Caring for Pets During Tough Times.

The economy is in bad shape and may be for months to come. Whether it’s the stock market falling or crazy bail outs, saving money in tough economic times is a challenge. Pet owners also feel the stress of trying to make ends meet and many may be tempted to take shortcuts with their pet’s healthcare. So, when and where can pet owners cut back? 

Studies have repeatedly shown that a large majority of pet owners consider their pets to be family members. We spoil them with birthday parties, presents, toys and treats to keep them happy. But, when money is tight, extra expenses need to go. Sadly, some pet owners choose to avoid veterinary visits as one means to save money.  And believe it or not, others might give up their pets completely.  

Knowing what you can safely do at home to lower your pet’s healthcare costs is a good way to ensure a healthy pet and a healthy wallet. You should also know what to avoid!

First, don’t skimp on wellness or preventive care. Vaccinations and parasite prevention are important parts of maintaining your pet’s health and yours as well. Diseases like rabies and Leptospirosis are zoonotic, meaning they can be spread between animals and people. Similarly, intestinal parasites or even fleas and ticks, are capable of transmitting serious diseases to our families.

Some owners might choose to buy vaccines online or from a pet store. While this idea sounds like a cost-saving measure, there are many risks. It is easy enough to learn how to give a shot, but can you trust that the supplier properly stored the vaccines? Vaccines are delicate biological suspensions and require constant refrigeration to be effective. Some need proper mixing in order to work correctly.  Improper preparation could make the whole process worthless. 

Choosing a lower cost flea product or a “do-it-yourself” dewormer at a general merchandise store is another option a pet owner might investigate to save money. Recently a client told me the guy behind the counter at the Feed Store told her to buy the large breed dose of flea prevention for her dog and to put a couple of drops on her new puppy. I was relieved she didn’t take his advice, as it could have brought on seizures (or worse) in the puppy.

Sadly, according to the Center for Public Integrity, these over-the-counter products are likely responsible for a sharp increase in pet deaths and adverse events in recent years. 

Just a few months ago I had a patient named Ruby that nearly died after her well-intentioned owner gave her “just a dot” of a horse dewormer he already had on hand. In his attempt to save $10, Ruby’s owner spent nearly $4000 for 7-days of hospitalization and life-saving medical treatment. An expensive lesson, for sure.

Pet emergencies shouldn’t be a place for shortcuts either. At Metro West Emergency Veterinary Center, we see many owners who simply use topical antibiotics on bite wounds or lacerations in order to avoid treating the pet when initially injured. But, most of these animals end up coming in with out-of-control infections. We caution owners against bandaging their pets without proper training.  If put on too tight, homemade bandages act like tourniquets, causing swelling of the limb and serious loss of circulation. 

And always check with your veterinarian before giving any over the counter human medication to your pet! Many pet poisonings are caused by human medications, including Tylenol. 

But don’t worry; you can still save on your veterinary bills with a few simple steps at home. 

First, (and this sounds very simple) play with your pet! Veterinary behaviorists all agree that a tired dog is a happy dog and happy dogs don’t tear up furniture or get into trouble.  Since behavior issues are the number one reason for abandoning pets, this fun task might literally save your pet’s life. 

Playing with your pet has health benefits as well. A well-exercised pet is less likely to be overweight and suffer from obesity related problems such as arthritis, certain cancers, or diabetes.

Next, when exercising your pet, use appropriate restraints and confinements. Pets who roam freely are often hit by traffic, get into fights or eat something dangerous.  Emergencies like these can end up hitting your wallet very hard.

Even loving your pet has money saving benefits. Petting and caressing your pet can help find those little lumps and bumps sooner.  This week alone, I found four cancerous tumors just by doing physical examinations. Cancer is very common in our pets and can be very expensive to treat. Earlier detection generally means a better outcome and usually less expensive treatments.

Despite all of these precautions, some pets will just get into trouble or develop a serious disease. Although veterinary medicine is still a bargain compared to other health services, most of us would be hard pressed to pay a big veterinary bill out of pocket. Companies like Pets Best Insurance (www.petsbest.com) offer a variety of insurance plans to assist owners with unexpected costs. But even today only a small percentage of pet owners insure their pets’ health. 

If paying a premium every month isn’t appealing to you, consider investing in a Pet Health Savings Plan. PetVetPro (www.petvetpro.com) helps people save money for potential pet emergencies. Unlike insurance, the money you pay into the program is yours. This allows you the flexibility to use the savings for car repairs, dental work, or whatever – including emergency surgery for your pet!

We all want to keep our furry friends safe and healthy, but it is challenging when just feeding the family stretches your budget. Come on in to Hulen Hills and talk with a veterinarian about your pet’s specific health needs and see what should be addressed immediately and what can wait.