CT scans save pet lives– if you can afford it

Torrey, a pet insurance enthusiast, stands in a pet MRI machine.

By: Dr. Jack Stephens
President and Founder
Pets Best Insurance

Last month Torrey, my Teacup Chihuahua, and I attend the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC) in Las Vegas, a popular event for veterinarians’ continuing education. Vets keep up-to-date and meet their states’ continuing education requirements by attending such conferences.

Over 6,400 veterinarians and 2,000 technicians attended the annual conference this year to learn new treatments, surgeries, diagnostics and therapeutic agents for pets. They also visit a huge exhibition area to learn about pet health insurance, new technology, drugs, equipment and view a wide assortment of products and services that can be utilized by veterinary hospitals.

Pets Best Insurance exhibits at WVC each year to meet with veterinarians and their staff to help educate them about our pet health insurance and to answer any questions they have about how it works. We also like to get a perspective on how their clients, (our policyholders) view our coverage and service, and to inform them about any new plans, programs or benefits.

We know most veterinarians cannot take the time to fully research dog and cat insurance, but we do like for them to be comfortable with our pet insurance plans and with our company as a whole.

This was Torrey’s eighth WVC conference where she is always the smallest attendee. Torrey is always a hit with her diminutive size and fear-nothing bravado. Only a Chihuahua can bluff and intimate by sheer will, of which she is the queen. Torrey was much sweeter this year and was actually a good hostess in greeting attendees and getting her photo taken. Maybe she’s mellowing with age.

One piece of equipment now available for pets is a portable CT Scanner. This scanner, pictured with Torrey inside, is for the diagnosis of many diseases not detectable by other methods. This type of equipment, along with MRI units and Digital Radiography, can be very expensive. Despite the cost for some units in excess of $100,000, this technology can diagnose more quickly and efficiently, allowing for a much more effective prognosis and treatment.

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At one time this type of sophisticated equipment was only available for humans. The only pet use most veterinarians could get their hands on was after hours and on a very limited basis. This was obviously difficult at best. Now this technology is being used at some veterinary hospitals! However, the cost for a scan or MRI can run $800-1,200 for each diagnostic screening. And multiple screens are often necessary. You can probably see why having pet insurance is a good idea as soon as the tab comes. A good deal of the cost reflects the high cost of the equipment. However, unlike humans, pets must be placed under anesthesia to utilize the diagnostic ability of the equipment. Any patient, human or pet, must be perfectly still while being scanned. I know when I had my first MRI, it took all my will power to hold still and avoid having to be sedated. Otherwise the scans of the brain, spinal cord, muscle and other areas can be unreadable. Unlike the photo of Torrey standing in the unit, pets have to be positioned exactly over the suspect area of damage for several minutes or longer to develop the image necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

While the cost is high, the information provided by an MRI can help diagnose pets earlier and may reduce long-term treatment costs while saving lives. And of course, if you have a Pets Best Insurance pet health insurance plan like I do for Torrey, you won’t be facing the costs alone because Pets Best Insurance reimburses a high percentage of the actual vet bill.

For more information about pet health or to learn more about cat or dog insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Portable Multi-Detector CT pictured, by Universal Medical Systems

Kitty questions, kitty answers

A cat with cat insurance looks at the camera.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Q: My cat was diagnosed as being hyperthyroid not long ago. We decided to have radioactive iodine treatment for her which we did approximately 1 month ago. She has recently been having bad diarrhea and I wondered if that is normal after the iodine treatment?

A: When it is available, radioactive iodine therapy is quickly becoming the treatment of choice for most cats with hyperthyroidism(overactive thyroid gland). This is one of the many reasons it’s a good idea to have a pet health insurance policy in place. As During treatment, radioactive iodine is administered as an injection and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

The iodine is taken up by the thyroid gland, but not by other body tissues. The quantity of radiation destroys the abnormal thyroid tissue but does not damage the surrounding tissues or the nearby parathyroid glands. The therapy is curative in greater than 95% of cats with hyperthyroidism.(1) The procedure has no serious side effects, so your cat’s diarrhea is likely due to some other problem. Your veterinarian can help determine what is causing the diarrhea and prescribe any necessary treatment.

Q: In your opinion, what is the safest, most effective flea control product for cats?

A: This is a difficult question as it often depends on individual circumstances. Flea prevention is always the best strategy. In general, I recommend the monthly flea control products. Specifically, I use Frontline, Advantage and Revolution. These are very safe products when used according to label directions. I caution my clients about using some of the other over-the-counter products as there have been reports of toxicities and side effects. The verdict is still out on some of the “generic” monthly flea products available on the market. Time will tell if they are as effective as the brand name product. There is also the possibility that some populations of fleas may be developing a resistance to some of the most commonly used flea control products. Certain geographic locations may be more affected by this problem than others. Cleaning and treating the environment is also imperative. Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations for your particular situation.

