The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Veterinary Care: Costs and Concerns

DEAR READERS: After evaluating veterinary practices in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the nonprofit Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook published some of its findings in the Star Tribune (“Finding the best care for your pet,” Oct. 4). The results include patterns and discrepancies that should interest pet owners across the country.

For instance, Checkbook’s Kevin Brasler says that accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association seems to have little relationship to reported quality of veterinary care: On average, accredited practices scored about the same as nonaccredited ones. Brasler also reports that Checkbook found “astoundingly big price differences” among practices for the same services. To spay a 7-month-old, 25-pound dog, mystery shoppers were quoted prices from $243 to $825. And to clean the teeth of a 6-year-old, 65-pound dog, quotes ranged from $218 to $790.

Many readers of my column have had similar experiences. Aside from these evident discrepancies in veterinary services, my big concern is for the people who cannot afford to take their animals in for regular veterinary health checkups. These visits include mandatory rabies vaccinations, and at least blood and fecal tests to check for parasites, some of which can infest people. Skipping these checkups therefore raises significant public health concerns, as well as animal health and welfare issues, which need to be addressed by the richer animal charity organizations and state veterinary associations.

Thousands of cats and dogs have been adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are questions about the unanticipated costs of providing good nutrition and veterinary care -- especially when incomes are uncertain for many families.

Brasler also pinpoints some of the pitfalls in pet health insurance schemes, noting that some policies do not cover preexisting conditions, and that premiums increase as the animal ages. My advice is to consider an accident-only policy if you have an animal who often gets out, risking being hit by a car or injured in a fight with another animal.

I was heartened to learn about veterinarian Dr. Marie Louderback’s discounted veterinary visits to assisted living facilities and low-income homes. Her organization, Minnesota Supporting Companion Animals for Seniors and the Disabled (MnSCASD.org), accepts donations to support and expand her practice. We need more charity organizations like this across the country in these challenging times. Read on for another great example.

NONPROFIT OFFERS MORE HELP FOR SENIORS WITH PETS

The nonprofit Pets for the Elderly helps older people around the country get pets by subsidizing adoption fees, and the group recently began helping with food, grooming and routine veterinary care costs. Pets have been shown to motivate seniors to exercise and take medications as prescribed, says Executive Director Susan Kurowski.

DEAR DR. FOX: My 18-year-old female cat recently had a stroke. After a month of nurturing, she has made a nice recovery. But now, she uses her litter box to urinate, but defecates on the rug in my sunroom. I change the litter regularly, and when she went in front of me in the sunroom once, I showed her that it upsets me. After that episode, she used the litter box for two days, but is now back to urinating in the litter box and pooping on the sunroom rug. Help! -- D.M., Tom’s River, New Jersey

DEAR D.M.: Your cat is old, and I would let her defecate on the rug in the sunroom -- at least it is confined to one spot in your home! Place a large pee-pad on the area and smear some feces on the surface to encourage her to use that spot.

She may be constipated and experiencing pain when in the litter box. Add a few drops of olive oil to her food. An abdominal massage, as per my book “The Healing Touch for Cats,” may also help.

HALLOWEEN CELEBRATIONS ALL AWRY

The pandemic certainly affected Halloween this year: With trick-or-treating and gatherings curtailed, many pet parents chose to show off their dogs’ costumes via video calls or social media. However, I am very concerned about the exploding use of energy and radiation from all this telecommunications technology. If it were up to me, I would switch it all off for Halloween so the dead spirits of the forests and grasslands, or any other natural ecosystems we now occupy, could be felt, along with all our ancestors and relations as we listened to the night.

Our electric lights have killed the dark and made the stars invisible to our children. Halloween should be a night of darkness, when we come to our senses and revere all life, remember the dead and find gratitude, joy and wonder.

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)