Universal Press Syndicate
In these tough times, keeping a pet healthy often means taking a good look and a sharp pencil to every aspect of pet care to make sure you're getting the biggest bang for your buck.
If you're doing that now, you should know that you can save money on your pet's prescription medications in ways that many people don't even know exist. The place to start: With a respectful and open discussion with your pet's veterinarian.
Dr. Patty Khuly, a Miami veterinarian, pet-care columnist and the author of the top veterinary blog Dolittler (Dolittler.com), says veterinarians should be open to helping clients save money on medications -- and that more are, all the time.
"Our job as veterinarians is to help people get their pets the care they need," she says. "What I'm seeing in practice now is that people need to make cuts so they can afford basic and emergency veterinary care. One way I can help make that possible as a veterinarian is to offer options when it comes to prescription medications. People can then weigh those options and make an informed decision."
There are benefits to buying medications from your veterinarian, notes Khuly. Convenience is one factor, and being able to start treatment immediately is another. There's also a risk with some sources that the medication you may buy isn't what you think you're getting -- which is one reason why your veterinarian's help is so vital.
"There's long been a gray market problem," says Khuly. "Some drugs people buy can be ineffective or even dangerous. You have to be careful."
Saving money on prescriptions isn't about cutting your veterinarian out of your pet's health care, stresses Khuly. Ideally, it's about shifting your veterinary expenditures away from retail purchases and toward medical expertise, so your pet can get the necessary medications without cutting into your overall budget for the best care your veterinarian can provide you.
Khuly's tips include:
-- Take the prescription to go. Talk to your veterinarian about getting a better price elsewhere. Your veterinarian may have a reason for wanting you to buy from the practice, and you should listen to and consider those reasons. It's also not unreasonable to ask for price match, which will save you both money and time. But if you can get a better deal on some medications elsewhere, your veterinarian shouldn't mind your taking a prescription away with you if it doesn't risk your pet's health to do so.
-- Go for the generics. The same medications are often prescribed for people and pets both. Instead of getting a name-brand medication, ask your veterinarian if there's a generic equivalent. Some common antibiotics, behavior-modification medications, thyroid and anti-inflammatory drugs can be found in less-expensive generic equivalents. Big-box retailers and grocery stores with pharmacies offer many generic medications for as low as $4 for a typical course of treatment.
-- Look for prescription savings clubs. For a low annual fee, some pharmacies and associations will grant you access to huge discounts on hundreds of different generic drugs and on name-brand medications as well. Pets often count as family where these plans are concerned, so don't be shy about asking and signing them up.
-- Online pharmacies. Shopping online can save money on the animals-only medications you can't buy from a "human" pharmacy. But there is a big caveat, says Khuly: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against doing business with online merchants that don't ask for a prescription. These may be offshore outfits selling expired, unapproved or even counterfeit drugs. (For more on the FDA's advice in dealing with online pet pharmacies, see www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2006/606_pets.html.) Stick to reputable companies that will work with you and your veterinarian, and you'll likely be fine.
-- Buy in bulk. For pets with chronic illness who need to be on medication for a long while or for life, ask about buying 60- or 90-day supplies. Larger buys of common generic medications can save you enough money to make asking about it well worth your time.
-- Ask your veterinarian to prescribe medications in larger doses and then split them. Many pills are already scored to make splitting easier, and the pill-splitting gadgets found in any pharmacy make it easier still. Splitting larger doses is often less expensive than giving single pills of smaller doses -- but the splitting needs to be accurate for safety.
Some of these strategies are no-risk no-brainers, while others (such as splitting doses) are really not to be undertaken without your veterinarian's assistance and oversight.
And that's really the point, says Khuly. Working with your veterinarian is essential to making sure your pet stays healthy, even as we all work to weather the rough economy.
Keeping cat from tripping owners
Q: Our cat, Cookie, loves us very much and wants to be with us constantly. She walks closely to our legs and often stops right in front of us. She has twice tripped my husband and has made him fall. With his bad back, this is a real problem.
He has tried pushing her aside with his foot, but she keeps coming back. We have an elderly friend who comes to visit, and Cookie likes him a lot. We are afraid that she will trip him as well. (I guess I'm a little more nimble, since she hasn't tripped me yet.)
My husband loves the cat as much as I do, and he wouldn't dream of getting rid of her or being mean to her when she does this. But we need help. What can we do to make her stop before someone really gets hurt? -- M.T., via e-mail
A: Try to remember when Cookie began walking near your legs and how you responded then compared to how you are responding now.
Most likely, Cookie's habit began some time ago and was initially met with a positive response from you and your husband. Perhaps, in the beginning, you saw Cookie's desire to be so near you as an adorable trait and responded with lovey-dovey talk, picking her up or providing her with some other type of positive outcome or attention.
