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4 Ways to Budget for Your Pet’s Health Care

As a dedicated pet owner who wants nothing but the best for your furry pal, you spend a lot on the fluffiest beds, tastiest treats, and premium foods. Supplies, bedding, food, treats, and toys quickly add up when you spoil your pet, but what about her health-care costs? Often more difficult to work into a budget, pet health care can come with unexpected expenses, such as when your pet succumbs to illness, injury, or a chronic disease. Routine medical care, like wellness exams, vaccinations, and parasite prevention, is easier to include in your budget, but unforeseen issues, such as kidney disease, heart failure, or cancer, can take a toll on your finances. Check out the following four ways to cover the cost of your pet’s routine health care, and unexpected medical conditions.

#1: Pet insurance

Pet health insurance is similar to human health insurance, but you must do your research before purchasing a plan, to ensure every aspect of care you need is covered. Some plans cover only emergency care, while others cover the entire realm of veterinary care, including wellness visits, prescriptions, preventive care, and hereditary conditions. If you have your heart set on a breed prone to illness and disease, a comprehensive insurance policy is an excellent idea. For example, we love golden retrievers, but they seem to develop a wide variety of diseases, such as orthopedic issues, allergies, and cancers. Pet insurance can help shoulder veterinary care costs, and help ensure you never have to make the difficult choice between finances and top-of-the-line care for your beloved companion. 

When choosing a pet insurance policy, compare each company’s features to find the right fit for your pet, including:

  • Monthly premium
  • Annual deductible
  • Co-pays
  • Reimbursement schedule
  • Breed, health, or pre-existing conditions that are excluded
  • Amount of coverage, such as emergency only, or comprehensive
  • Company record and reviews

#2: Pet-health savings account

While you may have accounts set aside for household emergencies or your own health care, what about a savings account for your pet’s care? Opt for a high-interest savings account that you contribute to regularly, and use only for emergencies or specialist care. Ideally, you will have a general idea of your pet’s annual routine wellness-care costs and can budget appropriately, but an injury, acute illness, or unexpected disease diagnosis can throw your careful budgeting off-course. In such times, you can draw on your pet health savings account to cover unforeseen expenses.

#3: Nonprofit assistance groups

Regardless of your pet’s breed, condition, or need, a nonprofit organization is likely available to help shoulder the burden of costly chronic illness care. Some groups are designed for emergency care and can immediately help, while others are fundraising organizations that will work to procure funds for you. For example, the Magic Bullet Fund provides financial assistance for dogs and cats with cancer. However, this is not an emergency fundraising group, and may take up to two months to grant you financial aid.

If your pet suffers from an emergency situation, and you need financial assistance more immediately, a variety of organizations are designed to help with veterinary care costs. Organizations donate to a pet’s care based on qualifying criteria, such as location, species, breed, disease or condition, or type of treatment needed. For a list of current nonprofit organizations that may help with your pet’s cancer treatment costs, or sometimes general care, search through this list from the Magic Bullet Fund.

#4: Credit cards or loans

As a last resort, you can turn to pet health credit cards or loans, but their interest rates can be high, unless you pay off the balance during the free-financing period. CareCredit and Wells Fargo Health Advantage are two credit card options that can be used at participating veterinary clinics, and your own dentist, optometrist, or physician. Contact us for more information about veterinary care credit card options. 

You can apply for a line of credit through your bank, or turn to personal loans online through lenders such as SoFi, LendingClub, or Monevo. Personal loan criteria may make eligibility difficult, and interest rates and monthly payments can be high. 

If your beloved pet has been diagnosed with cancer, call us to discuss treatment options or to schedule an appointment.

5 Ways to Brush Up On Dental Care for Your Pet

It’s no secret that pets’ mouths are loaded with bacteria, but all that bacteria can contribute to more than stinky breath. After each meal, plaque and oral bacteria form a sticky film on your pet’s teeth that can turn into rock-solid tartar in only a few days, if not removed. Once accumulated, tartar is difficult to remove without a thorough deep cleaning at the hands of our skilled team. Prevent bacteria-laden plaque and tartar from building up on your pet’s teeth and causing dental disease by battling oral bacteria the following five ways.

#1: Establish a toothbrushing routine for your pet

Like people, pets should have their teeth brushed daily, since plaque is highly opportunistic and forms quickly. A daily scrubbing will remove most of the plaque before it can turn into rock-hard tartar, although toothbrushes cannot clean below the gumline. But, a regular toothbrushing routine will give your pet the best chance for continued dental health by removing as much bacteria as possible. 

Start slowly to accustom your furry friend to such a weird object as a toothbrush, beginning by using your finger to introduce toothbrushing. Choose a tasty beef-, chicken-, or seafood-flavored, pet-friendly toothpaste, squeeze a dollop on your finger, and offer it to your pet to lick. Once she realizes the stuff isn’t so bad, you can wipe your finger along her teeth, ensuring that you spread a generous layer of tasty toothpaste as a reward. Next, follow the same steps, but replace your finger with a toothbrush. Soon, your pet will realize that the toothbrush brings delicious rewards, in the form of tasty toothpaste and a healthy, pain-free mouth.

