In the dark shadow of America’s human health-care mess, the topic of pet health insurance may seem absurd. But as I have emphasized in earlier writings, cat and dog owners should discuss the subject with their veterinarians — especially if they have a purebred or “designer’’ puppy or kitten with extreme physical traits, such as an abnormally large head, a pushed-in face, twisted limbs and extreme infantilism (paedomorphosis), and likely accompanying genetic or inherited health problems.
Having to euthanize a beloved companion animal for economic reasons is a reality for many people who cannot afford veterinary services, especially for cancer and other chronic diseases in older animals. This puts an emotional burden on veterinarians, and as a recent survey by Barry S. Kipperman and associates published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reveals, it is a significant factor in professional career satisfaction and burnout.
The escalating costs of pet health care mean many cats and dogs are taken to the veterinarian only when they are seriously ill, which means costs and suffering that could have been circumvented by regular wellness examinations.
To help pet owners understand the complexities and ups and downs of pet health insurance, veterinarian Douglas Kenney has written a helpful guide, “Pet Health Insurance: A Veterinarian’s Perspective.” For details, visit petinsuranceguideus.com.
A pet insurance study by LendEDU gives some insights, noting that only 16.9 percent of surveyed cat owners had pet insurance, whereas 26.7 percent of dog owners had coverage. Of those with full coverage, 85.3 percent thought their pet insurance was worth it, as did 82.1 percent of those with accidents and illness coverage. Only 63.6 percent of respondents with accident-only coverage thought it was worth it. About two-thirds of respondents with pet insurance learned about coverage from a veterinarian.
To help pet owners decide whether coverage is right for their animals, here are some online resources:
● Consumer Affairs, consumeraffairs.com/pets/pet-insurance.
● Consumer Reports, consumerreports.org/pet-products/is-pet-insurance-worth-cost.
The North American Pet Health Insurance Association (naphia.org) maintains a list of members and coverage costs, which averaged $465 for dogs and $316 for cats in 2015.
Some owners may be better off setting up their own emergency-care fund for their animal companion to avoid the emotional and financial trap of unforeseen veterinary costs.
Low-cost, basic-service and nonprofit animal hospitals, often in association with local animal shelters and humane societies operating in low-income communities, are being established across the United States. The classic model is Britain’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Founded in 1917 by animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin, the PDSA is Britain’s leading veterinary charity. Operating through a network of 51 British pet hospitals and 380 pet practices (contracted private practices), the dispensary promotes responsible pet ownership and provides free veterinary care to the sick and injured pets of people in need.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My Shih Tzu has a big problem with storms. The vet has prescribed trazodone tabs and acepromazine in liquid form, which sometimes help.
She starts to shake (a lot) before a storm even starts, and sometimes she doesn’t stop for a long time after. Is there anything else you would recommend?
R.B., St. Louis
DF: Many storms are predicted this spring and summer across much of the United States. There’s no denying that, nor that many dogs suffer from “thunderphobia,” which can be difficult to temper.
Draw the drapes or curtains, and turn up the volume on your TV or radio weather channel before the predicted storm arrives. Fit your dog with a tight wrap around the abdomen, such as a child’s T-shirt, and make it snug with Velcro strips or duct tape. This calms many dogs. Many people are afraid of storms, too, so be sure there is no behavioral contagion from you to your dog if you are phobic.
Several dog owners have told me that giving 3 to 6 milligrams of fast-acting melatonin 30 minutes or so before a predicted storm can make a big difference. Let me know what works best for your dog. What your veterinarian prescribed can help many dogs. Try the thunder shirt first without medication, then go on from there.
Dear Dr. Fox:
My vet, whom I like overall, has my 13-year-old cat, Pixel, on two prescription diets: one with lots of fiber and another for easy digestion (my kitty has had hairball, constipation and vomiting issues). The hairballs and vomiting have disappeared thanks to natural hairball paste.
Pixel, who weighs nine pounds, lost a couple of pounds in the past year, but she has gained a half-pound back in the past month because I added more of the digestible food to the fiber food.
Pixel had a serious bout of constipation more than year ago. We had to take her to the vet, where she received multiple enemas. There were no obstructions, and the vet put her on lactulose for a couple months. It resolved the issue, and she started eating the fibrous food. After a year on the food, she has lost too much weight. She poops a lot, but she seems malnourished.
My vet has recommended cisapride because she says Pixel has irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. Kidney disease, pancreatic issues, diabetes and thyroid disease have all been ruled out. I would rather add some nutritious food that won’t constipate her.
P.W., Ashburn, Va.
DF: Your cat is getting on in years and has been through the mill in terms of diet and health.
Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel conditions are all too common; in some instances, there is an underlying gut cancer issue. High-fiber prescription diets can interfere with food digestion and absorption, so the animal declines in weight and overall health.
Chronic constipation and fur balls are also common feline maladies. Both conditions are helped with regular grooming and deep abdominal massage, as per my book “The Healing Touch for Cats.” Add a few drops of fish oil and a teaspoon of light olive or coconut oil to the cat’s regular diet, then transition to a grain-free, raw, frozen or good-quality canned cat food — or try my recipe, posted on my website, drfoxvet.net.
Chronic constipation and so-called megacolon can often be alleviated by giving a daily teaspoon of a mixture of canned sardines and psyllium husks (not seeds) or chia seeds. Allow soaking well before serving. My old cats love this and have no bowel issues.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Can you recommend a sonic collar to use at night only? Our eight-pound cavapom likes to bark during the night while in her sleep room, which makes it difficult for us to sleep in our room.
She does not bark during the day except when she sees a cat nearby.
K.W., Fargo, N.D.
DF: You might try what one reader found works to stop neighbors’ dogs from barking:
P.W.F. from Fredericksburg, Va., just wrote to me: “For five or more years, I have used Bark Stopper to combat neighbors’ barking dogs. It uses batteries.
“Once dogs become accustomed to it, they stop barking within 20 seconds. The first few uses may take longer, until they learn that barking triggers an uncomfortable high-pitched sound. I use it only when I am on the porch and the dogs become a real nuisance.
“Bark Stopper can be found most easily in catalogues and I assume through the Internet, though that’s not my preferred way of shopping.”
There are also anti-bark collars that make a buzzing sound or other stimulus when the dog barks to startle and condition the dog not to bark. Not one brand fits all. I advise against purchasing electronic remote shock collars, which should be used only by sensitive and qualified canine behavior therapists and dog trainers.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.