Ways To Make Vet Visits Affordable

Cutting down on your pet’s health expenses without compromising its health is possible, veterinarians say. Pet owners can forgo some procedures and even discard inoculations from their pet’s protocol without risking their animal’s lives. But the process of choosing which ones to keep, and which ones to drop, depends a lot on the pet’s habits. Here are some factors to consider in seeking more affordable care options.

Pet Care by the Numbers

American pet owners spent an estimated $12.2 billion on veterinary bills in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association. Nevertheless, some veterinarians have seen a severe downturn in income from non-medical procedures and services, such as boarding. To cut expenses, many are cutting their employees’ hours. But, unfortunately, most are not cutting their fees.

Tips for Lowering Costs

Cost cutting can begin with evaluating your pet’s annual inoculations. Not all inoculations need to be administered yearly, as many vaccines stay in the bloodstream longer than was previously thought.

“People who have been getting vaccines for their pets every year, probably could slide on some of them,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian at the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Hills, CA.

If there is any doubt how much of last year’s inoculation is still potent in the pet’s bloodstream, the vet can conduct what’s called a titer. Talk to your vet about whether the fee for a specific titer is less than the potential savings from skipping the inoculation.

In evaluating which vaccines to drop and which to keep, a pet’s location and lifestyle are also important factors to consider.

“An out-and-about pet needs more vaccines more than a couch-potato kitty or dog who takes it easy,” Dr. Cruz said. An indoor cat may simply not require a leukemia vaccine booster. A pooch romping through a deer-tick ridden field in Connecticut needs a vaccine for Lyme Disease; but a city dog strolling a Southern California sidewalk may not.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners issues protocols of what vaccines are needed at each life stage. Though the AAFP “highly recommends” the FeLV vaccination for all kittens, booster inoculation is recommended only in cats considered to be at risk of exposure.

There are just some procedures pet owners can’t stint on, however.

“Hard times are not an excuse to skip your pet’s annual shots,” said Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA’s Executive Vice President, National Programs and Science Advisor, “but it does make sense to talk to your vet about personalizing your pet’s vaccine protocol. Some vaccines are optional, while others are essential in preventing serious diseases.”

But skipping on the pet’s annual exam altogether is not an option. “It’s much more expensive—and risky—to treat illnesses than to protect against them,” Zawistowski said.

Evaluating Other Types of Pet Care

Owners can also cut economic corners in other modes of preventative care, such as for periodontal disease. Dental care—vital for keeping bacteria in the gums from leaching into the bloodstream and ultimately into an animal’s kidneys, liver, or joints—does not have to be conducted under anesthesia in every case, not even for cats.

Although not all veterinarians conduct dental work on conscious animals, the difference in price could well be worth seeking out a veterinarian with that expertise. Gas anesthesia can cost from $94 to $112 for a 60-pound dog, plus $27 for anesthesia monitoring, according to a 2009 study by EC Veterinary Economics & Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates. Though tooth cleaning can be less effective when not done under anesthesia, this option is preferable to not cleaning the teeth at all.

As with all types of care, because every individual pet is different, be sure to talk your veterinarian about the best protocol that will work for your pet.

Ten Most Common Pet Poisons

Is your pooch mad for people food? Does your kitty like to self-medicate? Sadly, not everything we love is good for us. In fact, many common household goods that we take for granted as harmless can poison our furry friends. In 2009, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in Urbana, IL, handled more than 140,000 cases of pets exposed to toxic household substances, including insecticides, cleaning supplies and prescription medications.

Human Medications

For several years, human medications have been number one on the ASPCA’s list of common hazards, and 2009 was no exception. Last year, the ASPCA managed 45,816 calls involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs such as painkillers, cold medications, antidepressants and dietary supplements. Pets often snatch pill vials from counters and nightstands or gobble up medications accidentally dropped on the floor, so it’s essential to keep meds tucked away in hard-to-reach cabinets.