#2: Check your pet’s mouth regularly for dental disease signs

If you do not realize your pet has a problem, you cannot get her the dental help she needs. You can easily evaluate your furry pal’s oral health during your toothbrushing sessions, or your favorite TV show commercials. Simply lift your pet’s lip, reach all the way to the back molars, and look for these dental-disease signs:

  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Yellow or brown tartar accumulation on her teeth
  • Broken, cracked, missing, or loose teeth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Bad breath
  • Receding gums
  • Masses around the teeth or gums, or on the tongue
  • Pus

Occasionally, your pet may display behavioral changes when suffering from periodontal problems. You may notice:

  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Sensitivity when touched around the head
  • Dropping food when eating
  • Chewing on one side of the mouth
  • Acting hungry, but not wanting to chew hard food

Since pets are amazing at hiding illness or pain, ensure that you take the time to personally check for dental-disease signs, instead of waiting to notice changes in your pet’s behavior.

#3: Choose the best dental-health products available for your pet

While many dental products slow plaque and tartar accumulation, not all live up to their claims. Do not waste money on trial-and-error, searching for dental products that live up to their claim. Choose products from the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s (VOHC) list of approved dental products, which are proven by data and research to meet preset oral health-care standards for pets. Before purchasing dental treats, chews, diets, oral rinses, wipes, or additives, check for the VOHC seal of approval.

#4: Schedule routine dental-wellness exams

No matter how hard you try, sometimes your pet simply will not let you look deep inside her mouth. If your furry friend is less than cooperative, call in professional help. Our skilled team has tips and tricks to search for periodontal problems in the most reluctant of pets, which allows us to spot issues that need addressing. Of course, we perform a full dental exam during your pet’s normal wellness visit, but twice-yearly dental exams help us stay on top of disease progression and treat problems at their earliest stage.

#5: Schedule a professional dental cleaning to deep clean your pet’s mouth

Despite your daily toothbrushing sessions, your pet still can trap oral bacteria under her gumline, leading to hidden periodontal problems. Nothing thoroughly cleans your pet’s mouth better than a professional dental cleaning. During a cleaning at our hospital, your furry pal is safely anesthetized, which allows us to clean below the gumline without worrying about your pet moving and injuring herself, or our team. Without anesthesia, we also can’t take dental X-rays, since pets will not stay still enough. Dental X-rays allow us to spot hidden problems that can be a source of pain and infection, and we can treat those problems while your pet is comfortably unaware under anesthesia.

Are you ready to enjoy minty fresh breath and a pearly white smile from your pet? Give us a call to schedule your furry friend’s dental cleaning.

4 Ways to Keep your Pet Safe This Winter

Winter is hard for everyone, but especially for pet owners, who have to brave the cold and the dark to let their furry companion use the bathroom and get a little exercise. Hidden hazards exist underneath the snow and in unexpected places, so we’ve put together a list of four ways to keep your pet safe this winter.

#1: Keep safety in mind when walking with your pet

Walks are a necessity for most dogs, and that doesn’t change during the winter months. Northern Midwest areas like Peoria routinely experience below-freezing weather and snow accumulation, which can make routine walks and potty breaks dangerous. Not only can snow hide sharp ice and foreign materials that can cut tender feet, ice melt products can be toxic to pets who lick it off their paws.

To keep your pup’s paws safe from ice and other hazards, consider buying booties, like these from Ruffwear. Most dogs aren’t accustomed to wearing booties, so start with short sessions, putting a bootie on only one foot to get your pup accustomed to her feet being handled and covered, and use positive reinforcement, rewarding her with small pieces of kibble or carrot, which do not have many calories. Gradually put booties on all four feet and increase the time your pet wears them, until she works up to wearing them on her daily walk. 

Whether or not your pet accepts the booties, stick to leash walks on well-maintained streets and sidewalks to avoid sharp objects hidden underneath the snow. After returning home, wipe off her feet with a damp cloth, or rinse her off in the bathtub to remove any trace of salt or ice-melt chemicals. 

#2: Keep your pet fashionably warm

We would never go for a walk in the dead of winter without bundling up, and our pets may also need an extra layer. Short-haired, young, elderly, or sick animals need extra protection against the elements, and many options and fashion choices are available. This collection from Chewy offers a wide range of sweaters, rain jackets, and (fake) fur-lined parkas. Ensure that your pet’s new coat doesn’t fit too tightly, as it could restrict her breathing, or loosely enough that she can trip over it.  

#3: Don’t forget safety measures for pets inside the home

Safety considerations must extend to inside your home. The spot in front of the fireplace or wood stove can be a cozy place to nap, but take care to ensure that stray embers or sparks can’t escape and singe fur, or start a fire. If you use a space heater, ensure it shuts off if a family member, or your pet, tips it over, to avoid an accidental fire. You may be tempted to put a heating pad on your pet’s bed for extra warmth, but electric heating devices can malfunction and burn your pet.

