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Pet insurance: Some symptoms seem scarier than they are

Posted on: January 24th, 2011 by

A dog with pet insurance displays odd pet health symptoms.

It seems like every month I’m typing a new symptom into search engines that my dog or cat has displayed. I try to stay on top of cat and dog health care so that I can speak confidently to the vet about what I observe.

There’s nothing better than breathing a sigh of relief when what I thought would surely result in a new dog insurance claim turns out to be nothing.

About once or twice a week, my 10-year-old Catahoula Leopard dog was snorting backwards, seemingly uncontrollably, for up to a minute at a time. I didn’t know if he was having an asthma attack, gasping for breath, choking, or trying to clear himself of post-nasal drip. It didn’t take much searching to find video of other dogs suffering from similar attacks, and find out that this phenomena is called “reverse sneezing,” or “paroxysmal respiration.”

The condition is called reverse sneezing because air is being rapidly pulled in through the nose, the opposite of a sneeze.

“Although it can be alarming to witness a dog having a reverse sneezing episode,” wrote Ernest Ward, DVM, “it is not a harmful condition and there are no ill effects.”

Of course, if a dog does display reverse sneezing too often for comfort, a veterinarian may test for nasal polyps, respiratory issues and collapsing trachea; tests that will likely be covered by pet health insurance, which is why it’s a good idea to ensure you have cat or dog insurance for your pet.

While Dr. Ward claims there is no exact known cause for reverse sneezing, “this problem seems to be exacerbated by allergies and environmental odors such as smoke, potpourri, and perfume.”

Should your pet display any symptoms you are not familliar with, seek the advice of your veterinarian, as Google Video and Pets Best Insurance blog posts should never be substituted for your veterinarian’s expert opinion.

Pet insurance for your indoor dog this winter?

Posted on: January 21st, 2011 by

A dog with pet insurance stays warm in the winter.

We like to think our dogs are resilient in the winter, with their thick fur coats and padded paws. Long haired dogs do have extra protection in the winter, and outdoor dogs grow a fuller coat as the weather cools.

However, that doesn’t mean a domesticated, pampered house pooch can handle extreme elements as well as a fully adapted wild dog or a trained sled dog. While pet insurance companies exist to protect your furry family all year long, even owners who have dog insurance should use common sense during the winter.

“An indicator that it’s too cold for your dog is: if your nose gets cold when you are walking them, that is how cold their feet are getting,” said Rachel Sentes, a former writer for Pet Rescue Magazine in Edmonton, AB, Canada.

Dogs are safer staying home in the winter as opposed to taking car trips, especially if the dog will be left in the vehicle for any period of time. While cars become ovens in the summer as they trap heat, they become refrigerators in the winter, and keeping the car running poses the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning unless the windows are open.

According to Dr. Justine Lee, a Minnesota veterinarian who has worked with Alaskan sled dogs, in certain cases cold winter temperatures can cause added pet health issuse such as stress, which can be taxing on pets.

“If a dog has underlying hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) or a medical condition where he can’t regulate his temperature normally, I wouldn’t recommend it at all,” said Lee of leaving a dog inside a car during the winter.

Lee also warns of possible side effects from breathing in cold air for extended periods of time.

“Some rare dogs have cold-induced asthma/bronchitis, and can’t exercise as well in cold weather,” said Lee, author of It’s a Dog’s Life…But It’s Your Carpet. “Signs would be coughing, shortness of breath, and exercise intolerance.”

When any changes occur in a pet while exposed to harsh elements, having pet insurance for your dog will ensure that your best furry friend can be quickly evaluated, treated, and sent home warm and cozy.

Top 3 things to do when caring for a stray kitten

Posted on: January 20th, 2011 by

New born kittens with pet insurance drink from a bottle.

I don’t know if I smell of catnip or if word has gotten around to the local cats, but I am one of those people who always seems to find the strays and lost kittens in the neighborhood.

I’ve repeatedly exclaimed, “the kitten can stay – but just for tonight,” only to find myself with a growing number of lifelong family pets.

While new born kittens can be slightly more intense than the needs of adult cats, taking in and taking care for a newly rescued stray kitten isn’t so complicated if you keep a few things in mind.

1. A stray kitten will almost certainly have fleas, and may also have worms. Fleas carry parasites, so if your kitten has ingested any fleas while grooming herself, she’s probably taken in a few parasite hitchhikers.

You can purchase a flea control agent and medication, especially for de-worming kittens, at most pet stores. Be sure you buy the type intended for your kitten’s size and weight. Adult dosages can be toxic to small kittens. Dawn dish washing detergent is a gentle and effective kitten flea shampoo. Any stray kitten should be washed immediately if brought into the home to prevent an indoor flea farm.

