Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

How Much is that Doggy in the Window…

….going to shed, bark, run, eat, need to see the vet… and the list continues! 

 

I have had the great pleasure of meeting many different breeds in my career (I am referencing dogs mostly as I see fewer purebred cats and most get lumped as a domestic short, medium, or long-haired cat). I have also had the pleasure of sharing my life and home with a number of different breeds. I have also seen the disastrous ending to a relationship when the breed of dog was not considered or researched.

Thinking of adding a puppy or dog….Research the Breed

There are so many breeds available to choose from. We humans have manipulated our canine companions into extremes of small or large, furry or hairless, flat faced or long-nosed, friendly or fierce. I certainly have breeds I would love to invite into my life and plenty that I will pass on. Yet all these breeds were created for someone’s purpose or desires!

AKC Breed Poster Guide to Purebred dogs.jpg
So MANY options!

I have Brody, my lovable aging Lab, whose sole motivation in life is eating! Left to his own devices he would have every one of cupboards empty and be on the canine version of my “800 Pound Life”. Labs as a breed LOVE food! Then there is Ripp, our newest very active addition. Guess what he wants to herd….the goat…the chickens…sheep…cows and he has the energy to do it 24 hours a day! Some things are just in that dog’s DNA!

Yet so many times I have seen a family fall in love with an adorable puppy or a sweet faced rescue with no idea of its genetic history.  Just like us people there is a bell-shaped curve and there will be extremes on either end (ie the lazy Collie). Yet, I have seen the case where the family adds a Border Collie to the family, yet works from the home 12 hours a day and can’t understand why the dog has developed anxiety and hyperactivity. That adorable little terrier was bred to work. Many are tenacious active little creatures that need time, attention, and exercise.

We are all drawn to certain breeds for our own reasons… a childhood memory, positive experiences in the past, a certain purpose in our life. But there are definitely some less desirable reasons to want a certain breed. I have made the mistake of buying a pair of shoes based on their adorable appearance and coordination to my outfit, only to find them to be the most uncomfortable shoes in the world, deeming me completely unsound and pained. Those shoes, as adorable as they may have been, quickly got tossed to the back of the closet, forgotten and discarded. And so when we make a decision about adding a puppy based on appearance, only to find they “don’t fit”, what happens to that living creature when it gets tossed aside?

What one loves the next may hate! I love Newfoundlands, their goofy immaturity, super furry faces that I can bury my hands into, and slobber…glorious slimy, stick-to-the-ceiling slobber. But they are not for everyone I know.  So don’t get a Newfoundland if you only want to spend $50 a year at the vet and are a neat freak that hates pet hair and slime.

So as a vet here are my recommendations when researching a breed:

  1. What is your lifestyle today and in the future? Your pet may live 10-15 years so if you plan to move to a townhouse in 5 years when you retire that may effect your choices.
  2. Do you want a family dog? If you don’t have kids now consider if you might. Many breeds are great with kids, but some may need extra socialization and experience to be OK with kiddos.
  3. Hair…so many dogs are picked based on hair. I have even had people tell me there distinctly X breed couldn’t possible be because they were promised a low maintenance, non-shedding breed. Every dog sheds unless they are hairless (that is an option). You may or may not want to base your preference on how much you like hair (but don’t be fooled thinking you won’t have any hair in your life) and how much you want to deal with hair…grooming it, cleaning it…brushing it!
  4. Looks matter but remember it is just like dating…looks aren’t everything! Ya, some dogs look awesome…Belgian Mallinois… Cane Corso…Great Dane…but they certainly aren’t a breed for every lifestyle.
  5. Little is cute but little can bring problems…teacup and designer are often beyond adorable but being so small can bring its own health challenges.
  6. Designer breeds….this could be a blog post on its own. I meet so many great mixed breed dogs but realize they aren’t a breed so there can be inconsistencies between even litter mates let alone all the various -poos and -oodles. My own mixed breed sometimes seems confused if she should be this breed or that breed. Mixed breeds are great but they may still have tendencies based on their parental breeds.
Spreadshirt Mutt t-shirt
Spreadshirt.com T-shirt- Throwing some love to the Mutts!

