Specialised health treatment for pets

I’m writing a story for Choice on pet healthcare, looking at advanced vet services. What was traditionally used by humans such as acupuncture, oncology treatments, endoscopies etc is now available for our pets, but can easily cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Pet insurance means that some people are now willing to spend higher amounts on their pets, but how much is too much to spend? One man paid $25,000 to remove a fungal infection from his cat, which prolonged it’s life by two or three years. Does anyone have a similar story or any thoughts on this?


What an interesting topic, @npatch! I had not idea that existed!

I remember a few months ago our cat went into the vet and we weren’t sure what was wrong with him. My blood turned cold when the receptionist asked “how much can you afford for treatment?”. What if the cat had something wrong that we couldn’t afford to fix? How do you put a financial value on a loved one? Luckily, our cat was fine with minimal cost. But it’s easy to see how owners could spend big bucks on their furbabies.

@Julie and @reginavk - I saw you’re both animal lovers! Have you had much experience with these specialised health treatments for pets?


I’d like to make the observation that acupuncture is really expensive placebo - it is not evidence-based medicine. Is there any evidence that placebos work for pets ? The same could be said for homeopathy. There are recent moves to try and ban homeopathy for animals - not because homeopathy is dangerous in itself, but because using homeopathy often means that evidence-based medical treatment is not pursued, and an animal might suffer as a result.


Good point Scott and I agree with you there. I would personally never use homeopathy on my pet. I believe it’s also unregulated?


Are alt meds regulated for animals ? I don’t know.

That’s something I have to look into.

Our housemate’s cat got into the bin and stole some chicken bones. It let to an infection in the stomach.

He’s Centrelink dependent with a medical condition - the bill came to over $3500, so he had to set up a crowdfunding campaign to save his cat’s life or she would have had to die.

His friends managed to cover about $2500, so he was able to manage the rest, but it could’ve turned out much worse.

If only concession cards provided concession rates for animal care too!

Glad the cat survived. That’s a lot of money to spend regardless of whether your’e on centrelink or not. It’s good to hear he was able to raise the funds, it’s a lot of $ for a stomach infection. Do you know what sort of medical treatment the cat received?

There was some pretty intense surgery involved, and then her blood cell counts were off and she had to stay in for monitoring for over a week.

My understanding is the long stay contributed a lot to the cost.


I can tell you as far as alternative therapies are concerned, there is not an official regulatory body other than the AVA that oversees alternative animal treatments. However, that does not mean that alternative treatments don’t have merits. As far as perioperative services are concerned, there are definitely merits for treatments and therapeutics such as hydrotherapy.

But, as far as a spend is concerned, as I said earlier, the lack of regulatory bodies around specifically alternative therapies for animals, means that it’s largely self regulating as far as pricing is concerned and people will pay what they will pay and there are no guarantees (as with all therapies - alternative or not)
I will check for you on the AVA position/policy on alternative therapeutics.
As far as alternative medicines the APVMA is the body responsible for all veterinary medicines. Their requirements for therapeutics are outlined here:

In simple terms, veterinary products requiring APVMA registration include (but are not limited to):

  • pharmaceutical products (including parasitological and antibiotic products)
  • immunobiological products (including polypeptide and DNA constructs)
  • complementary animal health products (including herbal, nutraceutical, direct-fed microbial and homeopathic remedies).

Products that generally do not require registration include:

  • devices and other equipment used on animals
  • animal cosmetic products
  • animal feed products
  • other products specified as exempt in the Regulations or not requiring registration.

Hi my 13yo Golden Retriever went from hiking with me for hours to only being able to walk 10- 15 minutes limping home with arthritis. A friend recommended Dr Condon,who is a vet but moved into alternative medicines (Acupuncture and Chiropractics)
When he saw my girl he commented on how wonderful she looked for 13. After examining her he decided she didn’t need Acupuncture just yet but put her on CoQ10, Fish Oil and Tumeric and suggested a change of diet to more beef and vegys…
She is now walking with me 30 minutes a day, even loping around. Such an improvement. AND his consultation $50 (similar to a vet) which is all he charged me. Said ‘come back when/if she needs it’. Very happy with Dr Condon from SA.

From his website:

Dr Condon is also a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist, having succesfully completed the IVAS certification course. The IVAS certificate is an internationally recognised qualification for Veterinary Acupuncturists. Acupuncture compliments Chiropractic treatment and the two approaches to health care have many similarities despite the very different philosophies and backgrounds.


