September is pet health insurance month!

A kitten with pet insurance sits in the palm of a hand.

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

Pet owners are spending more on health care for their furry friends than ever before. It’s estimated that Americans will spend $12.2 billion on veterinary care this year, up from $11 billion last year and $8.2 billion in 2006.

There have been major advancements in the sophistication and cost of veterinary medical and surgical services. Procedures once reserved for humans, such as ultrasound, chemotherapy and blood transfusions, have become increasingly available in the care of pets. Along with these advancements have come specialists, including veterinary neurologists, cardiologists, surgeons, ophthalmologists, dermatologists and dentists.

As a result, vet bills of $1000 or more are becoming commonplace. I strongly suggest that all pet owners assess their financial situation, and consider the ability to meet unexpected expenses that may be incurred for veterinary care. For many people, pet health insurance is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

The good thing about pet health insurance is that it can prevent owners from being faced with having to euthanize their animal because they don’t have the money to treat it. Insured pets receive more care since the insurance is paying the majority of the cost. Pet owners respond to symptoms much faster when the pet is insured, providing the veterinarian with a better opportunity to diagnose and treat an illness earlier.

Many people feel that pets are like their children. They’re an important member of the family, and owners want the best treatment possible when the need arises. Pet health insurance provides the financial help needed to afford excellent medical and surgical care.

One misconception about pet insurance is that it’s the same as human health insurance. Unlike human insurance, dog and cat insurance is primarily a reimbursement type insurance policy. Pet owners are expected to pay their bills at the time of service, in accordance with the clinic’s usual billing practices. The client files a claim with the insurance company which then reimburses the policyholder according to the terms of the policy.

Since the pet insurance company reimburses you, the veterinarian really has no involvement in the insurance. The advantage here is that you can select the veterinarian you want. The pet health insurance company does not dictate which provider the pet owner may use. They also don’t dictate what treatment the veterinarian and owner may select nor do they dictate how much the veterinarian may charge for services. The contract is between the pet owner and the insurance company. The veterinarian is not a party to the contract, as opposed to M.D.s who are in managed care human health insurance.

Improvements in pet health insurance over the past ten years have made it more worthwhile than ever. There are more companies offering the service and more policy options available, so you have a better chance of finding a policy that covers what’s important to you and your pet at a price you can afford. There has been a recent move to make insurance plans simpler, more comprehensive and easier to understand.

Before purchasing pet health insurance, be sure you understand what the policy covers. Some policies cover some preventative care such as vaccinations, but there may be additional cost for this coverage. It is important to understand the exclusions. All pet insurance companies exclude pre-existing conditions and some exclude hereditary conditions. Some may exclude certain conditions unique to certain breeds. Almost all policies have a deductible and a co-payment requirement. Be sure you understand how expenses will be reimbursed. Speak with your veterinarian or someone on the clinic staff. While veterinarians do not sell insurance, chances are they have had experience with the policy you are considering and can provide helpful advice.

It is best to start pet health insurance while your pet is young and healthy and there are no pre-existing conditions. As a cat doctor, I see several common medical conditions that can be very expensive to diagnose and treat. These include urinary obstruction in male cats, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and many cat bite abscesses. Pet insurance can greatly increase my clients’ ability to move from asking “How much will this cost?” to saying “Please do what is best for my cat.”

My recent cat patient “Thai” was diagnosed with a bile duct obstruction and spent three days in the hospital for intense treatment. He turned the corner and did well, but needed to come back for several recheck appointments and additional bloodwork. Thai’s total bill was a little over $2,500. His owners have a policy with Pets Best Insurance, and ended up paying only about $500 after a low deductible. Thai’s owners were so grateful that cost was never a factor in making medical decisions for their beloved cat.

Dr. Jack Stephens, a former practicing veterinarian, founded the first U.S. pet insurance company back in 1982. After 25 years of experience in the industry, he decided to take what he had learned and use it to form Pets Best Insurance located in Boise, Idaho. The company is known for its straight 80% reimbursement after deductible policy, no annual limits or age restrictions, and simple, fast claims processing. They are determined to help stop “economic euthanasia” for pets. Compare their plans and get free quotes at www.petsbest.com.

