Pets, Vets and Debts

More than half of Canadian households own a pet — keeping them healthy has grown into a billion dollar industry. What lengths will people go for their furry friends?
Available on CBC Gem

Pets, Vets and Debts

Nature of Things

More than half of Canadian households own a pet. That translates as almost six million dogs and eight million cats. In the US, dog and cat ownership has quadrupled since the mid-sixties – more homes have cats and dogs than have children.

The health and welfare of all these animals is a billion dollar industry. No wonder. There is almost no limit to the treatment available to our furry friends - MRIs, heart stents and even stem cell transplants are now standard.

stem cell operation in New YorkStem cell operation in New York

Pets, Vets and Debts takes the viewer inside the OR to witness cutting edge technology being used to treat pets – including two world’s firsts. In Ottawa, Dr. Julius Liptak uses a prosthesis to replace the jawbone of a twelve year old cat. In New York, Drs. Allyson Berent and Chick Weisse use stem cells from a donor cat to stabilize a cat’s kidney failure.


The documentary also shadows Dr. Michael Ethier as he deals with a variety of very sick animals in the Critical Care Unit of the Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital. With a staff of almost one hundred and state of the art medical equipment on site, this is a real hospital offering the same treatment you’d expect at a human hospital. Not surprisingly, medical bills can quickly go from the hundreds into the thousands.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Dexter the duck gets a prosthetic foot.

There are some people who would argue, why spend so much money on pets – they are after all, animals – not people. Most pet owners would disagree. Many refer to themselves as “pet parents” and their pets as “fur babies”. How did cats and dogs – once confined to living outside – catapult to such high status?

Kay Smith with Oliver

Science journalist David Grimm suggests that the rise in status of our pets may be due in part to the anti-social fallout from social media.

"We don’t call people on the phone as much anymore; we don’t hang out with people as much anymore and when we do hangout with people we all look at our phones the whole time. So our society, I think, has become more lonelier. And increasingly these cats and dogs they’re one of the few beings we have this regular contacts with. We don’t have these relationships anymore with people because our relationships with people have become so virtual."

Bionic animals walk, swim again with prosthetics. Meet 10 animals thrive with the help of artificial limbs.

One thing is certain. People love their pets. In fact, according to a recent poll, if trapped on a desert island, more than fifty percent of Americans would rather live out their day with their dog or their cat than with a human companion.  That says it all.