I love dogs because we have so much variety and choice…how human of us to design creatures to fit our own needs and whims. But with that ability brings a responsibility to breed healthy, emotional and physiologically fit individuals. As owners of these dogs it is our responsibility to be responsible in meeting their unique needs and concerns.  As a veterinarian, I ask that if you choose a certain breed please educate yourself regarding the possible health concerns that may arise in your pet’s life.

So what are your favorite breeds? I have so many I adore that I  may not have enough years in my life to have them all but I get to enjoy them in my work so that is second best.

Here is a fun quiz to look into what breed may suite you? Dog Breed Selector Quiz

 

 

 

Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

The Worst

Even though you prepare for the worst outcome, can you really ever be prepared. I feel like I jinxed it or cursed her recovery by sharing enthusiasm in her progress. Abby was doing so well and just like that nature reminds us we have no control, no cure. She started seizuring last night and the difficult decision to let her go was made this morning.

 

IMG_1137 Abby

“Miss me but let me go, for this is the journey we all must take and each must go alone. It’s all part of the Master’s Plan, a step on the road to home.”

 

 

Goodbye sweet little dog….

 

“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”

 

IMG_1134 Abby

 

How blessed we are to share our lives with these creatures that don’t speak our words yet can so powerfully bond with us, forever capturing a piece of our hearts.

 

IMG_1133 Abby

Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

Preparing for the Worst, Hoping for the Best…Making Tough Decisions in Patient Care

I heard the cries and screaming vocalization in the background with my own mother’s voice on the phone saying

“Abby’s in real pain. I can’t even touch her without her biting. What should I do?”

There is always a desperation in the call for help but when it is your own mother you can hear the unspoken words, the anguish in seeing her beloved little dog so painful she would bite in opposition to handling.

Abby is a senior Dachshund and had fallen from the couch earlier that week and had been a bit sore. I recommended some pain meds and rest. With a Dachshund it is always their back until proven otherwise. I had years before stood on the other side of the exam table with their other Dachshund, Harley, when he had back pain secondary to intervertebral disc disease, and progressive paralysis.  There comes a point in this disease when it progresses fast enough or far enough that surgery or a humane goodbye become the two options.

I saw the bottle of euthanasia out of the corner of my eye while we discussed the options. My father hadn’t handled it well and was reliving goodbyes from years ago and was essentially distant from any reasonable discussion and my mother held the weight of the decision on her shoulders. While Harley’s body was failing him his brain was very much intact and aware of his distraught owners. They had elected to drive all night for imaging and surgery. Harley walked again but now how has neurologic deficits and was never 100% normal again. Now it was Abby, their other Dachshund. They had been down this heartbreaking and difficult road before.

“I knew the discussion would come…wait and see, referral for imaging and surgery…or euthanasia.”

It was decided that we could try what we could here but the option of referral and surgery just wouldn’t be available. Abby had been on a variety of pain medications including a Fentanyl patch but nothing was touching her pain. She was even sedated for radiographs and bit me as I was trying to touch her. The happy little dog at your feet just waiting for a crumb to drop had transformed into a screaming painful feral creature.

“Her radiographs showed intervertebral disc disease.”

We breed these lovable little dogs for their long backs but with that comes the risk of instability of the discs between the vertebrae. They can bulge and burst, pushing on the spine or nerves, causing unbearable pain or even complete paralysis.

IMG_0427 Abby
Abby’s acupuncture treatment

I started a morphine/lidocaine/ketamine continuous rate infusion and intermittently just sedated her to facilitate her pain. I brought her home and kept her by my bed in a tote. The Kiddo peeked into the tote and with concerned eyes asked if she would need to go to puppy heaven. My heart ached.

It had been two days and I couldn’t touch her without the screaming and biting and she had progressed with motor loss on her left hind. The bulging vertebral disc was pushing on spinal nerves and her spinal cord, causing pain and loss of function. First it is conscious proprioception…knowing where your feet are…then paralysis…then superficial pain…and then at the end there is no pain sensation left at all.

We made the decision to pick up the  “supplies” that would be needed to end it all…the strong sedation and thick blue syrup that would stop all her earthly pain, but open up a pain for those that knew and loved her.

