Pet Insurance Blog – Pets Best Insurance
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Benji and the unlucky penny

Posted on: February 4th, 2011 by

Benji's X-ray shows some remaining pocket change he ingested.
By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
For Pets Best Insurance

Benji is a sweet, spunky little 3-year-old mixed breed dog weighing just 12 pounds. He really does look like Benji from the old TV movies! He was presented to me for an unusual problem that ended up being very serious.

Unbeknownst to his owners, Benji ate about thirty one cents in change; a nickel, a penny and a quarter. Who knows why he thought it was a tasty treat, but this turned out to be a big pet health problem.

While nickels and quarters are less toxic to dogs, pennies can cause serious illness. We think of pennies being made from copper, but in fact, the composition of the penny has changed many times since the 1700’s. Traditionally pennies were made from copper, but since 1983, all pennies have been made of 97% zinc with a copper coating, to help with manufacturing costs. Zinc is extremely toxic to dogs and can cause a condition called hemolytic anemia, an illness that causes the body to destroy its own red blood cells.

When the penny sits in the acidic stomach, the zinc is released from the penny and absorbed into the blood stream. It is also irritating to the GI tract and can cause vomiting and diarrhea within hours of ingestion. The most serious side effect is the hemolytic anemia that can occur after 24 to 48 hours in the stomach. The exact mechanism of red blood cell destruction is unclear, but the zinc makes the body burst the red blood cells and can dramatically reduce their numbers.

When Benji came to me he had already thrown up the penny and a nickel, but the damage was done. Normally a dog’s blood is made up of about 50% red blood cells. Benji came to me with only 14% red blood cells. When the cell numbers are this low it is hard for the blood to deliver oxygen to the body. Benji received a blood transfusion and improved to 20% red blood cells and felt much better. Radiographs revealed he still had a quarter in his stomach, but he was too sick for surgery to remove it.

If the penny stays in the stomach long enough, the zinc can also start to cause organ failure. The most common organs to be affected are the kidneys. A blood panel can reveal dangerously high renal (kidney) values and this was the case for Benji. In cases of acute renal failure, time and IV fluids can help the kidney to regain some function. Benji received IV fluids and medication. Over several days he slowly improved, gaining strength. After 24 hours in my care he threw up again, but this time the quarter came up too! The owners had never been so excited about their dog throwing up; things were starting to look up for Benji. It looked like he wouldn’t need surgery after all!

In addition to organ failure and low red blood cell numbers, zinc can also cause pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and even cardiac arrest. Other sources of dangerous zinc include some older toys, nails and hardware, staples, zippers and jewelry, and some human creams, such as sunblock, calamine lotion and Desitin.

Overall Benji was lucky, even though his penny wasn’t! He ended up staying in the hospital with intensive care for 10 days before he finally went home to his grateful owners. The whole ordeal ended up costing Benji’s owner’s around $2,100– had they had a pet insurance policy with Pets Best Insurance for Benji, they could have only had to pay $400 out-of-pocket if they had selected a policy with a $100 deductible.

If your dog eats something it shouldn’t, it is important to contact your veterinarian to determine how serious it is.

Pet health: Outdoor cats

Posted on: February 3rd, 2011 by

A cat with pet insurance keeps warm outside.
Cat pet care should be at the top of your priority list, along with pet insurance and your cat’s overall health. If your cat must stay outdoors, make sure to take the proper precautions to ensure he stays safe.

Cats that live outside are at risk for a number of potentially dangerous conditions, which is another reason cat insurance should be a consideration.

It is important to make sure that your cat has a safe shelter from all of the elements. Cats should have a place where they can go to escape the cold and wind. The shelter also serves as a place to keep your cat warm and dry. The shelter should just be large enough for the cat to turn around and stand in. The cat’s body heat will help to keep the shelter warm.

Cats should have access to plenty of fresh food and water. Cats will tend to eat more during the winter due to burning more calories in order to keep themselves warm. Place food and water in plastic bowls to prevent tongue injuries. Metal bowls can cause their tongue to stick to them which may lead to injuries. Check water bowls daily to make sure the water hasn’t frozen. If you suspect there has been an incident that may have hurt your pet, take him to the veterinarian. Pet insurance can help keep veterinary costs, like these, down.

Cat health insurance will allow you to take your cat in for a check-ups whenever you need to, to ensure your cat is healthy. Cats that are sick can have a more difficult time dealing with the elements than a healthy cat.

Pet ID tags: Your pet’s wallet

Posted on: February 2nd, 2011 by

A dog with pet insurance wears an ID tag.
By: Lisa Deanne Gilman
The Rescue Train, for Pets Best Insurance

The scariest news a pet owner can hear is that their dog or cat is lost. Whether the gardener left the gate open, a child didn’t close the door all the way or your pet escaped from a friend’s house while you were vacationing, the news of a missing family member sends a shock to your system.

