reflection about “The Four Budgets” discussed below perhaps can help in making important decisions about managing dog cancer without any sense of regret or guilt.

Invaluable Concept: The Four Budgets

Drs. McVety and Gardner of Lap of Love®, a nationwide company that provides hospice care and home euthanasia to owners and their canine companions, provide some valuable guidance to their clients regarding making decisions for their pet’s care by using The Four Budgets. You can listen to their DogCancerAnswers podcast interview at

What Are the Four Budgets?

Time, physical care, financial care and emotional energy are referred to as the Four Budgets by Drs. McVety and Gardner. By evaluating each of the budgets, we can assess more objectively the choices we make for our dogs with cancer.

Financial Budget

There is no question that veterinary care can be costly, especially when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Initial diagnostics, hospitalization, surgeries, laboratory fees, medications and other procedures can add up quickly. It is important to have a clear idea of the expected course of your dog’s care and the costs. This should be supplied by the veterinarians and the specialists that are involved in your dog’s care.

An accurate overview of expenses allows you to consider all the treatment options that are available within a given financial budget. Consideration of finances should also be balanced by factors like prognosis and other health issues your pet may have.

Even when all the finances needed are available, it may not be the best choice to pursue aggressive treatment if there is little possibility for improving the quality or quantity of life.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, even if a financial budget is limited, palliative care such as pain medications, appetite stimulants, etc. can help achieve the best quality of life possible with minimal cost until it is time to say good-bye.

Time Budget

We have dogs because we enjoy caring for them and spending time with them. When they become ill, however, the time required for care becomes more involved.

Pills need to be given at specific times, pets may need to be taken outside more frequently, or they may need to be checked on in the middle of a workday.

Veterinary visits, chemotherapy treatments, and radiation therapy appointments can be frequent and time consuming.

To be fair to our dogs, ourselves, and our family, we must consider whether we can invest the time necessary for their required care. Some people work from home or are retired while others work long shifts, so the ability to provide this additional time will be different for everyone.

Physical Budget

The physical demands of caring for a sick dog can be taxing. The size of the pet, their general disposition, their mobility, etc. must all be considered.

Large dogs can be difficult to assist with mobility. The layout of a home may also create additional limitations, especially if there are slippery floors or stairs. Some owners may have their own health or mobility issues that limit the type of physical activity they can perform.

The other aspect of the physical budget is whether your pet will be tolerant of physical assistance and nursing care. Our responsibility as their guardian is to strive for quality of life. If treatments are physically causing a pet to be in pain, become distressed, pull away from the family, or become more fearful, then it may not be in that pet’s best interest to move forward with treatments.

Emotional Budget

The emotional toll of having a sick companion is significant. Each day their condition may change for the better or the worse. The responsibility of monitoring them, making decisions for them, and worrying about them can be overwhelming as the daily stresses of work and family life continue.

We all have a different tolerance of emotional stress at different times of our life. Everyone and every situation are different.

Attempting to care for a sick pet and finding that you are becoming sick from stress or worry will benefit no one.

Take time to carefully consider the impact of your pet’s illness on you and consider your dog’s personality as well.

Remember that dogs just want us to be happy. That is why they are so amazing.

Why Budgets are Important

You might think that using the Four Budgets approach to make decisions regarding your dog’s care is selfish. It really is not. It is a pragmatic way that we can navigate through making these difficult decisions.

We all have different capabilities and that is ok. Missing work may not be an option, the stress of knowing your dog is sick may be more than you can handle, or you may not be physically able to assist your 100-pound dog in getting up or going outside.

It certainly is not fair that dogs get cancer. Understanding our abilities and our limitations allows us to treat our dog the best way possible while taking care of ourselves. Balancing the four budgets for both can help in making the best, most peaceful, compassionate, and kind decision possible.

  1. McVety D. Dog euthanasia, Hospice, and Lap of Love: Dr. Dani McVety. Published March 17, 2023. Accessed April 10, 2023.



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