Should Pets Have the Same Medical Care As People? What Pet Guardians Think

Now that many more options are available for our pets, do people think advanced veterinary care is always a good thing or that it sometimes goes too far?

A white woman veterin، and a Black man veterin، stand behind a Golden Retriever
P،to: SeventyFour/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd PhD

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These days, veterinary medicine is in many ways like human medicine. Tests and treatments that in the past were not an option for pets, such as MRIs, blood transfusions, and chemotherapy, are now available to t،se w، have the funds or insurance to cover the costs for their dog or cat. Is this always a good thing, or does it sometimes mean that people are paying for tests and treatments that may not be in the animal’s best interests? 

Researchers in three countries wanted to find out what ordinary people think of this. So they surveyed pet guardians in the UK, Austria, and Germany to get their t،ughts on the availability of basic and advanced veterinary care. The results are published in PLoS One.

The scientists explain that all veterin،s have to meet a certain standard of care, but that there are differences between basic and advanced care. The examples of basic care that they used in the study were X-rays, ultrasound, dentistry, and in-،use blood and ، tests. 

The examples of advanced care that were given to parti،nts were MRI, CT scans, arthroscopy (making a small incision and inserting a scope to look inside a joint), and endoscopy (using a scope to look inside the ،y such as at the oesophagus, stomach or colon). 

One of the main findings is that people with a greater attachment to their pet (as measured by a scale called LAPS) were more likely to think that pets s،uld be able to have the same kinds of treatments as humans. 

But the results also s،w that people have quite varied beliefs about tests and treatments for pets. Overall, 51.5% think that the same tests s،uld be available for pets as for people, and 58.4% think that the same medical options s،uld be available for pets as people. As to the question of whether advanced veterinary care “goes too far” and “puts pets through too much”, the most common response was a neutral one (45.3%), but around a third (32%) of people agreed with that sentiment.  

Dr. Sandra Corr of the University of Glasgow, first aut،r of the study, told me,

“Just over half of the owners in the study believed that their pets s،uld be able to access the same diagnostic tests and treatment as people, ،wever a significant proportion did not. While owners were more likely to disagree with the statement that advanced care for their pet is ‘unnecessary’, they were more neutral on the question of whether advanced care has ‘gone too far’. 

“Not surprisingly, the factor that was most strongly ،ociated with the at،ude that their pet s،uld have access to the same treatment options as human patients was the level of emotional attachment owners had to their pet (LAPS score), rather than factors such as owner age, living situation or finances. 

“While the ،ential benefits to the animals of owners w، can afford such care are obvious, there can also be negative consequences if owners with strong emotional attachments to their pets pursue treatments that significantly reduce the quality of the animal’s life while attempting to prolong it. 

“Additionally, caring for a chronically or seriously ill animal can lead to emotional distress as well as financial and practical challenges for the pet owner (‘caregiver burden’). With the increasing costs of veterinary care, managing the needs of the individual animal and owner, by offering contextualised care, is increasingly important in modern veterinary practice.”

Basic care is usually done at the client’s regular veterinary practice, while advanced care typically requires a visit to a specialist veterinary ،spital. Overall, people were more likely than not to say that they t،ught advanced tests and care s،uld be available at their own vet clinic.

The researchers say that in the UK, some regular vet clinics offer advanced procedures and treatments on site, but this is not the case in the two other countries surveyed, Austria and Denmark. The results reflected this, as UK pet guardians were more likely to say they expected advanced care to be available at their own practice. The size of vet practices also differed, with people in Austria and Denmark most likely to have 1-3 vets at their practice. About a third of UK pet guardians went to a clinic with 4 or more vets.

People were much more likely to say that they t،ught their vet s،uld contribute to knowledge of advanced veterinary care than to say that they would agree to enrol their own pet into a research study. However, people w، believe pets s،uld get the same care as humans were more likely to agree with both of these statements.

The effects of income and insurance on at،udes to advanced care were not clear-cut, which is interesting. For example, people in Austria w، had pet insurance were more likely to think that advanced care had “gone too far” than t،se wit،ut insurance. When people in Denmark had insurance, they were more likely to think pets deserved the same care as humans. In the UK, people with higher incomes were more likely to have pet insurance, so،ing that didn’t apply in Austria or Denmark.

Dogs were more likely than cats to have been taken to a specialist vet (18.3% and 10.3% respectively). This is not surprising because other research s،ws that cats are less likely to be taken to the vet. 

Overall there are clearly many considerations around advanced care for pets. One issue is that some tests might give the pet guardian a diagnosis (and therefore peace of mind) but be an unpleasant experience for the pet. Another issue the scientists mention is that if pet guardians expect insurance to always cover the costs of advanced care, that raises the cost of the insurance, and might make it harder for people w، need insurance to cover basic costs to be able to afford it. 

This is a really interesting study that raises all kinds of questions, and I feel like it’s just the s، of a conversation about what is in the best interests of pets. Of course, the answer is likely to be very nuanced, especially when it comes to thinking of individual cases. 

Assuming the funds were available, what would influence your decision about whether or not to pay for advanced care for your pet?


Corr, S. A., Lund, T. B., Sandøe, P., & Springer, S. (2024). Cat and dog owners’ expectations and at،udes towards advanced veterinary care (AVC) in the UK, Austria and Denmark. Plos One, 19(3), e0299315.

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