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Q: Why would a cat randomly pull his fur out?

A: There is actually nothing random about it! A cat pulls his fur out or overgrooms his fur for a variety of very specific reasons. Your veterinarian just has to figure out which reason it is, and that’s not always an easy task.

Some cats will overgroom due to stress or anxiety. In my experience, these cats are often “secret groomers”. The owners do not witness the overgrooming. The cats are chewing their fur when the owner is gone during the day or at night while the owner is asleep. These cats also tend to lick their fur off right down to the skin, but rarely cause self-trauma to the skin. The hair loss is commonly seen on the belly.

Occasionally cats will overgroom an area due to underlying pain. I once had a feline patient that licked all his fur off over his knee area. I diagnosed arthritis in his knee, and after his pain was treated, he stopped overgrooming and all his fur grew back.

The most common reason for a cat to overgroom is that the skin itches. Some cats can be so itchy that they will lick and chew their fur and skin so much that they cause raw or scabby areas along with the hair loss. Flea allergies are very common in cats, and typically they’re one of the first things I look for. Food allergies can also cause itching and scratching, especially around the head, face and neck. Inhalant allergies are another big cause of overgrooming and fur pulling in cats. Cats can react to inhaling indoor or outdoor allergens just like people do. Rather than the sneezing and runny eyes like seen in people with allergies, though, cats primarily get itchy skin. Having a cat insurance plan in place may help with costs associated with overgrooming when there is an underlying pet health issue.

Less common causes of itchy skin in cats include mites, fungus or bacterial skin infections.

(1) from the website of Advanced Veterinary Medical Imaging, Tustin, CA

For more information about cat health care or pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Do you have the Best Pet Story? Enter to win!

A pet insurance enthusiast writes a story about her pet.

Calling All Writers!

We here at Pets Best Insurance are unabashed animal lovers just like you. We love reading stories about heroic pets, funny, smart or jet-setting pets, and of course stories about how pet insurance helped your pet out. That’s why we want you to share your Best Pet Story with us!

If you have a heartfelt, interesting or completely hilarious story about your pet (remember that time Fido dragged your dirty laundry out in the middle of your family reunion?) we want to hear it!

If we think your Best Pet Story fits the overall pet-enthusiast vibe we have here at Pets Best Insurance, we’ll post your story on the Pets Best Insurance blog! Each month one Best Pet Story blog will be selected as a winner. In addition to being published, we’ll award the author a $25 Amazon.com gift card.

Authors of winning stories will also have access to our unique blogger badge, which can be posted on your own personal blog or site to let the world know you won the Best Pet Story contest!

To enter the Best Pet Story blogging contest email your submission to us. Please limit your entry to 500 words or less and check spelling and grammar before sending. Remember to include the following information:

Your full name
Your pet’s name and breed
Email address
Phone number
Two clear jpg. photos of you and/or your pet!

For official rules, see the Notes tab on the Pets Best Insurance Facebook page. We look forward to reading your “tails.” Happy blogging!

How to teach your dog to use doggie stairs

Five small Chihuahuas learn how to use doggie stairs.

By: Judy Luther
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
For Pets Best Insurance

One of the best inventions for small breed or older dogs are doggie stairs! Because pet health and joint health can decline in aging pets, I highly recommend these steps to help pets get on and off furniture safely!

Not only are they a great, convenient item for the pet owner, but they also keep your dog safe from injury while struggling to ascend or as a result of jumping off the furniture.

Training your dog to use the steps is much easier than you would think and it can be a fun learning game for your dog. There are actually two behaviors you will be teaching your dog. The first behavior is going up the steps, and the next behavior, of course, is going down the steps.

First, find a yummy treat that your dog loves. Sit on the floor next to the steps. Place a treat on the ground at the base of the first step. Your dog should come up and eat the treat. Next, show your dog another treat and put it on the first step. Praise your dog when he approaches the step and eats the treat from the first step. If your dog was uncomfortable approaching the steps you may want to give him teats on the first step several times until he is more comfortable.

Next you will show your dog another treat and put it on the second step. If your dog steps up on the first step to reach the treat located on the second step, great you are almost there. Next you will show your dog the treat and lure him up the steps. Go slowly, you don’t want to rush this step and scare your dog. Take small steps until you can lure your dog all the way from the floor to the top step and onto the furniture.

Now it is time to teach your dog how to go down the steps. Start once again at the bottom of the steps. Put your dog on the bottom step and using a food lure, lure him to the ground. Repeat this several times until your dog is comfortable going down the step. Next, you will put your dog on the second step and lure him down to the ground. When your dog is comfortable you can place him on the next step up. Soon he will be going down the steps comfortably.

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While it’s always a good idea to have a dog insurance policy in place in case of accidental slips or falls, doggie stairs can help your pet remain mobile in your home– even if he’s older or a small-sized breed. Here are some more training tips:

Training Tips
1. Take your time teaching these behaviors. Break the behaviors into small steps.

