Author Archives: Dr. Fiona Caldwell

Happy Mother’s Day dog and cat moms!

A woman holds her dog with pet insurance

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Increasingly, the sentiment towards pets is that they are also part of our family and many of us consider pets our furry “children” and invite them into our homes, hearts and even our beds! This is one of the many reasons pet insurance exists too! Much like children, pets are completely dependent on us for their care and bring so much joy into our lives. Why not honor this unique “furbaby-parent” relationship your family has with your pets this Mother’s Day?

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Here are some ways to celebrate with your furry child:
-A personalized card for mom, from Fido or Fluffy. Check out www.sloppykisses.com for cute ideas.

-What mom doesn’t love breakfast in bed? Personalize it from your pet by creating dishes your pet might chose. How about a yummy breakfast salmon and potato bake made by the cat? Check out www.epicurious.com for recipe ideas.

-Why not arrange a picnic outing to a local dog friendly park, complete with a goody-filled basket for mom and furbaby! Or have a picnic in your yard with your kitty kid!

-You could also organize a play-date with other pet-moms and their four-legged children for a B-B-Q get together.

-I’m sure if your furry family member could drive the car to the store he or she would pick out the nicest thing for mom, but I bet mom would settle for a donation in her name to the local humane society instead. Another great gift for both momma and furry child is cat or dog insurance, if the “child” isn’t already insured!

-Maybe the pet-loving mom in your family would enjoy a personalized pet inspired gift such as a photo travel mug with pictures of her and her littlest “child” on it, or a personalized mousepad with a cute photo of her and Rover to brighten her day at work. Check out www.personalcreations.com for lots more ideas.

-Have an animal-friendly movie night in. Pick a favorite pet inspired film, like “Lady and the Tramp,” “Must Love Dogs,” “Marley and Me,” or “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” Make sure to bring tissues and pup or kitty friendly treats.

-Arrange for the whole family (pets too!) to have professional pictures taken with a photographer; a perfect way to remember Mother’s Day 2012! The post them to the Pets Best Insurance Facebook page!

Surely something as simple as a little one-on-one snuggle time, complete with kisses with help make this Mother’s Day special for her as well. Every animal loving woman should be honored this Mother’s Day for her contribution to raising and caring for not only her human children, (if she has them) but all the animal children in her life too. Happy Mother’s Day!

Breakdown of a vet bill: Pet insurance can help

A vet cares for an animal.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Almost every veterinarian goes into this profession because of passion and love for animals. But unfortunately, there’s a misconception that because veterinary care is expensive, it’s somehow funding vacation homes and fancy cars.

If you ask any veterinarian, one of the hardest parts of our jobs is not being able to provide for every animal equally due to financial restraints of the client– this is why I have always been a huge proponent of pet insurance as it helps pet owners afford the highest level of care available.

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As a profession, the veterinary medical community absolutely recognizes that our medicine is expensive, and this has more to do with advances in vet medicine than anything else. Here’s a breakdown of why a trip to the veterinarians is so dang expensive (and why you should definitely look into dog or cat insurance ASAP!)

Regardless of how big your veterinarian’s heart is, your neighborhood veterinary clinic is a business, and a business needs to make money to survive. It provides a service and like any other business, the clinic has bills to pay, including rent and utilities. In addition, keeping up with current medical advancements is expensive.

Many clinics have equipment like you’d find in a human hospital or doctor office, including, digital radiology, ultrasound machines, laser surgery devices, endoscopy and other high tech instruments that are very expensive, but necessary to practice the level of professional veterinary healthcare needed. Purchasing up to date and current equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Another reason vet care can be expensive is because a veterinary clinic is often the primary care, dentist, oral surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, dermatologist and behaviorist all in one!

In addition to medical instruments, invoices also help pay staff salaries. In my opinion, animal technicians and assistants are probably one of the most sorely unpaid professionals. Many will have gone to two to three years of school, have considerable student debt and make an average of $12.88 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are able to place catheters, take detailed radiographs, calculate drug dosages and have a whole slew of other advanced technical skills. The reason they don’t they get paid more is because that cost would be passed onto you, the client.

