These days, animals can receive excellent veterinary care, ranging from blood tests and X-rays to ultrasounds and surgeries. It’s become easier to save or prolong an animal’s life, though it also depends on how much money you have — and are willing to spend. In this piece, Sarah Zhang speaks with human guardians of cats who’ve received costly care — including a kidney transplant, which is considered controversial — and asks important questions around pet ownership and the bond between humans and animals.

For decades, Americans’ collective spending on veterinary care has been rising—it exceeded $34 billion in 2021—a sign of a broader shift in how we think about pets. Our grandparents might have found it indulgent to allow pets on the living-room couch, let alone the bed. But as birth rates have fallen, pets have become more intimate companions. (In my own household, our cat Pete is really quite insistent on taking up the full third of the bed that he believes is rightfully his.) Cats and dogs now have day cares; health insurance; funerals; even trusts, should an owner die an untimely death—a proliferation of services that implies new obligations to pet ownership, turning it into something more like parenthood.

Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.