Some lost pets do make it back home and having an ID tag on your dog or cat is the best way to increase your chances of that happening. And unless you have a pet kangaroo, your furry family member does not have a pocket to carry ID, so his collar becomes his wallet.

Being the director of an animal rescue, I hear sad stories of missing pets and all of the excuses of why they weren’t wearing a tag all the time. Some of the most common are:

Excuse: “I’ve had animals all my life and none have ever gotten out”.
My response: I’m sorry you learned the hard way that, unfortunately, unexpected things do happen.

Excuse: “I don’t like the noise the tag makes”.
My Response: Nowadays there are noiseless plastic tags, tag pouches, an engraved plate that adheres to the collar rather than dangle, and even personalized collars with your contact number stitched right onto the fabric.

Excuse: I had just given my pet a bath that day.
My Response: Put the collar right back on after the bath. Don’t wait!

Excuse: My dog has a microchip.
My Response: Microchips are an excellent way to keep track of your pet; however, the animal needs to be taken to a shelter or vet’s office where there is a scanner. Some people who find an animal don’t think to have it scanned for a chip. Make it easy for any Good Samaritan who might stop to help your animal by having an ID tag with all your current information, and have your pet chipped, too, in case a collar should fall off.

The reality is that an ID tag should be on 24/7 for the life of the pet. Without one they are at risk. Identification tags are the cheapest and easiest ways to bring your pet back home safely. When people tell me they don’t like to have a dog or cat’s collar on in their home I ask why? What if there were an emergency like a fire or earthquake? In the animal kingdom, when scary things happen, flight is often an animal’s first response. And if your dog or cat does get lost during an emergency situation, an ID tag greatly increases the chances of getting the animal home to you quickly.

When our rescue group goes to the shelter to pull an animal we make sure we put a collar and tag on the animal before stepping outside the building. We highly recommend that if you adopt a new pet, you do the same, as coming to a new home is a particularly vulnerable time for an animal. New people and situations can be stressful for a pet. You don’t yet have a relationship with a dog or a cat who is new to the family. They don’t know to come when you call them. If they get out of your yard they are not familiar with their territory. Don’t wait to get a tag – have it before the animal comes home.

We recommend the lightweight plastic tags that you can print on both sides. They are quiet, come in bright eye-catching colors, and don’t get scratched or worn like some of the metal tags. We also suggest putting your pet’s name, address and at least two phone numbers on the tag. Also the word “REWARD” might give anyone who finds your pet more of an incentive to return them to you. “Scan me for a chip” lets people know that your animal is also microchipped and there might be additional contact information. And remember, if you move or change your phone number, don’t forget to update your pet’s tag. It doesn’t do much good if the contact information is not current.

If your pet ends up at a city shelter, there are impound fees you must pay to get your pet out, and time spent in a shelter can be an extremely frightening for any lost animal. An ID tag is your best chance at preventing you or your pet from having to go through that. When I walk the kennels of our city and county shelters, I can’t help but wonder how many of these animals might have an owner who loves them but wasn’t able to find their missing pet.

What’s in your dog’s wallet?

Note: Lisa Deanne Gilman is The Executive Director of The Rescue Train, a Los Angeles based, 501(c)3, nonprofit, no kill dog and cat rescue dedicated to eliminating animal suffering and euthanasia through hands on rescue work, education and awareness.

Dogs Who Eat Poop, Mast Cell Tumor Info

Posted on: February 1st, 2011 by

Hi. My name is Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. Today I’m at home answering some of the questions posted on our Facebook page.

“How do I get my Chiweenie to stop eating poop?”

First of all, for those of you who don’t know what a “Chiweenie” is, it’s a cross between a Dachshund and a Chihuahua. This is actually a really common problem, especially in puppies and younger dogs, and it can be really disconcerting and kind of gross.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is really make sure you’re feeding appropriate food. A good quality dog food is really important. You’re going to want to make sure your pet is dewormed pretty regularly because this is one way that internal parasites can be spread.

You can try negative reinforcement and tell them “no” when they do this. Be sure to keep your yard really, really clean as well, so it’s less of a temptation. There are also some prescribed medications that can help deter pets from this nasty habit. Contact your veterinarian for more information.

The second question is, “Where are mast cell tumors found? Are they found internally as well as externally?”

The mast cell tumor is a specific type of cancer that dogs can get. It really can be a devastating cancer. Typically, it’s found on the skin, and that means anywhere. It can be on the limbs, the torso, or the head.