Veterinary care can provide your pet with many years of a healthy and happy life, and managing the expense of veterinary care can be done through dog or cat insurance. The important advice is to think about it before the need arises, especially during pet health insurance month!

Kitten care and cat insurance- start young!

Two kittens with cat insurance play.

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

Last time I wrote about getting your new kitten off to a good start with a proper home environment and plenty of socialization. This time we’ll take a look at how a new owner must take a proactive role in a kitten’s well being. Keeping a new kitten healthy isn’t just about vaccines, medicine and cat insurance. Here’s what else you need to consider:

The first veterinary visit should be scheduled very soon after you obtain your new kitten so that the doctor can perform a complete physical examination to make sure there aren’t any pet health problems. This is typically when the kitten is around 6 to 8 weeks of age. Of course, it is very important to keep the kitten separate from the resident pets until it gets a clean bill of health from the veterinarian.

Every new kitten should be tested for FeLV (feline leukemia) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus or feline “AIDS”) prior to introduction into the household. Many pet health insurance companies will even cover a portion of these costs with their wellness packages. These diseases can be transmitted to a kitten from its mother/father or from other cats that your new kitten may have been exposed to. Both of these diseases are fatal, so knowing the status of your kitten will help you manage its health and will also help protect other household or neighborhood cats in case he/she is infected with one of these diseases.

If your kitten does test positive, your veterinarian can give you advice on what to do and what to expect. The test for both of these viruses is a simple blood test which can be run in about 10 minutes.

Internal parasites or “worms” are also very common in kittens. Microscopic examination of a stool sample will usually help to determine the presence of intestinal worms. Regardless of the results, however, I recommend using a deworming product that is effective against the most common worm types: roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. Roundworms are a human health risk that can be passed from kittens to humans through fecal-oral contamination, so good hygiene is a necessity, especially when young children are handling kittens.

The most common external parasites in kittens are fleas and ear mites. Fleas spend much of their time in the environment and only jump on the kitten to feed and lay eggs, so it important to kill fleas on your new kitten before they become established in your house. Stay away from store bought flea treatments since they are often not very effective and in many cases can be quite toxic. Always ask your veterinarian for advice on which products to use on your kitten. Ear mites are common in litters of kittens if their mother had ear mites. The most common signs of ear mite infection are a dry, dark ear discharge and scratching at the ears. Always have ear mites diagnosed by a veterinarian and never treat ear mites with an over the counter medication without consulting your veterinarian first.

Ringworm is actually a type of fungus that can affect both animals and humans. It generally occurs first on the feet, face, ears, and heads of kittens, but can appear anywhere. It typically presents as patchy areas of hair loss but can vary widely in appearance. Your veterinarian will be the best source of information on effective treatments and controlling it in your kitten’s environment.

After you have signed your kitten up for the best pet insurance plan for you, the next most important aspect to be addressed is which vaccines should be administered and how often. While a whole host of vaccines is available for cats, it is essential to plan a well thought-out vaccine regimen to optimize the benefits of vaccination while minimizing the risks. The age you start vaccinating your kitten will determine how many initial vaccines are required. Your kitten’s lifestyle (indoor or outdoor) will also determine which vaccines will be needed. This should be re-evaluated periodically throughout life. I follow the vaccine recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners where the distemper/upper respiratory combination vaccine and the rabies vaccine are considered the two core vaccines for all cats.

The feline leukemia vaccination is recommended for all kittens because they are the most susceptible. Cat insurance companies like Pets Best Insurance even offer partial coverage for this vaccination with their wellness plan, so long as the kitten is at least 7 weeks old. Your cat’s lifestyle will determine whether this vaccine is continued as an adult. Most vaccines should begin around 6-8 weeks of age, but they can be started after that. The last vaccine in a kitten series should be given around or after 16 weeks of age when the immune system is considered fully mature.