2. Spaying and neutering is an important part of responsible cat ownership, as is purchasing a pet insurance policy for your beloved feline. A kitten may be sterilized as young as 8 weeks old, so contact your local rescues and research and see if you can find a spay neuter assistance program. Sibling kittens will mate earlier than expected if not fixed.

3. Pet health insurance is an excellent investment for your new kitten. Not only will you pay very low pet insurance premiums due to your kitten’s young age and presumable lack of pre-existing conditions, but many cat insurance policies also offer wellness and routine care packages.

Not all pet insurance companies are equal

Posted on: January 19th, 2011 by

The founder of pet insurance in the US, Dr. Stephens, sits with his pets.
By: Dr. Jack L. Stephens
Pets Best Insurance President

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.

My aim is to provide helpful tips for pet owners to avoid unforeseen pitfalls and traps in choosing a pet insurance plan. This series will also help pet owners understand what they should expect from their pet insurance provider in terms of service and reimbursement.

Becoming a veterinarian and later starting my own practice was a dream come true. I worked hard throughout my years at college and veterinary school. After graduation I even took a second job (at night) operating an emergency pet clinic to help fund my own hospital.

Treating pets was something I had always been passionate about. But one day I came to the realization that I had to do something more. I wanted to help pets and their owners receive medical care even if they couldn’t afford it.

The turning point for me was after I met one small, sick pet that I was forced to euthanize because the family couldn’t afford the treatment costs. It was around then I was determined to change my career path from treating pets to starting the very first successful pet health insurance company in the United States.

I ultimately left my practice and pioneered the concept of pet health insurance so that more pet owners could afford unexpected veterinary care for their pets by using insurance principals of risk sharing. My goal was to provide an alternative for pet owners who did not want to euthanize a beloved pet because of their financial situation. With dog and cat insurance, owners would not have to raid their savings, pay high interest on credit cards or seek lesser care for their pet.

After working with the initial company for a good number of years, I left to start another pet insurance company in 2005— Pets Best Insurance, because I wanted to do things differently.

For many years the company I pioneered in 1982 was the only choice for pet owners. But today there are a dozen or so, pet health insurance providers in the United States and there will likely be many more to come.

Overall, the many options for pet insurance is a good thing for pets, their owners and even the pet health insurance industry as a whole. Competition breeds industry growth by providing more awareness and more attractive options for the consumer.

However, I have noted over the last few years that with more competition comes more confusion. Pet owners seem confused over coverage, about the reliability of the many different companies, and over which company will provide a greater value to them. Pet owners are also confused about which companies are more likely to pay their claims without hassle and which pay their claims timely.

While I may be biased towards Pets Best Insurance, there are many other fine options in the marketplace. (Visit for members of the North American Pet Health Insurance Association)

Selecting the best pet insurance company is not an easy feat, since circumstances vary widely. Pet owner expectations, budget and cost of pet care must be carefully considered. Optimum coverage for a pet will vary by species, breed, age and the pets’ current health. And of course, price will also vary. Underinsuring only becomes a concern if you have a large veterinary bill, while over insuring can drain monthly resources.

Making the right choice becomes easier with knowledge and through experience. But experience can be hard earned and costly. After 12 years of practicing small animal medicine and 30 years of forming and operating pet health insurance I know I can provide you with the knowledge to buy the right coverage to fit your needs and budget. I will use my experience to help you avoid insurance “traps” you might never expect. I will also show you the “trade offs” that you can make in your choice of pet insurance by demonstrating value to price.

I will attempt to be unbiased; given my position and being the founder of Pets Best Insurance. I will not utilize company names or specific plans, but give you the tools to understand the long term value of different options available. Ultimately you the reader will be the judge if I accomplish this goal. But I know you will be more savvy in getting the best value for your pocketbook and in protecting your pet with the information.

Pets Best Insurance Facebook Q&A with Dr. Fiona Caldwell

Posted on: January 19th, 2011 by

A dog with pets best insurance is tended to by a vet.

Pets Best Insurance solicited questions from our Facebook page fans relating to pet health, happiness and everything in between. Dr. Fiona Caldwell, a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital weighs in! Read on to see if your question was answered.

Question: Any suggestions on the origin of a hard-packed earth-like substance about an inch long and 1/4-inch wide that my dog coughs up on occasion? It’s always a surprise and she doesn’t act sick or in pain beforehand. She’s 12-14 years old.

Dr. Caldwell: This is not normal and should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. Keep one of the samples that she coughs up and bring it to the appointment. In an older dog, especially, this should be evaluated.

