DEAR READERS: The topic of pet health insurance, in the dark shadow of America’s human health insurance mess, may seem absurd. But as I have emphasized in earlier writings, cat and dog owners should discuss this with their veterinarians -- especially if they have a purebred or “designer” puppy or kitten with extreme physical traits, such as abnormally large heads, pushed-in faces, twisted limbs and extreme infantilism (paedomorphosis) and probable genetic or inherited health problems. Having to euthanize a beloved companion animal for economic reasons is a reality for many people who cannot afford needed veterinary services, especially for cancer and other chronic diseases in older animals. This puts an emotional burden on veterinarians, and as a recent extensive survey by Dr. Barry S. Kipperman and associates published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reveals, is a significant factor in professional career satisfaction and burnout.
The escalating costs of pet health care mean that many cats and dogs are taken to the veterinarian only when they are seriously ill, which means much more cost and animal suffering that might have otherwise been avoided by regular wellness examinations.
To help pet owners understand the complexities and ups and downs of pet health insurance, veterinarian Douglas Kenney has written a helpful guide, "Pet Health Insurance: A Veterinarian’s Perspective." For more details, visit petinsuranceguideus.com.
A pet insurance study by LendEDU.com gives some insights, noting that only 16.9 percent of cat owners surveyed had pet insurance, while 26.7 percent of dog owners had coverage. Of those with full coverage, 85.3 percent thought that their pet insurance was worth it, as did 82.1 of those with accidents and illness coverage. Only 63.6 percent of respondents with accident-only coverage thought it was worth it. Veterinarians informed 67.5 percent of the respondents with pet insurance about coverage.
To help pet owners decide, there are some online information sources:
-- Consumer Affairs, consumeraffairs.com/pets/pet-insurance, and
-- Consumer Reports, consumerreports.org/pet-products/is-pet-insurance-worth-cost.
The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (naphia.org) gives a list of members and coverage costs, which averaged around $465 for dogs and $316 for cats in 2015. Some may be better off setting up their own emergency-care fund for their animal companion to avoid the emotional and financial trap of unforeseen veterinary costs.
Low-cost, basic service and nonprofit animal hospitals, often in association with local animal shelters and humane societies operating in low-income communities, are being established across the United States. The classic model is the United Kingdom’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Founded in 1917 by animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin, the PDSA is the U.K.’s leading veterinary charity. Operating through a U.K.-wide network of 51 pet hospitals and 380 pet practices (contracted private practices), PDSA provides free veterinary care to the sick and injured pets of people in need and promotes responsible pet ownership.
DEAR DR. FOX: My Shih Tzu has a big problem with storms. The vet has prescribed trazodone tabs and acepromazine in liquid form, which helps sometimes.
She starts to shake (a lot) before a storm even starts, and sometimes she doesn't stop for a long time after. Is there anything else you would recommend? -- R.B., St. Louis
DEAR R.B.: Many storms are predicted this spring and summer across much of the U.S., no thanks to our collective contribution to climate change. There's no denying that, nor the fact that many dogs suffer from "thunderphobia," which can be difficult to temper.
Draw the drapes or curtains, and turn up the volume on your TV or radio weather channel before the predicted storm arrives. Fit your dog with a tight wrap around the chest and abdomen, such as a child's T-shirt, and make it snug with Velcro strips or duct tape. This calms many dogs. Many people are afraid of storms, too, so be sure that there is no behavioral contagion from you to your dog if you are phobic.
Several dog owners have told me that giving 3 to 6 milligrams of fast-acting melatonin 30 minutes or so before a predicted storm comes can make a big difference. Let me know what works best for your dog. What your veterinarian prescribed can help many dogs. Try the Thundershirt first without medication, then go on from there.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 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 DrFoxVet.net.)