6 Most Expensive Dog Health Problems

Four Minutes
Dec 18, 2023

If your dog gets a bit nervous about visiting the vet, they’re not alone. These days, the rising cost of care for dog health problems may strike fear in the hearts of many pet parents, too. Skyrocketing vet bills aren’t just hard on your wallet; they can be hazardous to your dog’s health, as well. According to one survey of 1,200 pet parents, 32% reported they’d declined vet care for their four-legged friends due to concerns over the cost of treatment.1

According to the latest research, the average annual cost of essential, preventative veterinary care for dogs ranges from $125 to $325, while the average emergency vet bill can run as high as $1,290.2

We’ll break down the most expensive health issues dogs face, along with information about how a MetLife Pet Insurance plan can help you manage the cost of care that accompanies them.

Top 6 Most Expensive Dog Health Problems

Several factors influence the cost of vet care, according to veterinary technician Thomas Dock, BSc, CVJ, director of communications for Noah’s Animal Hospitals. Treatment that requires specialized equipment, advanced diagnostics, long hospitalizations, or specialized veterinary training are among the most expensive dog health problems to treat.

Dock notes that the cost to treat unexpected illnesses and injuries, including those that require extended hospitalization due to trauma or infectious disease, might feel more expensive because of the immediate and unexpected cost. However, the costs associated with managing heart problems, osteoarthritis, diabetes, or other chronic conditions often amount to a greater total cost.

“Since the medications and diagnostics are known and can be budgeted for, the overall expense of managing chronic disease feels more manageable for pet parents,” Dock adds.

Whether sudden and urgent or chronic and long-term, it’s important to know what caring for pricey dog health issues could cost you. Here are the six most expensive dog health problems.

1. Total hip replacement: Up to $7,000

Your veterinarian may recommend a total hip replacement if your dog suffers from severe hip dysplasia. This condition, common in larger breeds, causes the ball and socket in the joint to rub painfully instead of gliding smoothly and can lead to decreased range of motion, lameness, stiffness, and loss of function in the joint.3

Dock notes that a total hip replacement, which involves replacing the entire joint with metal and plastic implants to alleviate pain and restore range of motion, is expensive due to the complexity of the procedure. The surgery generally costs around $7,000 if one hip is being replaced. If both hips are being replaced, the cost can range from $7,000 to $14,000.4

These surgeries require specialized equipment, an experienced veterinary surgeon, and a series of X-rays before surgery, after surgery, and at predetermined times during follow-up,” he says.

2. Foreign object removal: Up to $3,500

From tennis balls to tube socks, dogs will sometimes eat objects that aren’t designed for digestion. When foreign objects get stuck in a dog’s digestive tract, the blockage can lead to health issues ranging from dehydration, vomiting, and diarrhea to serious conditions like bowel obstruction.

“In some cases, the foreign object can be removed with an endoscope, which avoids the need for an invasive surgery and possible difficult recovery period,” Dock says. However, if surgery is the only way to remove the foreign object, the procedure can get pricey. Surgery to remove a foreign object in dogs can range from $2,000 to $3,500.4

Dock says several things can impact the cost of gastrointestinal obstruction surgery, such as the location of the object and how severe the blockage is. Plus, “the need to make several openings into the stomach or intestines (or both) to remove multiple objects, the importance of avoiding infection in the abdomen if the gut contents leak out, and post-operative care,” can all drive up the cost of surgery.

A smiling vet holds a corgi as it stands on its hind legs.

3. Gastropexy: Up to $6,000

Gastropexy is a surgical procedure veterinarians may recommend to prevent or treat recurring cases of bloat in dogs. Bloat is when a dog’s stomach becomes swollen with food and/or gas. It becomes life-threatening gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) if it causes the stomach to twist, cutting off blood circulation to vital organs.5

During the surgical procedure, a vet will use sutures to attach the stomach to the side of a dog’s body cavity so it won’t distend and twist. Depending on your dog’s condition, the vet may perform this as an open surgery or as a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.