Behaviors that become problems often start just like this -- traits that were once considered adorable by the owners. In other words, pets learn how to get what they want by adapting their behaviors based on human responses. If a behavior works in the pet's best interest, it continues, even escalates. The best example of this principle is how excessive vocalization becomes a problem with both dogs and cats. When pets first begin to vocalize, our knee-jerk response is to pay attention to them and give them what they want, such as letting them come indoors or giving them food. Over time, they become even more demanding.
The very best way to decrease an unwanted behavior is to make sure it never works in the pet's best interest, while you at same time begin encouraging a replacement behavior that ideally cannot be done at the same time -- such as sitting and jumping up -- and that rewards the pet for what you do find acceptable and, in your case, safe.
With that said, be prepared for the behavior to escalate before it disappears. When a pet no longer finds a behavior effective, the animal will try harder and harder to get the response it expects. You've heard of the calm before the storm? This is the storm before the calm. Once your pet learns that the behavior will never, ever get the desired response, the behavior will ultimately disappear.
So with Cookie, we would suggest pretending Cookie is completely invisible whenever she walks near your legs. Do not look at, talk to or respond to this behavior.
Your replacement behavior can start by using her kibble for rewards (don't leave food down during the re-training, so she'll be eager for food). Toss kibbles off to the side as you walk and praise Cookie for getting the kibble instead of walking between your legs.
If you run into problems, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can break down this problem and lay out a targeted modification program for you and for Cookie. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Dogs, falcons work for airport safety
-- Airports are turning to furred and feathered help to keep runways clear, according to USA Today. At the Southwest Florida International Airport, a border collie is used to clear birds away from the airfield, while New York's JFK airport uses trained falcons to drive away other birds. Throughout the nation, more than 20 airports use dogs as part of their effort to control wildlife.
-- A three-legged mare with a prosthetic leg has started a revolution in horse medicine. The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary took in the mare with the injured hind leg and opted to have the leg amputated and replaced instead of putting the animal down, as is common practice. The procedure has been so successful that she can trot and can even be ridden. Many hope the mare's success story shows others that a horse's life doesn't have to end when a leg is irreparably damaged.
-- A canine bloodmobile travels in a 50-mile radius around Pennsylvania to collect donated blood. The bloodmobile is the only one of its kind in the nation and helps serve sick dogs in need of transfusions. Dogs have a greater variety of blood types than humans do, with at least 12 blood types. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
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ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
We humans have taken the rich genetic material of the wolf and have selectively bred the dog to be all things to all people. We've made him small enough to fit in our pockets and tall enough to tower over us, gentle enough to sleep with our children and strong enough to take down a wild boar.
But maybe the dog has changed us more.
That's the argument that Stanley Coren, best-selling author of popular dog books, makes in his latest, "The Modern Dog: A Joyful Exploration of How We Live With Dogs Today" (Free Press, $26). Dogs, he writes, made human existence possible, aiding us as we developed civilization.
But dogs have changed more than our lifestyle -- they've profoundly changed how we see the world. There's no better example of this than Hurricane Katrina. Before the disaster, Coren writes, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency head Michael Brown dismissed questions about evacuating companion animals, saying, "They are not our concern."
But as New Orleans drowned, a new and different attitude emerged. The nation watched, horrified, as people died with their pets or battled the elements trying to save them. One elderly lady's Yorkshire terrier was taken away by a soldier as she boarded a rescue helicopter. "I got nothing and no one," she said, crying. "He's all I got left!"
An officer from the medical corps intervened. "That's not a dog," he told the soldier. "That's medicine. Medicine for the mind." After Katrina, notes Coren, disaster planning for pets really took hold.
His Katrina essay is but one of many that will have the reader pausing to consider how dogs have changed us -- and will change us in the future. This thoughtful book deserves a wide audience. -- Christie Keith
BY THE NUMBERS
Dressing up the fish tank
People who keep freshwater fish such as goldfish also spend money on adding decorative items to their pets' bowls and tanks. A few of the most popular purchases (by percentage reported purchased by fish-keepers) include:
Artificial rocks: 57 percent
Background scenery: 42 percent
Gravel/sand/crushed coral: 62 percent
Plastic plants: 61 percent
Ornaments: 41 percent
Natural rocks: 25 percent
Live plants: 18 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Teaching kittens where to scratch
Go back to basics if your kitten is climbing the drapes and scratching the furniture.
Confine your kitten to a small room, such as a bathroom or laundry room. Place the litter box on the opposite side of the food and water, and make sure he has a cat tree for scratching, with a resting area on top.
Spend time in the small room with him. Use toys, treats and catnip to encourage and reward him for scratching the cat tree. When your kitten has adopted the post for scratching and climbing, it's time to continue the training routine in a larger room.
As you expand his freedom, interrupt unwanted behavior by putting your kitten on the cat tree and rewarding him for scratching where you want.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.