Believe it or not, being a veterinarian is not a “cushy” job. Most live modestly and have considerable school debt. Every time a client says, “I probably just paid for your next vacation” after seeing their invoice, I want to take them out to the parking lot and show them my thirteen year old car with the missing hubcap and 175,000 miles on it!

The average veterinary starting salary in 2011 was $46,971 according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. That’s by no means a terrible wage, but you have to consider the average school loan debt accrued is $142,613. Veterinarians have enormous monthly school loan repayments.

In comparison, the average starting salaries of an MD or a dentist who has similar school loan debt, are considerably higher. Starting salary in 2008 for physicians was between $174,000 and $209,000, four times higher than that for veterinarians. Average school debt for physicians, according to the American Medical Association was $130,000, actually less than that of veterinarians.

So, how does that vet bill add up anyway? Let’s take the case of Tulah, a five year old female Pomeranian. She has been asking to go outside to potty frequently, and then straining to urinate, with only small amounts of urine coming out. She’s done this before and you’re certain it’s a urinary tract infection. You make an appointment to get her the antibiotics you know she needs and the bill is $205.

Here is how Tulah’s invoice is broken down:
-Exam – $50, this pays for the doctor’s expertise. He or she will likely examine all of her, even though it is her bladder that is a problem. We are looking to make sure nothing has changed recently, such as gain loss or gain or other problems, like ear infections or periodontal disease. If she has lost weight she could actually have a bigger problem, such as diabetes that is causing her to develop urinary tract infections.

-Urinalysis – $40. Examining the urine under the microscope to confirm the presence of bacteria and determine the type of bacteria is crucial prior to picking the type of antibiotic she needs. If the urine also has protein in it, or sugar, or some other abnormality, this can alert the doctor that something else might be going on.

-Ultrasound of bladder -$60. This test is important to rule out the presence of urinary stones or even masses of tumors that could be causing Tulah’s urinary tract infection. Neglecting to rule this out could prevent her from being treated appropriately.

-Antibiotics – $30. It is true that the antibiotics are marked up from their original cost from the warehouse. The mark up covers the technician’s time to count them out, possibly split them for you, make a label and discuss how to administer them and any possible side effects.

-Pain medication – $15. Urinary tract infections are uncomfortable. Tulah is going to heal more quickly if her discomfort is treated as well.

Put together, the bill comes to $205. If Tulah had only gotten antibiotics without those other tests, something serious could have been missed, or she could have been inappropriately treated.

The economic downturn has hit the veterinary community hard. Many clients are unable to afford treatment their pets need and are cutting back on regular care as well. The decline in veterinary visits has made it hard for many clinics to make ends meet. So when someone comes in with a sick animal and only $50 in their pocket, it isn’t because we’re heartless that the animal may be refused care, it’s because this happens every day, and clinics often don’t have the resources to extend free care. Someone has to pay for it, where do you draw the line? If you ask any veterinarian, I bet most would agree that having an animal that goes untreated, or receives subpar care is the worst part of our jobs.

So what can be done? The number one best solution to this problem is cat and dog insurance. I often have clients tell me, “my own knee surgery cost less than this!” But that client probably had human health insurance which paid the bulk of that cost, leaving the out of pocket expenses much lower. According to Medscape.com the average cost for ACL repair in humans is about $11,500; the average cost for a similar surgery in your pet is likely somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on how it is repaired and where you live. Pet insurance is comparable to human insurance and can substantially defray the costs of unexpected veterinary bills.

In the cases where a client really just cannot afford anything and has no pet insurance, we usually refer them to the local humane society, where donations and grants allow the organization to provide for needy animals. Often the client has to give their pet up in order to have it treated, and usually don’t get him or her back.

Veterinarians love animals and they want to be able to heal everyone that walks through the door, but unfortunately, often their hands are tied by lack of finances. It will be a great day when most pets are covered by pet insurance and they are able to get the care they need.

Ten things that warrant a pet ER Visit

A dog with dog insurance sits on the floor.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

One of the joys of pets is that they can’t talk back to you! Sometimes this can pose a problem though.

When your pet is hurt or ill, sometimes it’s hard for them to show this to you. Often in the face of injury or illness you, the pet owner, are faced with the dilemma, and wonder if it’s serious enough to warrant a visit to the ER.