Because the surgery requires specialized equipment, it can be expensive, says Dock. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, vets will perform preventative gastropexies on at-risk dogs when they spay or neuter them, which can reduce the cost. In adult dogs, a preventative gastropexy averages around $1,400, while emergency procedures range between $3,000 and $6,000.4

4. Cruciate ligament rupture: Up to $5,000

Dogs have cruciate ligaments in all four legs. When working properly, this fibrous tissue connects the femur and tibia so the knee functions smoothly as a hinged joint.  However, if the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) ruptures due to excessive strain — such as when a dog changes direction while running — or wears down over time, your dog may need surgery to repair it.

There are several types of surgeries veterinarians may recommend to treat CCL ruptures, ranging from replacing the torn CCL with an artificial ligament to a Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO), which enables the knee to work properly without the CCL.6

There’s a wide range of costs associated with CCL repair, which can run from $750 to $5,000 per knee.7 The final price tag can depend on the type of surgery your veterinarian recommends, the size of your dog, and the severity of the rupture or tear.

Dock notes that more complex surgical procedures may require a board-certified veterinary surgeon, specialist, and surgical assistant, which can drive up the price. Plus, some surgeries require extensive follow-up visits and physical therapy, which will add to the bill.

5. Diabetes: Up to $4,800 per year

Canine diabetes is among the most commonly diagnosed chronic health conditions in dogs. It’s estimated that roughly one in every 300 dogs will develop some form of diabetes in their lifetime.8

In dogs with diabetes, the body can’t control the production or regulation of insulin, which can have far-reaching effects on a dog’s metabolism, energy, blood sugar, and overall health. If left untreated, the long-term effects of the disease can be fatal.8 However, with proper management, dogs with diabetes can live long, healthy lives.

Managing diabetes in dogs requires daily insulin injections, which typically cost between $40 and $150 per month, but they could cost up to $400 per month, depending on the brand and dosage required for your dog’s size.9,10 Your veterinarian may also recommend a prescription diet specially formulated for diabetic dogs, which is often more expensive.

These expenses may seem like pocket change compared to the hefty price tag that accompanies most canine surgeries. However, managing diabetes is a lifelong endeavor, and the cumulative cost of treatment over the life of your dog is often equivalent.

6. Intervertebral disc disease: Up to $4,000

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) results from ruptured, herniated, bulging, or slipped discs in your dog’s spine. It causes pressure on the spinal cord, which can lead to pain, stiffness, decreased balance, reduced range of motion, and loss of bladder or bowel control.

There are several surgical procedures to remove the diseased disc material, alleviating the pressure and pain of IVDD. Depending on the surgery, average costs range between $1,500 and $4,000.4

However, this may not include the cost of pre-surgery testing and medications. Plus, “In some cases, dogs need to remain hospitalized until they are comfortable walking,” says Dock. This could require extended stays or rehabilitation, increasing the cost even more.

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Dog Breeds With the Most Health Problems

Some dogs — even breeds considered high-risk for certain genetic diseases — go their entire lives without a single health issue, while other dogs may require ongoing vet care to manage their health.

Even if your pooch manages to dodge the most expensive dog health problems, it’s worth researching what other health issues they may be prone to developing. While there are no guarantees a dog will (or won’t) develop certain health issues, here are some dogs with the most health problems:

  • English bulldog: Like other smushed-face breeds, English bulldogs are at higher risk of developing brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome that can make it difficult to breathe. The breed also has higher rates of skin fold dermatitis, mange, and foot infections.11
  • Great Dane: Nicknamed the “heartbreak” breed due to their higher risk of cardiovascular disease, Great Danes are also prone to hip dysplasia, thyroid issues, and bloat.12
  • Boxer: The latest research shows that vets diagnose one in seven boxers with cancer each year, making it the leading cause of death in the breed. Brachycephalic boxers are also prone to breathing problems and skin fold infections. Ear infections, dental issues, and obesity are also common.13
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel: This breed is prone to a heart condition called mitral valve disease that causes blood to flow backward, leading to heart failure. Cavalier King Charles spaniels are also prone to severe headaches, as well as hearing, vision, and joint problems.14
  • Pug: Add pugs to the list of flat-faced breeds prone to breathing issues. Their bulging eyes also cause issues, including corneal ulcers and dry eye.15 But perhaps the breed’s biggest health issue is necrotizing meningoencephalitis, an inflammatory disease of the brain that causes seizures, unstable gait, depression, and blindness. This progressive, fatal disease is so common in pugs that someone nicknamed it Pug dog encephalitis (PDE).16
  • German shepherd: The list of health issues in the beloved working breed is long and includes hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat, degenerative myelopathy, and a progressive eye condition known as pannus.17

