The No. 1 thing that will give your pet a better life while saving you money? Weight loss
Whenever I write about veterinary medicine, no matter if it's basic preventive care tests or cutting-edge specialty or emergency procedures, it's inevitable that I'll hear from readers who'll use the topic as a reason to complain about the cost of care.
Although I understand why people feel that way, I think it's often unfair. Veterinarians perform similar and often identical procedures to those of doctors, but at a fraction of the cost of human medicine. Yet I realize that pointing out that the $3,000 procedure that will save a pet's life would be 10 times that cost in human medicine doesn't help a bit if you don't have one-tenth of that amount available anyway.
I can't fix that situation, and neither can the veterinarians I know. They have to pay all the costs of doing business, and they've struggled to get by right along with everyone else as the economy has staggered along. Pet health insurance can help, as can third-party credit plans -- and I recommend looking into them both before you're faced with hard decisions.
But what frustrates me -- and so many veterinarians I know -- is the way that so many pet lovers overlook, downplay or completely ignore the No. 1 thing that will keep their pets healthier, longer-lived and out of veterinary offices. Even more astonishing, this not-so-secret way to save money on veterinary care can be absolutely free.
What is it?
Take excess weight off your pet.
There's a better than 50 percent chance that if you're reading this and have a pet, this topic concerns you and your pet. That's because more than half of all pets in the United States are overweight -- many of them desperately so. Veterinarians say that we have gotten so used to seeing fat pets that we have come to think it's normal. We're often not even able to recognize that our own pets are overweight.
If you cannot see a tuck in (from above) or up (from the side) behind your pet's rib cage, and cannot see just a hint of rib under a little bit of padding, your pet is fat.
I'm not saying that to make you feel guilty. I'm saying that as a nonjudgmental statement of fact.
I long ago came to terms with the idea that the subject of obesity in people is complicated and charged with emotions -- but in pets, it shouldn't be. Pets cannot feed themselves, and they cannot overeat unless you overfeed them. Even if you and your pets lead sedentary lives, you can adjust your pets' daily portions accordingly. They'll even learn to stop begging if you stop rewarding that behavior.
Slow, steady weight loss is what you're going for, especially for cats. That's because crash diets in fat cats can trigger a deadly condition known as "fatty liver disease." If you're free-feeding, stop, and if you're not measuring, start. You can buy a "diet" food or you can reduce portions and add "empty" bulk to the kibble you already use by adding green beans or pumpkin to smaller amounts. Wet food is another good strategy, since the water content makes pets feel more full. It's an especially good strategy for cats, many of whom are chronically dehydrated.
Your veterinarian can tailor a weight-loss plan, or you can use an app such as my friend Dr. Patty Khuly's "The Fat Dog Diet" (free from thefatdogdiet.com), which shows you how to figure out if your dog is fat, by how much, and advises how much to feed to get results from almost every brand of kibble sold. (Pet food labels are often notoriously generous with their recommended portions.)
Do what you can, but do something, please. I see pets every day whose lives are miserable, and whose owners seem oblivious. If you do nothing else today, take an honest look at your pet, and put your hands underneath that lovely coat. If you find he's more fat than fluff, you need to make changes -- the sooner, the better.
Here's my bottom line: If you have an obese pet, you have no business complaining about the costs of treating conditions caused by or made worse by your pet's weight.
Taking weight off will make everyone feel better: you, your veterinarian and especially your pet. There's so much to lose -- and so much to gain by doing so.
Closed doors prevent
feline fight injuries
Q: Our cat got into another fight, and that meant another abscess -- and another vet bill! How can we prevent another round of these? It's getting too expensive. -- via Facebook
A: Nearly every free-roaming cat will one day need to see a veterinarian to have an abscess treated -- surgically opened, flushed of debris, and sometimes temporarily held open by drains to let the wound heal with the help of time and some strong antibiotics.
This common feline health problem is usually the result of a puncture wound, specifically a bite from another cat during a fight over territory or mates.
A cat's mouth is a nasty mix of bacteria, and once that bacteria gets punched into another cat's body, the result will probably be an abscess. Think about it -- bacteria are basically injected by two hypodermic needles (the cat's fang teeth) into a perfect incubator (another cat's 101-degree-plus body). The only possible outcome is infection.
The only surefire prevention strategy that I know is to keep cats indoors. If you can't do that, you'll likely be back at the veterinarian's again after the next fight. Once a bite wound abscesses, there is no DIY solution: Your cat will need to see your veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Cats put priority on
a full-body stretch
-- When it comes to stretching before any activity, no personal trainer or coach will ever be as committed to the idea as the average cat. When a cat wakes up, she carefully stretches every muscle to make sure her strong, supple body is ready for action. Typically, the stretching routine starts with a good arching of the back and a very, very big yawn. Next is a full-body stretch, right down to the tip of the tail.
-- In three decades, the number of white-tailed deer has gone from 300,000 to more than 30 million, and with them, the numbers of ticks have likewise exploded. Deer are hosts for ticks, taking the heinous hitchhikers everywhere they go. As the animals take over suburbs and are now pretty common in cities as well, tick-borne diseases are of even greater concern to veterinarians and physicians alike. Protecting pets from ticks also protects people. Talk to your veterinarian about the most effective methods of tick control in your region.
-- Cats want everything in the world to smell as they do, and they spend their lives trying to accomplish that feat. When cats rub against people or furniture, they're depositing sebum from glands on their heads to spread their own trademark scent on what -- or who -- they're bumping. When cats claw, they're not only keeping the tips of their claws razor-sharp, but they're also depositing scent from glands in the feet. When they lick themselves -- or you -- they're putting scent-impregnated saliva all over. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and 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.