Generally, mast cell tumors first present on the skin but they can spread internally to lungs and lymph nodes and other organs. If you find a mass or a tumor on your dog’s skin that has you concerned, contact your veterinarian.

Not all pet insurance companies are equal, part 2

Posted on: January 31st, 2011 by

A dog and cat with pet insurance look over a white wall.
By: Dr. Jack L. Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President and Founder

To help assist pet owners in choosing a pet insurance provider and in selecting the best coverage, I am initiating the new “What to look for in pet insurance” series.

Once you decide pet insurance is right for you, then you must decide which company, what type of coverage and which benefits are best. I will not provide company names or plan types, but provide you with fundamental information that is important in the selection process for your pet and your pocketbook.

Pet insurance is licensed by your state
Pet health insurance is required to be regulated by each state under the property or miscellaneous class of insurance. Pets are considered property and as such, fall under that broad category of regulation the same as home owners, auto and other forms of property insurance. The benefits provided by the insurance contract and services rendered by the insurance provider are however very similar to our own health insurance. Unlike human health insurance, you pay the premiums, not your employer. And the premiums are not tax deductible (yet). Also, unlike human health care, in most situations, you pay for the veterinary services and submit your claims seeking reimbursement for those expenses from the insurance company. This may change over time, but for now this is the predominant method, since veterinarians do not typically bill for services or have the staff for billing.

Submitting pet insurance claims
Look for a pet insurance company that allows you to submit claims online by downloading your receipts and signed claim form or by faxing in your documents. Mailing your claim can add one or two weeks to receiving payment. Even more important, with some companies you can elect to have your payment deposited directly into your bank account the night your claim is adjusted and approved! We’ve receive compliments from our policyholders relating they received their funds before their credit card was debited!

Because you are paying the veterinary care upfront and then seeking reimbursement it becomes more important that you understand your pet’s coverage and “how it works.” Otherwise you can find yourself not being reimbursed for pet expenses you had assumed would be covered. In addition, you still have to make some provisions for payment until you’re reimbursed, which makes the turnaround time from when you submit a claim until paid very important.

The first part of a cat or dog insurance policy is the Declarations Page, which describes the insured pet, the policy term, the insured and type of coverage. Be sure to review this page for accuracy. The next part is the “Insuring Agreement” of the insurance contract which defines what is covered. Most companies offer “Accident Only”, “Accident & Illness” and optional “Wellness/routine care” benefits which can be added to the policy. There are special Cancer only, Surgical, Hereditary and Behavioral riders available with some.

And a few even offer vacation interruption, boarding of pet for policyholder illness, pet death and lost pet benefits as added coverage. Use care in selecting added coverage, because the value proposition may not be worth the added cost.

How pet insurance claims are adjusted
Part of the insuring agreement section gives an overview of how coverage is paid or reimbursed (this may be in another section on some policies). This part is critical because it tells you how much of your pet’s actual charges may be allowed. Some companies do not pay claims based on actual cost but on a predetermined schedule of cost. Your payment may be based on a benefit or fee schedule which has specific payment allowances, despite the charges you may incur. Or payment may be made on what is normal for your area. This is called “usual & customary”. How much your veterinarian charges, or your pets cost due to severity, complications, response to treatment or other factors may be considerably higher. Be sure to determine before your purchase whether the policy you select will pay a flat percentage of your cost. Otherwise, you may have a huge shock at being reimbursed considerably lower than you expected when an accident or illness occurs to your pet.

A dog or cat insurance policy literally covers thousands of medical conditions that can occur in pets. Insurance is not for ongoing medical conditions or for recently developed medical conditions prior to the policy effect date. It is for future unknown medical events that may happen. Pet insurance policies will also have waiting periods, and benefits will not be eligible until after the waiting period is over. Waiting periods vary by company and by type of coverage. For instance, accident coverage usually starts in 1 to 3 days, while illness coverage may take 14 to 30 days to be effective, depending on the company.

If your pet has a medical condition, whether diagnosed or treated prior to enrollment, you may want to ask when and if the condition will ever be covered by the policy before your purchase. I will discuss this more under “exclusions” in another series.

The following are things your pet insurance policy should allow or provide:

• Ability for you to use any veterinarian of your choice, an emergency clinic or veterinary specialist for your pet.

• A policy that does not set fees for services, diagnostics or treatments (benefit schedule). Good veterinary care should not be limited by a benefit or fee schedule that dictates reimbursements to you.

• Easy-to-read and understandable policy available to you for online review before buying. Use the internet to shop, but enroll only after you ask questions before you enroll. Call the company and ask your questions, if they are evasive, it likely will not be better after you buy.

• Ability to customize your plan from basic coverage to broader coverage providing you with options to better evaluate price to benefits.

(Next: Benefits you need, Exclusions and Benefits you may not need)