“With our animal companions, I have seen the struggle to know “when”. Do we allow a day’s worth of suffering so they may enjoy a lifetime without? Do we allow no suffering at all?”

It is emotionally tasking to watch pain in an animal knowing they can’t communicate if it is all too much or they are willing to keep going. I had stopped her MLK drip, continuing her other pain meds,  with the decision that if she couldn’t maintain comfort without it, it was unfair to continue.

I continued her therapy exercises, hoping and praying those little neural pathways would be stimulated, that the unstable disc would stop its pathway to paralysis. I stimulated her toes, did bicycle motions, stretches, massages, even took a electric toothbrush to her toes to stimulate her nervous system.

 

With clients there are lots of words and discussion, the knowing when, the hows, the questions. With my own family I found it harder to find the words. When someone has know you your entire life, they can read your face, your ticks, your eyes, and hear the words unsaid. So much of the discussion wasn’t a discussion at all but a knowing. I wanted to make the right decision for Abby.

The bag of “supplies” lie on my vehicle’s floor board and as we drove home my mind spun, dreading the moment, trying to push the details out of my mind. I felt frustrated that it had come to this. Should I have ended the pain sooner? Should I hold on for a miracle?

I peeked into the tote and Abby was bright, alert, more upbeat than I had seen her. The test would be could I pick her up without the screaming. I could and she even wanted to eat something. Could 5 hours have brought a miracle, a turning point? I knew the drugs would affect her and cause her to be dysphoric but I hadn’t expected her pain to be controlled without them.

I texted an update and said let’s give her more time. Thru the weekend she was able to start moving, placing her left hind leg that previously was worthless. I did her sessions at least 3 times a day…stretching, massaging, stimulating, hoping. A new day came and her appetite improved, her attitude improved, her function improved. Had the suffering she endured been worth it to get to this point?

IMG_1048 Abby
Doggles eye protection for laser therapy
IMG_1052 Abby
Laser therapy

We added acupuncture and continued laser treatments and she went home with my parents yesterday. Is she out of the clear…I don’t know. Will she ever be 100% normal…I don’t know. She has chronic changes that will probably always be a risk…and lead to a relapse. But at least we have hope, though prepared for what may be.

“How do we define the end? We all share so much earthly emotional and physical suffering that we want none of it for our animal companions.”

Was her suffering selfish? Maybe. Was her suffering worth it if she can recover to enjoy another day? I look back and say yes now.

This isn’t the first time I was disheartened, preparing for the worst, wondering if we humans were selfishly keeping a patient alive for our own purposes, only to be amazed at the recovery that can be made. I have literally had the euthanasia solution in hand walking to the exam room when the owner cried out the door “He tried to walk!!!” The paralyzed HBC (hit by car) dog had pulled himself to his unsteady feet after no improvement while hospitalized and there were simply no more financial resources to continue the effort. He made that first step and didn’t look back making a near full recovery. As a new vet it was a powerful lesson about making that decision for our pets which we do from a place of love and concern for their suffering, but sometimes they decide it just isn’t time and want to keep fighting. I am forever amazed at the healing and recovery possible.

“As a veterinarian, the struggle comes with trying to predict that recovery, only having the info available at that moment, with no magic ball to guide decisions.”

*Update on Abby. She had some regressions with her rehab and became a somewhat difficult patient. She has since been staying with me to continue her exercises and monitor her recovery. She is still periodically weak in the back end and mis-steps occasional. While she may never be 100%, we are hopefully she will recover to enjoy more quality time, with her pain controlled. Her spirit is definitely back.

 

Pet Care, Ranch Life

Thinking of a Pet Goat…here is why you need one!

The kiddo and I begged and begged for a goat and scoured every classified hoping to find the “one”! Seeing little utilitarian purpose for such a creature on a ranch,  the Hubby quickly and repeatedly said “No!” The Kiddo and I knew our agenda for acquiring a goat would be challenging but not impossible.


Last fall Kiddo and Hubby headed to the neighboring town to sell our lambs. They sat in the stands watching the animals go thru the sales ring. A group of good looking goats had just gone thru the ring. Then the door re-opened and in walked a little, friendly goat, matched in appearance, dark brown with black points, but half the size of the goats before her. Brad tells the story of how he saw this little goat and then and there told himself “Well, we are going home with a goat today.” He blames his “Dad Heart”.

