Ever wonder about health insurance for pets? It is a real eye opener when you have an emergency fracture repair for your pup or colic surgery for your beloved equine. Even worse is the situation where you just don’t have the resources even if you do have a credit card.  Spending $7000 on a colic surgery or $4000 for cancer chemotherapy does not even guarantee a cure. None of us like to be in this difficult situation.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is for everyone involved when my client comes to me after having spent thousands on their credit card for conventional care and then they now are seeking alternative care when the budget is already spent for their pet.

Let’s just take a look at the cost of pet ownership. With very good luck, your expenditure can look like a spike in the initial year and then level off  for a good many years. Most people think about the cost of spaying or neutering the first year, but there are many other initial costs. For example, blood screening for Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Feline Bartonella, will be $75.00 and the vaccinations will cost about $150 alone, and add to that a minimum of 3 vet visits, deworming, and fecal exam, and you have spent over $300 for the FREE kitten before the Ovariohysterectomy ( spay) operation! Ok, so the initial investment is spent so there’s nothing but shots every year or three right?? Well maybe….

My concern as a veterinarian who has many, many senior citizen pets is that most of my clients are not prepared for that end of life spike in health care costs for their animals. If we could look at them as old people, we’d better understand that their conditions creep up on them as they age and that monitoring and treatment of health conditions can and really should be done before the end of life. Restated, end –of-life care should begin with the first geriatric visit. That would be about age 8 for most dogs and age 10 for most cats. If only we had Medicare for pets! There are many pet health insurance companies and I do encourage owners to check out these options.

Do you know that cancer is the cause of death in half of geriatric dogs? Feline hyperthyroidism affects 10% of senior cats and renal failure affects over 30% of cats over age 15. How can we avoid the surprises and huge cost of caring for a senior pet?

1)      Annual health exams. These give an opportunity to address concerns and behavioral changes that can tip off the doctor to a problem area. Many early problems can be slowed or reversed with proper care. After all, think of it this way- it’s only every seven years in “dog years”!

2)      Senior blood testing. Problems can be detected and pinpointed with blood screening tests, just like your doctor does for you. Even the peace of mind of having a normal blood test is worth something!

3)      Good nutrition. You are what you eat, in a real and physiologic way! This applies to our animals as well. Adding a variety of fresh foods and probiotics will keep the immune system in good working order. A lifetime of dry kibble may allow survival but it stresses internal organs and slowly poisons the body with carcinogens, GMO grains, and aflatoxins. My daughter asked me, “Mom, how can the average person afford to feed their dog a fresh food diet?” My answer was, “You pay now or pay later.” She got it.

4)      Biannual fecal exams. Like it or not, parasites play a major role in draining optimal health. Cats hunt and dogs eat from the litter box. No matter how we doll them up, they still love to eat the weirdest things. Even drinking from a stream or puddle or eating rabbit droppings can be a source of chronic giardiasis. Chronic digestive problems and a human health risk ensues but these are easy to treat.

5)      Seek professional help from a vet with a holistic mindset who can suggest life quality ideas for you before your animal gets into serious trouble. Keep in mind subtle clues to health problems that are treatable: Decreased desire to play, occasional vomiting, bed wetting, change in voice or temperament, poor haircoat. On many occasions, after an acupuncture treatment series an old dog will start playing with toys it had not touched in years. Remember how it feels to recover from the flu, and then suddenly one day, you get your energy back? You didn’t know how sick you were till you were well!

Start a pet health savings account for the emergencies and end of life care. Refuse to accept “he’s just old” as a diagnosis. How would you feel if your doctor said that? You’d probably seek a new doctor! You can always use any leftover funds from the PHSA for your next adoption should you not use them!

Quality of life is about going for a walk without pain, not having to take bad tasting medications, joyfully diving into the food bowl! Having the opportunity to celebrate the golden years with our beloved companions, we celebrate that their lives are shorter than our own yet, ironically, we gain priceless therapy from their time with us.