Your kitten should be spayed or neutered sometime between 4 and 6 months of age. Be a responsible pet owner and do your part in helping to prevent 3 to 4 million needless deaths of healthy dogs and cats every year due to pet overpopulation. Spaying and neutering greatly reduces the chances of certain cancers and infections, and it also greatly reduces unwanted behaviors such as urine spraying and roaming and fighting in males.

Dental disease is very common in cats, and the importance of regular tooth-brushing cannot be overemphasized. Training your cat to accept tooth-brushing is best started when it’s young. My favorite video on how to brush your cat’s teeth can be found at www.felinevideos.vet.cornell.edu.

It is also the best time to start training your kitten to get used to nail trimming and brushing the coat. You can do “mini-physicals” to have your kitten used to being examined and gently restrained. Lightly touch and manipulate the ears and mouth to get him/her used to being handled in these areas should the need for medicating arise in the future. This will also help you to know what is “normal” for your cat, so that you’ll be better able to detect when anything is amiss. Early detection is always best.

As mentioned, this is a good time to check out pet insurance for your cat too. There are many plans available at a price that can fit your budget. It’s always best to start the insurance while your cat is young and healthy so that medical conditions that may arise as your cat matures will be covered.

Once the initial flurry of visits is over, a healthy cat should still visit the veterinarian at least once a year. Twice a year is even better since cats age so much more quickly than people do. Starting your kitten off right, and following the wellness program designed by your veterinarian can help ensure a long, happy life for your cat.

Senior Pet Activity Levels, Cat Eating Carpet

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m at home today answering some questions from Pets Best Facebook page.

The first one comes from Tony, who asks, “I have a mixed breed Chihuahua/Pekingese that will be 20 years old in October. She still wants to play but tires out easily. Is this normal?”

Absolutely. 20 in dog years is probably over 100 in people years, so you’re definitely doing something right to have your dog around for as long as she has been. She’s certainly an older geriatric dog, and I think having a little less energy and tiring more easily is pretty common. Definitely keep up with your regular vet checks for older pets so you can make sure everything’s going well.

The next one comes from Crystal who says, “My 13-year-old male cat eats the fuzz off the carpet. I’m worried this will clog his system.”

I’m a little worried about this, too. Carpet fuzz and other cloth and string and that type of thing really aren’t great for cats to ingest. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great solution for you other than getting rid of your carpets, which may not be something that you’re interested in doing. In the meantime, things you want to watch for would be excessive vomiting and not eating anything. If he seems like he’s off, I would definitely get him checked out.
www.petsbest.com

Lucky little Tulah

Tulah, a dog insurance enthusiast, looks at the camera.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

The story about how Tulah came to be a part of my family is at the same time heart-wrenching and heart-warming. She has unwavering optimism and is unconditionally loving despite her rough start. She is a huge fluff ball of fur, with a tiny little body in the center. She is likely a Pomeranian-American Eskimo mix. These days she enjoys eating, sleeping on the couch, treats, playing with her little Shih Tzu brother and, oh, did I mention eating? Her life wasn’t always so easy though.

Tulah was brought to my clinic early one morning in a box. Somebody had hit her with their car. Thankfully they stopped, but chose to put her on the nearest doorstep instead of bringing her to an emergency veterinarian. The doorstep she was placed on did not belong to her, but the family brought her to us anyway. She never cried, and despite being badly injured she licked everyone that came near her. She still does this, unfortunately…

Because the family did not own her and didn’t have dog insurance for Tulah, they could not assume financial responsibility. Nobody responded to the ads placed about a found dog. There were also no “Missing Dog” descriptions that matched hers and she didn’t have a microchip or a collar with tags and, thus, she became our clinic’s property. The decision was made to try to save her, even though nobody claimed her, or would pay for her care.