2. Stay close to your dog, so you can give him gentle support as needed. You want him to feel secure on the steps.

3. Make sure your dog does not rush up and down the steps, safety is priority.

4. If you don’t have a carpeted floor, place a small rug at the bottom of the steps so your dog does not slip on slick floors.

5. Be patient. Some dogs will progress quicker than others at this.

For more information about pet health and behavior or to learn more about dog insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Take a deep breath, kitty

A cat with feline asthma, who would benefit from cat insurance, is held by his owner.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Last week, a client brought in a 3-year-old, female, Siamese mixed breed cat who had a severe pet health issue. The cat had been coughing for 5 months. The coughing started out randomly, but had now progressed to multiple coughing attacks daily. She was coughing during her examination, and her abdominal muscles where heaving in and out in an effort to breathe. I diagnosed her with feline asthma, and with proper medications she is now breathing easily.

Feline asthma is a disorder that causes decreased airflow in the small airways of the lungs called bronchi and bronchioles. This airflow limitation generally is the result of some combination of airway inflammation, accumulated airway mucus, and airway smooth muscle contraction. Asthma in cats is sometimes also called feline bronchitis, but these are actually two separate disorders. However, the distinction between asthma and bronchitis is not made easily, and many times it is not possible to distinguish bronchitis from asthma in cats. They do share a common finding of chronic airway inflammation and hyper-responsive (over-reactive) airways.

Asthma affects about 1% of cats* and Siamese cats seem to be more susceptible. It usually starts between the ages of 2-8 years old. The most common symptoms in cats with asthma are wheezing and coughing. The coughing has been described as a dry, hacking cough that can be confused with retching or gagging. Many cats assume a squatting position with the neck held low and extended during these coughing episodes.

Mildly affected cats may cough only occasionally and appear to be normal otherwise. These early signs are often overlooked or are mistaken for hairballs. The frequency of coughing will increase with time in many cats, and the most severely affected cats have daily bouts of coughing and wheezing with severe airway constriction leading to open-mouth breathing and respiratory distress that can be life-threatening. Like humans with asthma, cats can die from an acute asthma attack.

The exact cause of the underlying airway inflammation and airway hyper-responsiveness in cats with asthma remains under investigation. It does appear that when the airway of the cat is sensitive to certain stimuli, exposure to these agents leads to a narrowing of the airways. The inciting agents are usually direct irritants to the airways or things that provoke an allergic response in the respiratory tract.

These agents can include inhaled allergens (dust from cat litter, cigarette smoke, perfume, hairspray, deodorizers), pollens or mold, infectious agents (viruses, bacteria), and parasites (heartworms, lungworms). Regardless of the irritating agent, the end result is the same: muscle spasm and constriction of the airways, build-up of mucus and airway inflammation.

Because feline asthma could occur in any cat, it’s a good idea to be prepared with cat insurance. After a thorough physical examination of your cat, your veterinarian will take chest x-rays to help diagnose asthma. Characteristic changes in the lungs are common on x-rays. Bloodwork may be run to help provide clues as to the underlying cause and to rule out other possible diseases like heartworm. In some cases, bronchoscopy and airway flushing are performed under anesthesia to visually examine the airways and obtain cell samples from deep in the lungs for microscopic examination and testing.

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Asthma in cats can be treated successfully but not cured. The most important drug for treating feline asthma is a corticosteroid to reduce the chronic airway inflammation. The traditional method is to utilize oral corticosteroids which are given at a higher dose for about 10-14 days and then slowly tapered down to an every other day dosing regimen. Cats are much more resistant to the side effects of steroids than are dogs or humans, and most cats do quite well with low-dose, long-term steroid use. Bronchodilators may also be used to open the airways and allow the cat to move air more freely.

In recent years, veterinarians have found that the most effective cat health therapy for feline asthma may be to use inhalers like human asthmatics use. A mask and spacer system has been designed for use in cats similar to those used for babies and small children. Both corticosteroid and bronchodilator inhalers are available for cats. The advantages of inhalers are that the medication is delivered directly to the airways where it is needed, and they are associated with fewer long-term side effects than oral systemic steroids. The downside of inhaler therapy is that it can be expensive. Your veterinarian will help determine which treatment is best for your cat.

Any factors known to trigger or aggravate breathing problems should be avoided. This may include trying different brands of cat litter, eliminating cigarette smoke from the home, and discontinuing use of any aerosols or sprays in the home or using them well away from the affected cat. Air purifiers may also be helpful. In addition, obese cats with asthma will benefit from weight reduction.

1. Padrid, Philip. Asthma. In August, JR, editor: Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine, vol 6, St. Louis, 2010, Saunders, p 449.

For more information about pet health or cat insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

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