So up went the hands as the little goat followed the ringman, bleating for attention,. Clearly she was a former bottle baby, well accustomed to people. Another person started bidding against the Kiddo and the auctioneer stopped the bidding saying “Sorry folks, this little goat is going home with that young gentleman.” At that moment, for just $30 the Kiddo acquired himself a goat.

I received the text picture with the beaming Kiddo and the Dad who clearly had thought with his heart and not his brain. The sales slip generally had a buyer number but for this little goat, the buyer number simply had my Kiddo’s name listed as the “Buyer Number”.


She has quickly become very bonded with her little person and it seems she is all our former dogs reincarnated in goat form, running with the 4-wheeler to the pastures and serving as the boys yard companion. The neighbor just chuckled, saying “Your dogs would be pissed if they knew they got replaced by a goat.”  Ella, became her name because she looked like an Eland African animal though Ella is actually an Oberhasli dairy goat. 

She is comfortable to stay in the corral, bothering the heifers or visiting the horses, until she hears her boy outside. Ella then comes running to join in his adventures.


So here are our top reasons we have and kept a goat!

  • No need to water flowers because you won’t have any. Flowers and other wonderful greenery are like salad containers for goats and what hasn’t eaten she simply ripped out roots and all.
  • Delivery man are just about as taken aback by a goat running to their truck as a barking guard dog. She assaults the delivery trucks and men with over enthusiastic greetings and nosing for granola bars they had mistakingly shared before. We have to lock her up when the Schwan’s man comes as she tries to steal his food items as he removes them from the truck.
  • Goat antics! Nothing like watching our little Ella buck and run around the yard, though I would prefer if she didn’t use our patio table as a launching pad. She can be a regular “Butthead” as the Kiddo says.


  • When the dogs have enough sense to not follow the Kiddo as he makes his 100th lap around the farm yard, she is a faithful side kick. Where the boy goes, the goat follows.

  • Maybe someday she will be the pet that gives back with milk. The hubby vows one goat is enough but the Kiddo and I have plans…shh! We may have to turn his “Dad Heart” back on for the possibility of Ella babies.
  • Fencing is only a suggestion! If nothing grabs her attentions Ella is content to follow our suggestions of where she should stay. But she generally goes when and where she pleases. Last night she slept by our open window instead of in the barn or shelter that were her other options. The Hubby immediately knew the look that had crossed my face and replied “No she can’t stay in the house at night. She is a goat!”.

  • You will finally kick your selfie habit! Ella has horns and I wish she didn’t but don’t have the heart to remove them now. That means that any close hugs near her face results in your face being in very close proximity to two very pointed and hard horns….that hurt even with mild contact. So no selfies…it isn’t worth the risk of facial trauma!


Capricious means “given to whimsy, sometimes erratic” and derives from the word “caprine”. Caprine means goat! So there you have it…goats are these little whimsical, erratic creatures that do things on their own terms. Either you love ’em or you find ’em a giant pain in the rump!

Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

Pet Dental Care: Why the Resistance?

Pet dental care is so much more than white teeth and great smelling breath. 85% of dogs over the age of 3 will have some degree of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease not only leads to unsightly tarter and bad breath, but causes infection, bone loss, and chronic pain when left untreated.

Dental disease is one of the most common diagnoses in the exam room yet brushing and regular maintenance is hard. For puppies and kittens, we send home dental kits with the hopes of acclimating them to a lifetime of brushing and at-home dental care. We hope for regular, routine dental care throughout the pet’s lifetime with the intention of avoiding infection and pain and that one monumental dental experience as a senior pet where a lifetime of inattention results in dental extractions.

Adult-dogs-infogprahic dental

How do we define neglect? What if I showed you this picture of a dog’s mouth and told you she was a puppy mill survivor forced to have a litter every year, living in a tiny cage with matted fur, with no dental care (not even a dental treat in her lifetime). Is this neglect?