#4: Slip-slidin’ away—take care to ensure your pet—or you—do not slip on ice or stairs

Many backyards are accessed by going down stairs, and snow, freeze-and-thaw cycles, and ice storms can create dangerous conditions. Elderly, arthritic pets are especially at risk of slipping and falling on wet or icy steps. Before you let your pup out to use her favorite bathroom spot, shovel the snow from the steps, and make a path for your pet to follow when the need arises. If conditions are particularly bad, consider carrying your pet up and down the steps until the ice can be removed. Use only pet-friendly ice melt, and wipe off her feet in the house to avoid accidental ingestion.

Winter weather is part of life in Illinois, and special considerations must be taken to keep our pets safe. If you have questions regarding your pet’s safety this winter, contact one of our conveniently located clinics, where one of our knowledgeable team members will be happy to help.

He Ate What? Keeping Your Pet Safe During the Holidays

The holiday season is the perfect time to spend with friends and family, but travel and holiday obligations can make the season particularly hectic. Between shopping, wrapping, baking, visiting family and friends, and holiday parties, our days and nights tend to stay chaotic, which means we may have less time for our four-legged family members. 

Your pets won’t mind—in fact, they may prefer to stay out of the fray. They’ll probably make themselves useful as furry vacuum cleaners, picking up any dropped holiday goodies, which leads to the importance of keeping your pet safe from hazards this holiday season. 

The holidays are busy for you, but they can be particularly busy for veterinary and animal emergency clinics. One of the most common problems they see, particularly in dogs, is called “dietary indiscretion,” which goes along with all the holiday feasting and rich foods. 

Dietary indiscretion refers to pets consuming food and non-food items they are not supposed to eat, from heavy holiday foods, to ribbons and bows on packages, to tree ornaments.  Temptations are everywhere, and they all affect pets differently. 

Festive food can spell trouble for pets

Pets typically eat the same meal day in and day out and, hopefully, seldom eat human food; during the holidays, however, we celebrate with heavy, rich foods that are often toxic to pets. Because the holidays are a time for giving, we often want to share these meals with our pets, but your table scraps, Aunt Linda’s table scraps, and your nephews’ unwanted buttery brussels sprouts can cause nothing but trouble for your pet.

Such dietary changes can lead to gastroenteritis (i.e., inflammation of the stomach and intestines) in your pet. The first signs are vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.

In worst-case scenarios, pets who consume rich or fatty table scraps may develop pancreatitis, a severe medical condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas has two important rolessecreting (1) digestive enzymes so that food can be digested and (2) insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, digestive enzymes are prematurely released internally, and they may digest the pancreatic tissue which, in turn, can lead to further pancreatic inflammation that can affect the adjacent liver tissue. Severe inflammation can affect the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin and result in temporary or permanent diabetes.

Avoid holiday gastroenteritis or pancreatitis in your pet by withholding table scraps altogether, and asking guests to do the same. We know this can be difficult, especially at the holidays, when we want everything to be magical, including for our pets.

So, instead of table scraps, prepare your pet’s own holiday meal beforehand. Focus on the least fatty foods, such as white meat, plain or uncooked green beans or carrots, and boiled potatoes before you load them with butter and cream. Also, avoid foods laden with onions or garlic, which can be toxic to pets in high doses. 

Consider baking a special treat for your pet this holiday season, such as these biscuits from Chow Hounds by Ernie Ward, DVM:

Sweet potato biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 1 large cooked sweet potato
  • 1 banana
  • ½  cup quinoa flour
  • ½ tbsp vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. In a medium-size bowl, mix the sweet potato and banana until well-blended.
  3. Add the vegetable oil.
  4. Mix in the quinoa flour.
  5. Place teaspoonfuls of the dough on a nonstick baking sheet, lightly flattening each cookie.
  6. Bake 30 minutes. 

Makes about four dozen biscuits.

These biscuits are low in calories, so you can also give them to guests who want to treat your pet.

Holiday decor can spell danger for pets

The holidays are full of temptations for pets, from toys stuffing stockings or under the tree, and shiny  ribbons, bows, and ornaments. Unfortunately, many pets can’t resist these snacks, which puts them at risk of developing life-threatening intestinal obstructions. 

Cats are particularly prone to ingesting yarn, ribbons, and tinsel, which may be thin, but they can still cause  linear foreign-body obstructions when one end of the ribbon or string becomes lodged in the intestinal tract. The intestine attempts to move through the rest of the string, which bunches around the end that is stuck. This can damage the delicate intestinal tissues and lead to a life-threatening intestinal rupture.

We know the last thing you want over the holidays is a pet with gastroenteritis, or worse, whom you have to take to the emergency clinic, so follow our advice and keep festive foods and decorating items away from pets. 

Happy holidays from the Peoria Area Veterinary Group team—we look forward to seeing you and your pet in the New Year.