Question: My kitty, born Feb 26, 2010, is occasionally semi-aggressive, swatting my son’s feet or mine (claws mostly sheathed), ears partially laid-back. We can tell when she’s in this mood, but there doesn’t seem to be a trigger to start it. How can I get her to stop without seeming to reward the behavior? Throwing a toy will stop her, but I don’t want her to think that she should act like that to get play time. We play with her at least 3 times a day, for an hour to 1 1/2 hours at a time. (She is spayed.)

Dr. Caldwell: Behavioral issues in cats can be challenging! Great job on the play sessions you are having with her now, in addition to having her spayed. The best thing you can do to negatively reinforce this behavior is to walk away from her. Tell her a firm no, and then remove yourself from the situation.

Cats have short attention spans, so you can return after a few minute ‘time out’, but if she does it again, then you’ll firmly say no and walk away from her again. This tells her you’re not interested in being around her if she acts like that. Additional attention, even negative scolding attention can be misinterpreted. I agree with you that switching to playing with toys can be inadvertently rewarding her for her negative behavior. Make sure all family members are on board with your new plan so she has consistency.

Question: This may have already been asked but what are the recommended things to get done at your pets annual exams and how should this change as they get older? With older pets what should you watch for between exams that could be a sign of a senior disease requiring a check up?

Dr. Caldwell: This is a fantastic question. Preventative medicine is the BEST way to keep your pet healthy! Young dogs (depending on the breed, but up to about 7 to 8 years of age) should be seen at their veterinarian at least once a year. This annual exam should include a good overall exam, especially examining the oral health, and weight. Obesity and dental disease are some of the most common problems seen in young dogs.

The vaccine schedule in your area may differ from others, but generally after a series of 3 to 4 vaccinations starting at 8 weeks of age, adult dogs need either yearly or three year vaccines including, but not limited to a rabies vaccination, and distemper/parvo combination vaccine. Most dogs should be dewormed annually, depending on their lifestyle. Most areas of the nation agree that dogs should be on heartworm, flea, tick and parasite preventions programs as well. Talk to your local veterinarian for additional information about this.

Older dogs, generally 7 to 8 years and older (sooner for giant breed dogs like Mastiffs and Great Danes, and possibly later for smaller breed dogs like Chihuahuas and Yorkies) should start having a more ‘senior’ approach to veterinary care. This is a great time to start screening blood work. Ask your veterinarian to run a ‘senior panel’ to screen for common senior diseases such as thyroid dysfunction and organ changes.

Some pets might benefit from biannual visits to the veterinary clinic. If every dog year is worth 7 human years, then six months is the equivalent of three and a half people years! Specific things to bring to the attention of your veterinarian include difficulty rising or limping after activity, vision loss, behavioral changes, changes in coat quality, changes in urination and drinking habits, changes in appetite, and weight loss or gain.

Question: Any tips for cats dental care? Using a tooth brush isn’t practical with most cats but I’m not sure what other options are effective. One thing I heard about is that if they chew on raw bones such as a chicken wing that will really help but I’m not sure if there is a risk of choking etc.

Dr. Caldwell: It is great that you are thinking about your cat’s dental health! I agree that brushing teeth can be tricky, or even downright intolerable in cats. Most veterinarians would agree you should NOT give your cat bones to chew on. Cats are typically ‘gnawers’ like dogs anyway. There are dental products aimed at cats that might help keep his or her mouth healthy. For example, there are specifically designed cat chews with ingredients to combat plaque. Some cats won’t chew on them, which means they won’t work for you though. There are dental rinses available, and even a water additive that disinfects plaque. Most veterinary clinics sell these over-the-counter, meaning you don’t need a prescription for them. Call your local veterinarian to ask.

Question: Sierra, my 8 year shetland sheepdog, pants ALL the time. (cold and warm weather) In the beginning they said that she needed to lose some weight. She did and she still pants. What gives? Other than that she is as healthy as a dog can be. Also, any suggestion on how to teach a dog to play with toys, even to go after one? From the time we got her (when she was 15 months) she has never played with a toy or even go after one. (when we through one, she looks at us like saying ” You threw it, you go get it)

Dr. Caldwell: Panting can be a sign of an underlying endocrine disorder, or even breathing issue in older pets. I recommend you go back to your veterinarian with the problem. Show them that you have followed the instructions to lose the weight, but it hasn’t helped. While I applaud your weight loss efforts for her, it may not be enough weight loss, or there may be a different underlying problem. Diseases such as Cushing’s disease and laryngeal paralysis are just two potentially more serious underlying problems that can be ruled out.

As for playing with toys, every dog is different in terms of their affinity for toys. Some dogs never quite ‘get’ fetch, or if they do, it’s not fun for them. A dog can’t really be taught to like toys, much like you can’t be taught to like heavy metal music, if you don’t. Focus on things they do like to do, such as grooming, petting, or maybe leash walks or trips in the car!