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Pom puppy mill

Now what if I told you these were the teeth of a very beloved 10 year old Pomeranian who lived in the lap of luxury with a well tended hair coat and wardrobe accessories. She had complete adoration and attention to all of her medical needs….except dental care. What if I told you while her owner loved her very much it was that very love that prevented her from tending to her pet’s dental issues? What if I told you her person’s fear of anesthesia forced her to live with chronic pain, infection, and rotting bone. Is it neglect now? (*For the record, this is not a client photo but some random internet PetMD image).

Pom happy

There are many resistances to pet dental care. I believe strongly in the benefit of routine dental care. I have heard too many testimonials to not believe it matters to our pets quality of life. If we wait until our pets have stopped eating or cry in pain, we have simply waited too long. Remember these are animals that survive because of their ability to withstand pain and disease without drawing attention.

Your coworker may complain of a tooth abscess but still eat his lunch and show up at work day after day, just dealing with the chronic pain until one day that infection becomes so bad he lands himself at the ER with injectable antibiotics. Our pets are no different at hiding that pain.

Common Points of Resistance to Dental Care

Fear of anesthesia.

I love my pets and have those same feelings of concern and fear but I know the benefits will out way the risks. I also know that all precautions including a balanced anesthetic approach, careful and detailed monitoring with a designated trained technician, IV fluid support, thermal support, and pain control will be part of the anesthesia event to minimize risks.  I can’t take away the fear… as your veterinarian I can only assure you that we do everything in our power to minimize the risks to hopefully relieve your fears. Many owners may have had a terrible experience a decade ago. We are always striving to improve your pet’s anesthetic experience, using the newest research and medications to allow the best experience possible.

The cost.

Truth. Pet dental are is expensive, especially if we are undoing years of inattention. Personally we cap our dental estimates because we believe very strongly that the pets NEED this service. It is unfair to leave behind painful or infected teeth and wish to reward the owner taking the steps to care for their pet.

Too Young or Too Old.

I always got a little squeamish when I saw the 14 year old dog with a mouth of pus, mobile teeth, and a risk of a jaw fracture secondary to that infection knowing I needed to say the words, “Your pets needs a comprehensive dental assessment and treatment”.  It all felt like too much too late.

There were probably many years of dental recommendations and now the teeth were in desperate need of attention. Or if they new clients to us they may have heard for 5 years “Their pet was simply too old for anesthesia or dental care.” But then I treated the 12 year old dog, and then the 14 year old dog, and then the 15 year old dog or the 16 year old cat and I couldn’t deny how much better they felt afterwards.  Owners would report “I had no idea but now they feel like a puppy or kitten again!”  My oldest dental patients are usually 15-16 years of age and I love the reports of how much better life is after. “Where there risks?” “Yes” but they were calculated in the hopes the benefits would outweigh them. Does quality of life matter more than quantity?

Save all the teeth! Fear of tooth loss.

My job as your pet’s veterinarian is simple…to give him a pain free, disease free mouth so it is a disservice to leave any compromised or infected teeth behind just to “save a tooth”. The reality is these teeth are worthless and most pets eat better without them. Also pets use their teeth very differently than we do. They have fewer molars and don’t do a lot of “grinding” and since we don’t make them hunt for their food, many don’t slow down a bit with eating or playing even when we take every single tooth. For those worried about how their pet could possibly eat without the teeth, many actually eat much better without mobile or painful infected teeth.

But do they really need it or is this just some great upsale?

I am not a sales person but I do have a passion for dental care. There are too many times to count when a tooth “looked” just fine and the pet didn’t complain only to find a problem and have the pet feel so much better. I tell clients “Our pets can’t tell us where it hurts so it is my job is to find the problem and fix it.” An exam under anesthesia and with dental radiographs tells the story. Just like eat food and brush everyday we are still advised to have our teeth cleaned regularly. Relying on just eating a kibble or dental chews is often not enough.

Some breeds are very prone to developing dental disease (smushy faced breeds, smaller or toy breeds, those with crowding). Researching the breed and preparing for the dental care necessary in the pet’ s lifetime is big step in responsible pet ownership.

So here is my big secret…I don’t brush everyone of my pet’s teeth every SINGLE day. I barely get my kids to brush the necessary times per day. I try! Regular dental assessments, cleanings, and appropriate treatment are a priority though. We are all human, just doing the best we can for those we love and care about, including our pets!

