The Nature of Things delves into the cost of keeping our pets healthy

How far would you go—and how much would you spend—to ensure the health and welfare of your pet? Speaking from experience, a lot. Our previous cat, Scout, was a mixture of Maine coon and other breeds and needed costly surgery to repair a wonky left hip. Six months later, we paid to have the right side fixed. Later in life, Scout needed daily injections to combat diabetes and when he passed away we paid to have him cremated and his ashes put into an urn. I don’t know how much we spent on his health from birth to death, but it wasn’t cheap. The thing is, mine is a common story.

Thursday’s instalment of The Nature of Things, “Pets, Vets & Debts,” explores the billion-dollar industry behind keeping our furry companions healthy. First, a few stunning stats: more than half of Canadian households own a pet. That means six million dogs and eight million cats. In the United States, more homes have cats and dogs than children. And, like their human owners, pets suffer from the same ailments as we do, including top killers cancer and kidney failure for felines and congenital issues, cancer and trauma in canines.

Cameras follow veterinarians and their staff into the high-tech Toronto Veterinary Hospital, speak to owners about how far they’ll go for their animal friends and those who view our beast besties as simply animals we shouldn’t become emotionally attached to. Seeing doctors quickly assess the health of Dexter the 12-year-old golden retriever is impressive, but it’s hard to watch the owners’ process the information and make a hard decision about the dog’s future. As his owners, Jonathan and Melissa state, Dexter is like their first child, a constant companion through the years.

On a more positive note, it’s simply amazing to see what’s being manufactured to help pets lead better lives. Take the case of Oliver, a dog born without front legs. Though he’s doing just fine, Oliver’s owner wanted to improve his life, so she had prosthetic front legs made for him by Derrick Campana of Animal Ortho Care. Oliver was a little reluctant—and shaky—at first, but was soon bounding around on the ingenious apparatus.

Canadians spend over $2 billion on vet bills. Is it worth it? Are we caring too much about our pets? Tune in to “Pets, Vets & Debts” and let me know what you think in the comments below or via @tv_eh on Twitter.

The Nature of Things airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.