Things like ear infections and skin rashes can usually wait until business hours to be seen, but there are some instances that it is imperative you seek veterinary attention for your pet, regardless of the time of day or night.

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Here is a list of the top ten things to look for that warrant an ER visit:

1. Unproductive vomiting with painful, tight abdomen, especially in big breed dogs with deep chests, such as Great Danes or Dobermans. This could be a sign of Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, or ‘bloat,’ which is a life-threatening emergency.

2. Fever greater than 104.5. Normal temperature for dogs and cats is 100 to about 102, temperatures reaching 105 can potentially cause brain damage.

3. Any serious trauma such as being hit by a car, even if your pet walks away from it and appears normal. Dogs can puncture a lung or bleed internally without much outward clinical signs initially.

4. Ingesting anything poisonous. This includes chocolate, antifreeze, grapes and raisins, DeCon rat poison, sugar-free gum, your prescription medications and a whole slew of others. If you aren’t sure if it is poisonous, call the emergency vet or ASPCA animal poison control hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

5. Difficulties during labor. These means active pushing with no puppy for more than 30 minutes, and more than 4 hours between pups if you know there are more inside.

6. Difficulties breathing, gasping or choking.

7. Collapse or seizures. A typical seizure can be differentiated from collapse by the characteristic paddling of the legs, uncontrolled movement, urination and loss of consciousness. Seizures lasting longer than 3 to 5 minutes or seizures that happen one after another are an emergency. Collapse, especially with pale gums can indicate a different type of illness, many of which can be serious.

8. Heat stroke. Especially overweight, dark-haired, brachycephalic (smug-nosed) breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs. Never douse your pet in cold water if you believe they are suffering from heat stroke.

9. Difficulties urinating, or straining with nothing coming out. Especially in male cats, a blocked bladder is a life-threatening emergency and needs immediate attention.

10. Uncontrollable bleeding. If gentle pressure on a wound doesn’t stop the bleeding, or if the bleeding is ‘pulsing,’ indicating an artery may have been severed, your pet should visit the emergency room.

Always use good common sense! If something doesn’t seem right, at least call and describe what you are seeing to the emergency clinic, they can help you decide if your pet can wait until the following day to be seen. Pets can’t tell us how serious their injuries are, it is up to us to look out for them.

For more information about how you cant protect your pet in the case of an accident or illness, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Service Dogs: All work, some play and belly rubs

A dog with dog insurance helps his owner.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

For centuries humans and canine companions have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. In some instances, the human-animal pairing goes even deeper than companionship. Service or assistance dogs tend to have a special bond with their owners, as their relationship transcends friendship and is also based on mutual reliance. There are stories throughout history of assistance dogs, owing in part to their loving nature and readiness to serve the people they love.

People with disabilities can directly benefit from the independence and freedom hard-working assistance dogs provide by performing daily tasks. Assistance dog training courses are rigorous, with much research and experience having gone into the programs, allowing today’s certified assistance dogs to be at the highest level of reliability and safety.

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The term “service dog” can include dogs that work in police and military forces, whereas assistance dog specifically refers to those that help people with disabilities. The first recognized assistance dog job was likely as a seeing-eye dog, meant to help assist the visually impaired, but there are many other instances where dogs have been able to aid the disabled.

We all get irritated when our dogs bark at the doorbell, but hearing service dogs get a ‘free pass’ for this behavior! Hearing assistance dogs will alert their owner when the phone rings, or somebody is at the door, or in more serious situations, like if a fire alarm goes off. This allows their owner the independence to live on their own despite their disability.

Seizure response dogs are especially interesting, as some have developed the ability to sense an impending seizure and alert its owner to take precautions, such as sitting down or summoning help. It is unclear exactly how dogs can sense this, and the behavior is usually report to occur spontaneously. There has been limited success in ‘training’ dogs to recognize their owner is going to have a seizure, which suggests not every dog has this ability. Seizure response dogs must be completely perfectly suited to their job, and it is imperative they can maintain self-control in any situation the owner finds themselves in.