After stabilizing her and treating her for pain and shock, radiographs where taken to better diagnose her underlying injuries. She was unable to walk and xrays showed she had a fractured right femur and a badly shattered pelvis. One of the fractures in her pelvis went through the acetabulum, which is the ‘socket’ portion of the ‘ball and socket’ hip joint. This can be very tricky to fix; if alignment is a little off, the ‘ball’ will not fit into the ‘socket’ and it’s very painful. Unfortunately, the decision was made that in order to save her, she would have to lose her right hind leg. Because accidents like Tulah’s can be pricey and accidents like these can happen at any time, pet owners should sign their pets up for pet insurance. In this case, the veterinary hospital absorbed her treatment cost.

Tulah’s surgery went very well and she woke up without complaining. She would carefully wag her pom-pom tail when anyone walked by her kennel. The staff quickly fell in love with her. However, Tulah was having another potentially serious problem. As a result of the injuries to her lower spine and pelvis, she had lost the ability to control her bladder and colon; she was incontinent. If this didn’t resolve, she would not be a good candidate for re-homing and would like be euthanized. Slowly over several days this improved, and soon she was able to hold her urine and stool normally.

After about a week in the hospital Tulah went home with one of our veterinary technicians who agreed to foster her until she was healthy enough to find a permanent home. She had to be crated and confined for 6 to 8 weeks while her broken pelvis healed. She also had to re-learn to use only three legs to get around. Tulah is a quick learner though, and she displayed such amazing optimism and spunk despite her handicap. After she healed, it was time to find a more permanent home for her. She stayed in the clinic for a few days and watched me with pleading eyes, imploring me to take her home. Ok I thought, just a trial run in our house, if it doesn’t work out, she’ll go back… The rest is history. Tulah became a member of the family.

Most people don’t even realize she only has three legs. She is quick, nimble and optimistic, and also one of the happiest dogs I know. I’m not sure who is more thankful for her being a part of my family, Tulah, or me.

It’s National Dog Day!

Jayda, a dog with dog insurance, goes on a car ride to celebrate National Dog Day.

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

August 26th is National Dog Day! This day serves as a reminder for us to take a moment to thank the many dogs that impact our daily lives. This includes working dogs that save and enhance people’s lives every day in their jobs as police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and service dogs for disable people, amongst many others. It also helps us to pause to thank our furry family members for the unconditional daily love they share with us. If you don’t yet have pet insurance for your four-legged best friend, consider giving him the gift of dog insurance on this special day!

Perhaps most importantly, this day is meant to bring awareness to the millions of homeless dogs in overcrowded shelters and educate people about animal abuse. Dogs have the ability to teach us about unwavering loyalty, patience and have an amazing capacity for love. National Dog Day allows us to devote one day to show our appreciation for the ways our canine friends positively impact our existence.

There are many ways that you can help celebrate National Dog Day. Even if you don’t have a dog, you can donate to your local animal shelter, volunteer to walk the animals, or help bathe and feed them.

You can post on your social networking page about animal abuse to help raise awareness. You could also consider adopting a pet from the humane society if it’s an idea you’ve been toying with. You can call a friend with dogs and go for a hike or walk together, or take the dogs to the dog park. You could donate old towels and bedding you no longer use to the local shelter.

It is plenty easy to honor National Dog Day if you do have a dog too! How about ensuring that your pet is up to date on vaccinations or enrolling in pet health insurance? You can spend extra time doing something they love, like riding in the car, walking or chasing a ball.

You could also teach your dog a new trick, trim their toe nails or have them groomed. In honor of the day, you could also show your doggie love by purchasing a new toy or collar for them. You could even bake pet safe/healthy treats for them, take them to the dog park, or have a doggy play date with a friend with dogs!

If it’s still warm enough where you are, find a kiddie pool for your pup to wade in, or turn the sprinklers on for them to run through. If your work allows pets, consider bring them to the office with you. It might be enough to give them just a little more attention that day!

However you chose to celebrate National Dog Day this August 26th, remember to be thankful for the unconditional love and hardworking nature of our canine friends!

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