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THE PET CONNECTION
By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Let your Vet Help Keep your Pet Healthy and you'll Save in the Long Run

If you're trying to save money -- and really, who isn't? -- it's important to understand a couple of key concepts when it comes to budgeting for pet care:

  1. It's almost always less expensive to prevent health problems than to treat them. 
  2. Taking your pet's health care expert -- your veterinarian -- out of the picture is never going to be the best way to save money. 

And, yes, they go hand in hand. Veterinarians know money is always an issue, and they're ready to offer wellness plans that will help you keep your pet healthy. A wellness check once or twice a year can catch little problems before they're big ones, and gives you access to cutting-edge care and advice that will help you save at home, too.
 
Some more tips for keeping costs down include: 

  • Take the weight off your pet. Extra pounds increase the likelihood of serious health problems, such as arthritis, diabetes and cancer in pets just as they do in people. And yet few people recognize when their pet is overweight -- or even grossly obese!
     
    If your pet is normal weight (you should be able to feel his ribs), measuring food, keeping treats to a minimum and working in a daily exercise session will keep him that way. If your pet is overweight, get your veterinarian's help to reduce weight slowly to avoid the health risks of sudden weight loss, especially in cats. 

  • Change your buying habits. You can save money buying the largest bags of food or litter, or get case discounts on canned goods. Split your dry food purchases with family or a friend, and store portions in an airtight container. (Do keep product info from the bag, though, in case there are questions or problems.)
     
    Other purchases should be considered carefully. Replace things such as collars when wear first shows -- you don't want a collar to break and your dog to get loose in a dangerous situation. Buy quality, not silliness: One good collar is a better value than a lot of shoddy but cute ones.
     
    Be careful when cutting down on toys, though: Good chew toys have saved many an expensive pair of shoes. 

  • Get the do-it-yourself bug. Most people can learn to handle basic pet grooming at home, from bathing to nail trims. If nothing else, you can probably stretch out the time between professional grooming with some at-home care. Check your library for grooming guides and hone in on breed-specific tips with an Internet search. 

  • Don't forget the value of bartering. Ask about trading goods and services for your pet's needs. 

  • Poison-proof your home. Go through your home with an eye toward possible hazards. From food hazards such as raisins, Xylitol-sweetened goodies and chocolate to houseplants such as lilies, many poisoning risks can be prevented just by removing them. Both over-the-counter and prescription medications are also a danger, and these are best dealt with by putting them behind cupboard doors. 

Don't be shy about asking your veterinarian to work with you on keeping costs down. For example, ask your veterinarian to give you prescriptions for medications to be filled elsewhere or to match prices. Comparison shopping for medications may offer considerable savings, especially if there are generic equivalents available.
 
We also recommend looking into pet health insurance, because no pet lover wants to say no to a pet who can be saved because the money isn't there for the care. Because plans differ, do your research before buying to make sure the most likely health problems of your pet are covered.
 
Talk to your veterinarian, and you'll get even more good advice. - By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
   
 
Q&A
More scratching places can save your furniture
 
Q: I got the cat a scratching post. But then I read that one isn't enough. How much stuff does a cat really need? He doesn't use the scratching post he has now, ruining my couch instead. -- via Facebook
 
A: I think you're looking at this wrong. Your cat needs and loves to scratch, and if you provide places that make him happy to do so -- and show him that this is where he should scratch -- your furniture is going to sustain less damage.
 
That's not the only advantage. Feline obesity is a serious and common problem, leading to chronic diseases such as diabetes. Whatever you can do to keep your cat active will help prevent him from packing on the pounds.
 
The reason you see advice for more litter boxes, more scratching posts (trees, trays and so on) and more toys is because many cats are living lives completely inside these days. And while that's good for them in many ways, it does require effort on our part to make up for the enriched (and dangerous) environment outside.
 
If you think about all the places cats can dig their claws into outside, you'll understand why one little scratching post isn't enough. Yes, your cat needs more.
 
Think variety as well as quantity. Some cats love to scratch horizontally. Some even like to scratch upside down, kicking at the roof of "scratching tunnels" with their hind paws, bunny-style. You'll find many choices that aren't very expensive. Check out "scratching trays" that offer the exposed ends of cardboard packed tightly into a compact unit that will fit almost anywhere in your house. Rub catnip into the places where you want your cat to scratch, if your cat's one who enjoys the herb (about half don't react to it). Place the scratchers in various locations, but you should especially place one near the damaged corner of that couch. Use double-sided tape on the damaged area to discourage your cat from digging claws in, and praise him for using the scratcher. Later, you can slowly move the post, tree or scratching tray to a preferred location, and your cat will happily follow it. -- Dr. Marty Becker

THE BUZZ
New tax on equipment may impact vet costs

  • A little-known provision in the Affordable Care Act has some veterinarians concerned that the costs of providing care will go up. DVM360.com reports that medical equipment used in both human and veterinary medicine is now subject to a sales tax of 2.3 percent -- an expense that industry experts say may end up being passed along to clients. The American Veterinary Medical Assoc. notes that it's "reasonable to believe" the costs will need to be passed along. The ACA does not specifically address veterinary medicine, but it is widely believed that the overlap in medications, supplies and equipment will likely affect the cost of care for animals as well as people. 

  • Tethering a dog for a short while is fine, but it should never be a dog's 24/7 existence. Behaviorists say dogs who spend their lives on chains are more likely to become dangerous, biting anyone who comes onto their turf. That's because a dog who spends his life on a chain is isolated and frustrated, and he'll sometimes lash out to protect his limited bit of territory. 

  • The Veterinary Information Network, a privately held online information, education and networking source for veterinarians, based in Davis, Calif., is collecting data on pet deaths attributed to jerky treats, some of which have been recalled. VIN says it will be working with veterinary pathologists to rule out unrelated causes of deaths in dogs suspected of being killed by the popular treats in order to focus on solving a mystery that has stumped state and federal public-health officials for years. VIN was also active in collecting verifiable data during the 2007 pet-food recall. Affected pet owners should work with their veterinarians to be considered for the study. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 1/29/2013 9:29:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 01/29/2013

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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at petconnection@gmail.com.

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