In our effort to battle home invasions by unwelcome pests, we often unwittingly put our furry friends at risk. In 2009, our toxicologists fielded 29,020 calls related to insecticides. One of the most common incidents involved the misuse of flea and tick products—such as applying the wrong topical treatment to the wrong species. Thus, it’s always important to talk to your pet’s veterinarian before beginning any flea and tick control program.

People Food

People food like grapes, raisins, avocado and products containing xylitol, like gum, can seriously disable our furry friends, and accounted for more than 17,453 cases in 2009. One of the worst offenders—chocolate—contains large amounts of methylxanthines, which, if ingested in significant amounts, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, urination, hyperactivity, and in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures.


Common houseplants were the subject of 7,858 calls to APCC in 2009. Varieties such as azalea, rhododendron, sago palm, lilies, kalanchoe and schefflera are often found in homes and can be harmful to pets. Lilies are especially toxic to cats, and can cause life-threatening kidney failure even in small amounts.

Veterinary Medications

Even though veterinary medications are intended for pets, they’re often misapplied or improperly dispensed by well-meaning pet parents. In 2009, the ASPCA managed 7,680 cases involving animal-related preparations such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, heartworm preventatives, de-wormers, antibiotics, vaccines and nutritional supplements.


Last year, the ASPCA received 6,639 calls about pets who had accidentally ingested rat and mouse poisons. Many baits used to attract rodents contain inactive ingredients that are attractive to pets as well. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestions can lead to potentially life-threatening problems for pets including bleeding, seizures or kidney damage.

Household Cleaners

Everybody knows that household cleaning supplies can be toxic to adults and children, but few take precautions to protect their pets from common agents such as bleaches, detergents and disinfectants. Last year, the ASPCA received 4,143 calls related to household cleaners. These products, when inhaled by our furry friends, can cause serious gastrointestinal distress and irritation to the respiratory tract.

Heavy Metals

It’s not too much loud music that constitutes our next pet poison offender. Instead, it’s heavy metals such as lead, zinc and mercury, which accounted for 3,304 cases of pet poisonings in 2009. Lead is especially pernicious, and pets are exposed to it through many sources, including consumer products, paint chips, linoleum, and lead dust produced when surfaces in older homes are scraped or sanded.

Garden Products

It may keep your grass green, but certain types of fertilizer and garden products can cause problems for outdoor cats and dogs. Last year, the ASPCA fielded 2,329 calls related to fertilizer exposure, which can cause severe gastric upset and possibly gastrointestinal obstruction.

Chemical Hazards

In 2009, the ASPCA handled approximately 2,175 cases of pet exposure to chemical hazards. A category on the rise, chemical hazards—found in ethylene glycol antifreeze, paint thinner, drain cleaners and pool/spa chemicals—form a substantial danger to pets. Substances in this group can cause gastrointestinal upset, depression, respiratory difficulties and chemical burns.

Prevention is really key to avoiding accidental exposure, but if you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your veterinarian or the Animal Poison Control Center’s 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.

DIY Doggie Fleece Snuggle Blanket

The famous Snuggie™ can be found just about everywhere. It’s on TV, on the Web and at the checkout aisle of your local mega-mart. Then, the company introduced the Snuggie™ for Dogs. Now that’s available in almost every pet store. These blanket/robe hybrids have been “recreated” by other companies and spoofed by many an amateur filmmaker. So, maybe you’re getting a little sick of hearing about the phenomenal “blanket with sleeves.” I know I am.

A lot of dogs are not fond of wearing clothing. However, many dogs have no problem with getting dressed up, and the cold-natured dogs (like Greyhounds) actually need to cover up to stay warm. For these dogs, a garment like this could be ideal. Sure, you could go out and buy a boring blue or pink one. Or, you could make your very own, using fleece with a color or pattern that fits your dog. When About.com Family Crafts Guide Sherri Osborn showed me her instructional article, I knew I had to share it with all of you. With some inexpensive supplies and a very basic knowledge of sewing, you can make a snuggle blanket for your dog in an hour or two. This is a great project for the whole family!

