Friday, March 9, 2012

The Importance of Healthy Vet Visits

Vet bills are a drag.  Most of us are so accustomed to health insurance for ourselves, with a co-pay that lives happily within our budgets.  While there is pet insurance available for our animals, it seems more often than not, owners to not have insurance.

It seems as though you can't leave the veterinarian's office without spending over $100.00 on a healthy animal. Many people wait, and take their animals to the doctor when they seem to not be feeling so well.  It can be hard for these owners to justify the expense when they feel their animal is doing well.

All animals need a yearly visit to the vet.  Even if you don't want to pursue annual bloodwork, it's important to get your pet in front of a veterinarian.  There may be things going on that you can't "see", or that you think are not important.  Small changes in mobility may hint towards impending arthritis, and things like a heart murmur may warn of a condition that looms.  There may be conditions your dog's breed is prone to, and that small bump you think means nothing may have much more significance for your dog.

When you think of your animal, draw an analogy to your house.  That small imperfection in your plumbing or your roof may not seem like much now, but left unattended may turn into a situation that will cost a lot more time, money, and emotion.

Being proactive is key.  Animals cannot speak, so spending the money on annual bloodwork will help us understand what's really going on in their bodies.  If your animal is taking medication, it's key to check how their liver and their kidney are keeping up.  Our animals may be nearing the age where arthritis is possible, and while we think they seem fine, they may in fact be suffering from some degree of daily pain.

Too often owners are taken off guard by their animal's condition.  All of a sudden they are not well.  You find yourself at a clinic facing hospitalization and medications you didn't anticipate.  While being diligent with your annual visits may not put off such an event, they give a great record of health.

Imagine your 10 year old dog or cat never saw a vet's office because to you, they always seemed fine.  Now afflicted with a potential illness or disease, there is no history what-so-ever about organ function up until this point.  Your vet struggles to understand how acute their condition is, or how quickly it's progressed.

I recall the horrible food recall from pet foods manufactured in China from about 5 or so years ago.  Animals suffered with organ failure, and there was a class action lawsuit.  I spoke to my vet at the time, and he was sad.  He was sad, because too many animals had no history up until that point.  If they presented with kidney failure, there was no definitive, legal way to prove the food had caused it.  Without history, the animal in question could have easily been in failure already.  He was so happy to work with clients who had previous history so as to certify they were victims of this horrible food.

Owners wait ages on addressing their animal's teeth.  By the time the owners notice horrible breath and perhaps difficulty chewing, the mouth may already have a myriad of issues.  Now facing extractions and the like, the vet bill is now easily nearing $1000.00.  While an annual dental may still cost a few hundred dollars, it keeps the animal healthy and avoids the pain and cost of waiting.

Put money aside for your pet.  I know it's easier said than done.  Anticipate that every animal needs a 'rainy day' fund of a few thousand dollars.  If you don't need it for a long time, great.  Eventually all animals age and will need medications and more frequent vet visits.  If you are unable or unwilling to do this, pet ownership needs to be reconsidered before the pet is adopted.

It's not to say that only "rich" people should own pets, but rather we should be willing to find ways to cut back on our monthly expenses to accommodate the long term health of our pets.  I heard a woman lamenting about the $100.00 per month expense of her dog's newly prescribed medications.  She asked me if owners should euthanize when faced with these costs.  Everything in me wanted to suggest she go without a trip to the salon every once and a while.  This, is what loving owners need to be willing to do for the family member they love.

And why are the vet bills so high?  Veterinarians love their patients.  They don't wish to make care prohibitive or impossible.  I can promise you that no one cares for animals because they seek to get rich.  Sadly, these are just what things cost.  If your pet needs a specialist, the costs will be higher.  The fancy, amazing gadgets we use to save a life cost money to purchase and run.  The amazing, additional experience your specialists have, cost them money to attain. 

I've heard feedback that owners feel their doctors order unnecessary tests which drive up their costs.  I think it's key to understand that the best way to treat an animal is to understand what is going on in their bodies.  Often times, certain conditions can be caused by or made worse by other conditions.  Doctors have to play detective.  I urge owners to be vocal!  Ask questions about 'why' tests are run, and what it means if they are not.  It can seem that every additional diagnostic drives the bill up by the hundreds, and it's frustrating.  Do your homework; shop around for affordable veterinarians (within reason... you do *get* what you pay for) and shop around for avenues for cheaper medications.

Above all, be proactive.  Commit to preventing illness in any way you can.  Obesity and poor nutrition are huge components that are within our influence.  Ignored ear infections or ignored behaviors can lead to larger issues.  Sometimes our pets can begin to act differently, and we think it's behavioral when really it may be their only way to tell us they don't feel great.  New aggression, frustration, and changes in eating habits may not be indicative of not liking the home or the food provided, rather something else going on that leaves them not feeling well.  Animals don't want to be touched if they are painful. When our cats and dogs are "seniors", ensure they get annual or bi-annual visits *before* they start to feel bad.

-Shannon Murphy

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