If homeopathy works due to the placebo effect, that makes it no less valid a treatment. Placebos are an example of neuroplasticity at work. They are not less real than cures by conventional drugs when treating pain or depression, for example, as they have been shown to result in almost identical changes in the brain. However, I’ve treated myself, my infant daughter and my cat with homeopathy and been very pleased overall with the results, so I doubt it’s always a placebo at work. Its success lies mostly with the practitioner correctly assessing the patient. Homeopathy isn’t like a drug where you can just prescribe based on a diagnosis or symptoms. I would much prefer a cure due to homeopathy or a placebo as at least there isn’t the risk of harmful side effects as there so often is with pharmaceuticals. Actually, I’d be interested to see a Choice report on deaths due to pharmaceuticals. Has there been one?


Are you trying to tell us that the cat knew it was being treated for an illness? This would be essential for a placebo effect.

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CHOICE senior health writer Karina Bray has looked into how homeopathic products among other alternative therapies are sold in Australian pharmacies – with mixed results.

Our health & body team have also looked into dodgy claims used in the marketing of conventional painkillers, as well as dangers from contamination and inappropriate mixing of prescription medications and situations where some “natural” products can be unsafe to use.

For those with a deeper interest in health issues we also publish CHOICE Health Reader, edited by Dr. Norman Swan.

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I had a LabXKelpie that needed two knee replacement surgeries over 2 years. She was 6 at the first operation and with all the exceptions for pre-existing conditions I thought it was not useful to take out a pet insurance after that. At age 10 she was diagnosed with bone cancer and we were prepared to spend a close to unlimited amount of money to keep her alive as long as she is comfortable (that’s what I describe an emergency were credit cards come in handy). Our vet talked us through our options but as the cancer had spread all through her body it was basically too late for any of the expensive treatments like chemotherapy. He was there for us 24/7 and let a number of tests slip through the billing system, we still spent around $1.500 for visits+meds+wheelchair (paralysed hind legs) over a 10 months period.

I found out only recently that you can save big on medications by getting a prescription for an equivalent human medication - my friend reduced her $100 p.m. spend on Meloxicam for her dog’s arthritis to $4 p.m. (plus a $15 fee for the script at the vet’s)

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Christy, placebos don’t work via neuroplasticity. They work via several “placebo effects” that are of varying benefit, where the effects don’t come from the treatment itself. Some of these effects are due to a better outlook by the patient because they’ve sat with a therapist and talked about their problems for a while. Others include publication bias and confirmation bias.

What most people consider “the placebo effect” is using (usually) the patient’s belief that the intervention is genuine and/or working. These effects are short-lived (perhaps up to a week) and are generall only effective on non-specific symptoms like a general feeling of unwell, general aches and pains, low mood, and other “symptoms of life”.

For more on this, read this blog post from prominent neurosurgeon Steven Novella:


In particular, Steven explains why naïve children and animals can seem to benefit from placebo effects.

A UK vet has called upon the Royal College of Vetinary Surgeons to ban the use of homeopathy for treating animals because it’s proven ineffective, and also causes delays in providing a scientifically sound treatment. Many animals needlessly suffer prolonged illness, even death due to this. https://www.change.org/p/the-royal-college-of-veterinary-surgeons-a-call-to-ban-veterinary-surgeons-from-prescribing-homeopathy-as-a-treatment-for-animals

I’ve worked in Veterinary Hospitals for 25 years, talked to lots of people at dog shows and obedience schools, I am not usually a believer in “new age” remedies but several times I have seen a qualified Veterinary acupuncturist help dogs. Also, in my experience, chemotherapy rarely gives them much time. I also believe that pet insurance is a waste of money. At the same time I’m sure some pet owners think spending $1,000’s is a bit of an ego trip. Shop around for a Vet who doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. Talk to clients. The same quality surgery can cost $500 to $3,500 depending on who you see.


I don’t know about acupuncture for pets but I do know that as far back as 15 years ago, my chiropracter persuaded me ( a non-believer) to try acupuncture for a painful upper leg condition and it worked, with no recurrence since. It may be a placebo for some, but not for me!. Dick m


I love my dog enormously, but I would not spend thousands to extend her life by a few years. I think many pet owners are being cruel when they do so. Old animals will die, just like us. And just like us, if they had a choice to be old and infirm or to die peacefully, they would probably choose the same we would. Keeping them around to make us feel better is not kind. It is also cruel to treat some large active dogs who have bad limb problems that require them to be caged or sedated for long periods.
There are thousands of animals in shelters that would love to have a decent home and that you will grow to love instead. There are also millions of starving children. It’s a matter of priorities, and we have some very skewed ones sometimes.
I would not bother with pet insurance, and if it covers alt medicine, neither should anyone else.