FDA Health Alert: Do Not Use Certain Beef Dog Treats Distributed by Merrick Pet Care

The FDA Thursday warned consumers not to use Merrick Beef Filet Squares with a package date of “Best By 11/19/11,” because they may be contaminated with Salmonella.

The treats for dogs were distributed nationwide through retail stores and the Internet.

No illnesses associated with the treats have as yet been reported, but the FDA is advising people not to handle the or feed them to pets. Routine testing in December detected Salmonella. Another inspection found deficiencies in the packaging and manufacturing of the product.

The affected Merrick Beef Filet Squares were packaged in a 10-ounce green, red and tan resealable plastic bag. The “best by” date is imprinted on the top portion of the bag, which is torn off when the bag is opened. The FDA recommends that consumers who are unable to determine the “best by” date discontinue use of the product.

Consumers can report complaints about FDA-regulated pet food and pet treat products by calling the consumer complaint coordinator in their area. For consumer inquiries, phone 888-INFO-FDA. Please see this page for additional information on the warning and Salmonella.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Chesapeake Bay Retriever Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, or “Chessies,” are medium to large-sized working dogs with sturdy, athletic builds. These dogs are known for their intelligence, loyalty and strong desire to work. Though the Chessie was bred to be a hard-working retriever, the breed also makes a wonderful companion for the right owner. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is known as one of the hardest working retrievers and an excellent protector. The breed is also intensely loyal to its family. While happy, playful and energetic, this is no Labrador Retriever. Yet the Chessie is sometimes mistakenly considered a close relative of the Lab. This does not mean they are any less wonderful, but if you are expecting a “happy-go-lucky” dog that is kid-friendly and highly affectionate, you are not looking for a Chessie.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever originated in the area for which it was named. The breed was developed from two Newfoundland puppies that ended up in Maryland after a ship coming from Canada wrecked in 1807. Over time, the Newfies were bred with local retrievers as well as Flat-Coat and Curly-Coated Retrievers and English Otter Hounds. The Chessie was developed to retrieve ducks in the Chesapeake Bay’s rough, icy water.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever was registered by the AKC in 1878. The American Chesapeake Club, was founded in 1918. Chessies are still known today as excellent workers, but also loyal companions.

Many people think the Chessie is a variation or close relative of the Labrador Retriever. It is quite important to know that this is not the case. Both breeds are loyal, happy, playful and energetic retrievers, and both have Newfoundlands as ancestors, but the similarities tend to stop there. The Chessie is more the strong, silent type. This is also a dog with an instinct to protect loved ones. This breed will bond closely with its family, but may seem neutral around other people and dogs. The Chessie is also a strong-willed dog that may have its own agenda. This breed needs structure, discipline and a solid foundation of obedience training. In addition, Chessies need plenty of exercise, and thrive in environments where they have jobs to do. The use of a good dog training collar will be a big help instilling proper training in your Chessie


55-80 pounds


brown, deadgrass, sedge or ash

Health Problems:

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

The Chessie has a double coat that contains unique protective oils, making the coat highly water-resistant. The top coat is thick and coarse, while the undercoat is woolly. The Chessie sheds at a moderately high rate year round, but will blow its coat (shed excessively) seasonally. Routine basic grooming is important in order to keep the coat healthy and reduce shedding.

The is not the right breed for everyone, but in the right home will make an excellent companion. With proper training and socialization, the breed can get along with children, but a home with older kids will be a better fit. The Chessie will be your exercise partner, loyal guardian, diligent worker, reliable retriever and all-around top-notch family member.

Could this be the breed for you? While Chessies are not right for everyone, they make wonderful companions in the right homes (where all of their needs are met). That means plenty of training, lots of exercise and, ideally, a job to do. If you decide the Chessie is a good fit for you, you’ll find that the breed is a delightful addition to your home.  Are you the proud owner of a Chessie? Tell us all about it.