By Dr. Nancy Kay
Today, the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. The more tumultuous the world is around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive. Imagine then, the heartache someone feels when it's necessary to cut back on a pet's health care because of financial hardship.
If you are in a financial pinch -- who isn't these days? -- here are some things you can do to economize while still doing a great job of caring for your pet's health.
-- Lay your financial cards on the table when talking to your vet. Talking about your bank account may be difficult, but such a discussion can lead to options that make better financial sense. Rarely is there only one way to diagnose or treat a disease, and you are entitled to an explanation of every single option for your pet.
-- Request a written cost estimate for veterinary services before they are provided. How else can you know if your bill will be $200 or $2,000? Requesting an estimate does not reflect how much you love your pet; you are simply being fiscally responsible.
-- Kick the once-a-year vaccine habit. We used to think that standard vaccinations such as distemper needed to be given annually. We now know that these vaccinations provide a minimum of three years' worth of protection, once the puppy or kitten series has been completed. If your vaccine reminder card suggests otherwise, talk to your veterinarian.
-- Don't neglect your pet's preventive health care, as it could cost you money in the long run. For example, administering a heartworm preventive is less expensive for you (and safer for your dog or cat) than treating heartworm infection.
-- Feed your pet less food! Just as with humans, many dogs and cats are overweight. Ask your vet for her honest opinion about your pet's waistline. If she agrees that your precious family member could lose a few pounds, put less food in the bowl. This new habit will translate into cost savings and result in a healthier animal, which means fewer veterinary bills.
-- Be a savvy consumer of supplements for your pet. Some supplement suppliers would like you to believe that your pet's good health is dependent on their products. Avoid being seduced by such ads, and talk to your vet about exactly which supplements are worthy expenditures for your dog or cat.
-- Investigate options for paying your veterinary bills. Perhaps the clinic administrator is willing to barter for products or services. Look into CareCredit, for example, a reputable line of credit that can be used to pay for veterinary expenses. The company provides interest-free payment plans that may be advantageous compared to standard credit card payments.
-- Consider investing in pet health insurance, especially if you are inclined to take the "do everything possible" approach for your pet. Do the math and determine if insurance makes financial sense in the long run. And before you sign on the dotted line, do some research to find a provider that is a good fit for you and your pet.
What should you do if your pet is ailing and you are forced to contemplate euthanasia because of financial constraints? Before succumbing to such a drastic decision, I strongly encourage a thorough investigation of every other conceivable option. Consider researching rescue associations, borrowing money from friends or relatives, applying for a donation from a pet health assistance organization, or finding a financially capable guardian for your pet. Exploring these options might just save a life and will do wonders for your peace of mind.
Dr. Nancy Kay is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and the author of the book "Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life."
Dogs with droopy ears
can be infection-prone
Q: My cocker spaniel is always getting ear infections. How can I keep her ears healthy? -- via email
A: Dogs with heavy, droopy ears sometimes seem to be more prone to infection than dogs with prick ears. There's no science to prove that, but it is true that dogs with floppy ears are more likely to trap moisture and warmth inside their ears, limiting air flow inside the ear and creating a perfect laboratory for the growth of bacteria and yeast. Here are some tricks to keeping those pretty cocker ears clean, dry and infection-free.
Look inside the ears every week. If the skin is a nice pinky-gray with a light coating of ear wax and the ears don't smell bad, leave them alone. Paradoxically, cleaning the ears when they don't need it can cause problems.
Some dogs produce too much ear wax. When that happens, the wax can block airflow and contribute to an infection of the outer ear canal. If your dog has a lot of wax that looks more gray than golden, clean the ears with a mild product such as Oti-Clens, available from veterinarians and pet supply stores. Don't use alcohol. It can irritate and dry out the sensitive ear tissue, and it stings like billy-o if your dog has any raw spots in his ear.
To clean the ears, hold your dog's head so his nose is pointing downward. Squirt in enough of the cleanser to fill the ear, then gently massage the outside of the ear. You'll hear a loud squishing sound as the cleanser makes its way into the ear canal. Let the dog shake, then wrap a tissue around your finger and wipe any excess cleanser out of the ear canal.
Keep cotton swabs out of the ear. All they do is pack gunk deeper into it.
When you bathe your dog, block the inside of the ear with a cotton ball to keep water and shampoo from entering. If your dog enjoys swimming, dry the ears thoroughly after he gets out of the lake or pool. Keeping the ears clean and dry will help prevent infections from brewing. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
New cat allergy vaccine under way
If you are among the 1 in 10 people who suffer allergic reactions to cats, here is some news that could have you breathing more easily and living more comfortably with kitties: A new approach to vaccines.
The new strategy, detailed in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, works by identifying key areas of the protein that cause allergic reactions rather than the whole protein, as existing vaccines do.
The vaccine takes synthetic versions of the key regions of the protein, which are then injected in the person, rather than inhaled, which turns off the T-cells and helps build up a tolerance to the allergens.
Parkinson's-like gene mutation found in dogs
Tibetan terriers share a gene mutation similar to Parkinson's disease in humans, according to a University of Missouri study published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.
The mutation prompts similar symptoms to Parkinson's disease, and for both humans and dogs the afflictions are usually fatal. The researchers believe that they may be able to test potential human therapies on the animal population because they can use a DNA test to identify affected dogs before they start to show symptoms.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.