Dog Breeds With the Least Health Problems

While every dog is different, some breeds tend to be healthier. This generally means they have longer life expectancies and aren’t prone to as many injuries or illnesses. If you’re looking for a healthier dog, there are a few breeds you should consider. Here are the dogs with the least health problems:18

  • Australian cattle dog: This breed is incredibly resilient and may not be prone to many health problems. They’re incredibly athletic and tend to stay healthy if they get the exercise they need.
  • Australian shepherd: This hardworking and intelligent dog usually stays fairly healthy. With their water-resistant coat and active lifestyle, they’re hardy and make excellent companions.
  • Chihuahua: This yappy breed actually has one of the longest life spans. While they’re prone to dental disease and a few other ailments, most live fairly long and healthy lives.
  • Beagle: These dogs may have long, droopy ears that can get dirty or infected, but they’re generally rather healthy dogs with long lifespans.
  • Greyhound: These racing dogs are muscular, tall, and incredibly healthy. They have a long life expectancy and make great family dogs.
  • Poodle: This breed is a great hypoallergenic option with minimal health problems and a rather long life expectancy.

Tips for Managing Dog Health Problems

When it comes to managing your dog’s health, Dock notes that Ben Franklin’s advice still rings true: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

In addition to regular wellness exams, parasite prevention and vaccines that protect your dog from infectious diseases can help pet parents avoid expensive vet care. It’s also important to be vigilant for warning signs that your dog isn’t feeling well and seek immediate veterinary care to rule out illnesses or injuries.

“It’s worth spending the money on an emergency examination for your pet only to find out nothing is wrong, rather than wait it out only to end up spending more money and causing more distress when the problem is more advanced,” Dock says.

Make a plan to cover dog veterinary costs. It could be a savings account, pet insurance, or a dedicated credit account that’s available in case of unexpected illnesses, injuries, or chronic health conditions.

Worried About Expensive Veterinary Care? Dog Insurance Can Help

The cost of vet care adds up, so pet insurance may be worth it for pet parents. Dog insurance from MetLife Pet can help you save on expensive dog costs and other care needs, ensuring your dog gets the care they need — even when they face some of the most expensive dog health problems.

Pet Insurance Can Help Cover Pet Injury & Illness Costs


**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1“More than 80% of Americans Borrowed Money for Pet Care,” Credit Summit, 2023

2 “The Cost of Dog Parenthood in 2023,” Rover, 2023

3 “Hip Dysplasia In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment,” GreatPetCare, 2023

4 “What Are The Most Expensive Surgeries for Dogs?,” Center for Dog Pain Relief, 2022

5 “Bloat in Dogs,” GreatPetCare, 2023

6 “TPLO Surgery for Dogs: Costs and What to Expect,” GreatPetCare, 2023

7 “ACL Surgery in Dogs: Costs & Healing Treatments,” K9 of Mine, 2022

8 “Diabetes in Dogs,” PetMD, 2022

9 “Insulin for Dogs,” WholeDogJournal, 2023

10 “The Cost of Having a Dog with Diabetes,” Tufts Your Dog, 2022

11 “Owners urged to ‘stop and think’ before buying as English bulldogs are twice as likely to have a health problem,” Royal Veterinary College, 2022

12 “Great Dane Life Span & Health Issues,” American Kennel Club, 2020

13 “New RVC study identifies cancers as health priority in Boxer dogs,” Royal Veterinary College, 2023

14 “Is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel the Unhealthiest Dog Breed?” PETA

15 “Pug Breed Traits & Characteristics,” American Kennel Club

16 “Susceptibility to Pug Dog Encephalitis (PDE),” UC Davis Veterinary Medicine

17 “Health Problems in German Shepherds,” Purina

18 “19 of the Healthiest Dog Breeds,” PetMD, 2023

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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