Pet owners are tightening their belts while still making sure their animals get the best they can afford
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Rising prices for veterinary care, food and pet-related products and services have pet owners looking for ways to save while still ensuring that their pets don’t have to do without. Even small changes can make a big difference. Regular wellness care or purchasing pet health insurance call for spending money upfront, but they can save your bacon if they mean discovering a pet’s health condition early or having the means to treat an expensive illness or injury.
We asked pet owners and experts around the country how they recommend dealing with higher costs for pet care. Here are their tips.
-- Take advantage of subscriptions to products you buy regularly. “It was a huge pain initially, but for recurring products, I set up subscriptions,” says Indiana-based Maggie Marton. “For nearly everything -- meds, food, fountain filters, Feliway, litter -- there’s a website out there that offers a discount for a subscription. All told, I spend 10% to 20% less on these items.”
-- Do it yourself. Christie Keith, who has four dogs -- one of them a giant breed -- has begun bathing and grooming her silken windhounds and Scottish deerhound herself instead of sending them to a professional groomer. Beth Quade learned to sew so she could make clothes and collars for her thin-skinned Italian greyhounds.
-- Take preventive care seriously. “Early intervention can save thousands,” says veterinarian Kathryn Primm, owner of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. “People think they are saving by doing an internet search and trying stuff at home, but many times it won’t work, and the delay makes the pet sicker.”
Preventing parasites also saves money. “Heartworm prevention ranges in cost based on size, but is usually less than $10 per month,” Primm says. “Treatment costs more than $1,000.”
-- Ask if you or your pet might qualify for special programs or discounts. Some veterinarians offer senior discounts, says Jose Kirchner of Sacramento, California.
-- Don’t wait until your pet is sick to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. It’s a good way to head off problems, Kirchner says. “They’ll know your pets and have records and prior lab results, avoiding the need for a more extensive workup and working blind with a pet they’ve never seen before.”
-- Get pet health insurance before problems develop. No pet insurance company covers preexisting conditions. Avery Folsom of Delta, Colorado, says, “I have pet insurance to help with vet costs, and PetCo has a program where they give store credit for taking your dog to the vet as well as discounts.”
Some employers offer discounted pet health insurance as an employee benefit. “It’s cheaper than buying it directly, helps with some routine costs, and is helpful for emergency visits,” says Linda Dennis.
Laura Anne Gilman of Seattle occasionally considers dropping her dog Max’s pet insurance, “then she goes and does something stupid,” and Gilman is glad she kept the coverage.
-- Be creative if your dog is a treat hound. Retired librarian Lis Carey’s Chinese crested service dog Cider -- with Carey as her amanuensis -- landed a gig reviewing dog treats for science fiction fan and industry news blog File 770 (bit.ly/3PHZVBu), for which Carey reviews books. The blog editors send treats directly to Cider, and she shares her opinion. Couldn’t hurt to contact the editor of your fave knitting or other special-interest blog to see if they need a canine or feline pet treat reviewer.
-- Quit smoking. “I have seven dogs, and I am actively quitting smoking,” says Kirst Clements, who is based in the United Kingdom. “I cannot afford to do (both smoke and care for my pets), and my dogs come first.”
-- Shelters may have programs that can help if money is tight. Austin Pets Alive! in Texas (austinpetsalive.org/resources/pass#Affordable%20Veterinary%20Resources), Jacksonville Humane Society in Florida (jaxhumane.org/pet-help/pet-owner-assistance), Calaveras Humane Society in California (calaverashumane.org) and Santa Fe Animal Shelter in New Mexico (sfhumanesociety.org/guardian-assistance) are among the shelters nationwide that provide services or information on local resources for food assistance, affordable behavior and veterinary care and other pet care needs.
help senior pets?
Q: Are there supplements that can help my older pet? I want them to be around for a long time.
A: Supplements, sometimes called nutraceuticals, have a reputation for helping the body and brain to function well, but some are more useful than others. Some have clinical research to support their claims, while others may offer only clever marketing or celebrity endorsements. The following types of supplements may have benefits for your senior dog or cat.
-- Essential fatty acids: Known as omega-3 and omega-6, these EFAs are believed to help maintain brain function, boost the immune system and reduce inflammation.
-- Glucosamine with chondroitin sulfate: This combo nutraceutical, sometimes used together with EFAs, has some clinical evidence for anti-inflammatory effects and cartilage repair, both of which may help pets with arthritis.
-- Probiotics and prebiotics: Intestinal bacteria break down food into nutrients the body can use. Probiotics are doses of those “good” bacteria. Among their benefits, they can aid digestion, support the immune system and help ward off stress. Prebiotics promote growth of beneficial bacteria.
Choose supplements that have been evaluated in dogs and cats and with claims that are supported by research. Remember that supplements alone won’t help pets who are eating low-quality food or who are so overweight that their joints are begging for mercy. Often, a better diet or a good weight-loss program is what a pet needs more than any supplement. And pets are individuals. Not all of them need the same supplement program.
Talk to your veterinarian about what you’re looking for and whether certain supplements can help you meet those goals for your pet. An overall wellness strategy based on a comprehensive senior pet exam is the best way to help ensure your senior pet’s comfort and longevity. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Slow senior dog gait
indication of dementia
-- If your senior dog is walking more slowly than normal, it could be a sign of dementia, according to a new study from North Carolina State University, published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. “Walking speed in people is strongly associated with cognitive decline,” say researchers Natasha Olby, Dr. Kady M. Gjessing and Rahna M. Davidson. “We hypothesized that the same might be true in dogs.” The researchers measured and compared gait speed in 46 adult and 49 senior dogs. Senior dogs who moved more slowly had more severe levels of cognitive decline based on owner-completed cognitive assessment questionnaires and did worse on cognitive testing. “When you look at functional aging, the two most important predictors of morbidity are mobility and cognition,” Olby said in a news release. “Mobility relies heavily on sensory input, central processing and motor output -- in other words, the nervous system -- as a result, mobility and cognition are super interconnected. When you have less mobility, the amount of input your nervous system gets is also reduced. It’s not surprising that walking speed and dementia are correlated.”
-- A tick-borne disease called “bobcat fever” (cytauxzoonosis) kills cats fast, often before owners can get them to the veterinarian. If your cat suddenly seems depressed, lethargic or won’t eat, get them to the vet immediately, even if they’ve been treated with a tick preventive. Learn more in our Q&A: uexpress.com/pets/pet-connection/2016/07/18.
-- Splash! Have you and your water-loving dog tried dock diving? If your dog loves running and jumping into water, this is the sport for him. There are three events: big air, extreme vertical and speed retrieve. Dogs who are good at all three can earn points toward an "Iron Dog" title. To find out more, go to dockdogs.com or northamericadivingdogs.com. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.