Medical response dogs have been trained to recognize certain medical states, such as dangerously low blood sugar in a diabetic person, at which point they can alert that owner to seek help. In addition, the medical response dog may be able to fetch medications, call for help, provide stability for mobility or carry necessary medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks.

Psychiatric assistance dogs are given all the rights and protections afforded to service dogs with more traditional jobs. The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” Just as with all other traditional assistance dogs, psychiatric service dog is individually trained to perform tasks that lessen their owner’s disability. This might include reminding the owner to take medication, the ability to assess the surrounding in the event of hallucinations or paranoia, interrupting harmful or repetitive behaviors, providing comfort in stressful situations or retrieving objects.

The traditional service dog has been a Labrador or golden retriever, but any breed can become a service dog, as canines are typically easy to train. Typically puppies are placed in approved foster homes until they are ready for advanced training. The foster homes will teach basic obedience, manners, socialization, and desensitization toward all types of different situations and people. The dog’s temperament is assessed during this time as well. If the dog doesn’t ‘make the cut,’ they will be adopted out as a pet. Advanced training is typically done by professional trainers with the program geared towards a specific disability the dog is suited to.

Service dog work requires a special canine that is able to channel their enthusiasm and love for helping out into a productive manner. The mental capacity and intelligence displayed by service animals is astounding and the love and selflessness they possess while providing such a great service is inspirational.

For more information about dog health or behavior, or to learn how to protect your dog with pet health insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

6 Tips for Your Pet Health Spring Checklist

A cute dog and cute cat enjoy the spring sunshine.

Dr. Fiona is a veterinarian pet health guest blogger for dog insurance and cat insurance provider, Pets Best Insurance.

The sun is peeking through the clouds, temperatures are rising and the flowers are starting to show their heads; spring has finally sprung! For you, this means dusting off the sunscreen and sandals, but springtime can also be a good time to go through a “Spring Pet Health Check”. Here are some things to be mindful of in order to keep your dog and cat fit and happy this season:

1. Start heartworm preventives
If your pet isn’t on heartworm preventatives year round, it’s time to start up again! Heartworm disease is a potentially devastating disease that can cause heart failure and potentially death if left untreated. Treatment is costly and can be difficult. Prevention is the key in heartworm disease. If you have never had your pet on a preventative before, your veterinarian will likely want to run a quick blood test to ensure your pet is heartworm negative prior to prescribing any medications.

2. Start a flea and tick preventive
Some areas of the nation require year round prevention of external parasites, but if you stop during the cold winter months, now is the time to start back up. Ticks can carry many diseases, some of which can be dangerous, such as Lyme Disease. Flea infestations in your home can be very costly to treat and often require an exterminator. Some pet insurance companies will even help to cover a portion of flea, tick and heartworm prevention with their routine care plans. By preventing fleas and ticks, your pet and your home will be healthier.

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3. A trip to the groomer
Warmer temperatures can translate to shedding! Dogs and cats naturally like to be clean, but sometimes they need a little help. Grooming can be done at home, or with a professional groomer. In the winter you may have had less outside time with your dog, which can mean their nails didn’t wear down like they do in the summer. Be sure to keep nails trimmed in order to prevent splitting and breaking.

4. Update vaccines
There is a good chance warmer weather will mean more excursions to places where dogs are welcome. If you and your furry best friend frequent the dog park or other public places, be sure they are up to date on all required vaccinations and deworming.

5. Limit exposure to spring toxins
Spring is a common time to fertilize your lawn. Be sure to use pet safe products, and still keep your pet off the grass for the entire time recommended. Spring blooms can be pretty, but some plants and flowers are toxic to pets. Easter often brings lily flowers; these are EXTREMELY toxic to cats, less so to dogs, but exposure should still be avoided. Because accidents and illness can happen at any time, even with the most careful of pet owners, it’s a good idea to consider pet insurance for our pets. Pet health insurance may help pet owners afford the best level of care in otherwise-dire situations.

6. Ease into activity
If you and your pet have been inactive all winter, ease slowly into activity. Start with leashed walks, and shorter play sessions and gradually work up to maximum activity. Starting all at once can lead to injuries and sore muscles.

By having a small check list of spring dog health and cat health reminders, you can help keep your pet happier and healthier for the many more warm months to come!

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