If your pet has had a dental treatment recommended and you have stalled, resisted, or just ignored the recommendation I urge you to really think about the reason why. As a veterinarian, it is my job to help pets and their owners enjoy a great quality of life and effective communication must be part of the equation. Don’t hide those fears or concerns! Tell us and we may have ideas or solutions to those hurdles holding you back from getting those teeth the attention they need. 

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Source: Making the Case for Dentistry. Paul Q. Mitchell, DVM, DAVDC

Pet Care, Veterinary Health Topics

Pet Health Insurance… Is it worth it for you and your pet?

I was in veterinary school when I acquired my first pet as an actual adult, a little Chocolate Lab puppy. Then I quickly learned as a I went thru my veterinary school courses of all the things that could go wrong or accidents that could happen in this puppy’s lifetime. Then I became a hypochondriac and with each new disease I learned about, I was convinced my dog had “IT”. Gagged once= probably Physaloptera sp. esophageal worms. My mind was frantically planning for the esophageal endoscopy. When he misstepped across the yard my mind rushed to the diagnosis of debilitating hip dysplasia that would certainly need a total hip replacement. The good news is he coming 11 years old now and really hasn’t had all those rare and not so rare diseases I had learned of.

hypochondriac

I also learned there were more and more options for my pet’s health care and with those options and expertise came expense. Pet health care is expensive.  This puppy was family and if needed care to save his life or give him the best quality of life I wanted to have that option, even though my pocket book as veterinary student was pretty devoid of means of doing so. I remember the dogs I had growing up and the extent of their veterinary care and expense. We hauled them to City Hall once a year for “shots” and treated the random ear infection or rash. Veterinary medicine had changed a bit since.

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“The times they are a changing!” Courtesy The Animal Pet Doctor

 

We were active in DockDogs, a community of dog competitors and athletes and Embrace Pet Insurance was offered at a discount to participants and many raved about the benefits of health insurance so I signed up. When clients ask me about whether insurance would be a good idea also my single biggest question is:

“If money were no object, what would you do for your pet?”

Dockdogs

My former canine athlete Brody

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Brody loved this activity but as a vet student I saw a ruptured cruciate, iliopsoas injury, or fracture, etc just waiting to happen!

In veterinary school I learned about the many advanced care options available including imaging, cancer treatment, critical care/ICU stays, or complex surgical or dental procedures. These wonderful options could quickly deflate a savings account. Not to mention the pets we treated with chronic illnesses such as allergies, where the costs added up more slowly but steadily. If money was no object, would I want these options for my pet? The answer was “Yes!”.

“Could I have set aside funds every month for the emergency or severe illness I dreaded?” Sure.

But I also knew care could be in the thousands. At $20-30/month my pet was covered for the worst…which could cost thousands of dollars. At that same rate of savings it would take my 150 months, or 12.5 years to save $3000 as an emergency fund. I could have played the odds that my pets would be healthy and have no issues in their lifetime but as a veterinarian I knew the reality. Over 50% of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer. And how many puppy owners I saw that had just dropped down a sum of money for their new pup, collar, kennel, and food only to struggle to find the $1000 it would need when that same clumsy puppy tripped up the stairs and broke its leg.

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I have sat with clients that had no money but had all the want and willingness to help their pets and there is NO worse feeling. I have worked for free, had the pets relinquished, or found resources or rescue groups to help but there are only so many dollars available. No one expects bad things to happen to them and so that is where insurance may be worth the money.

So I got pet health insurance and paid my monthly premium and thought about the money I was “wasting” and how I should be investing it in retirement. We had actually talked about dropping it. Why would a vet have health insurance…it seemed most things to fix where within our budget and manageable.

Then I felt a firm boney mass near my soul-dog’s ear, arising from his skull. My Newfoundland had bone cancer. As a veterinarian I knew I could do nothing and he would be gone in months or I could seek care and hope for better. There were just a few places that offered the treatment options we needed, including Flint Animal Cancer Center in Fort Collins, CO. So we loaded up as a family including my 2 week old newborn and traveled for stereotactic radiation.

The price tag was about ~$10,000. No way, no how could I have justified that expense with the costs of a newborn, student loans, and life. I would have been limited to the option of pain meds and waiting. But my Embrace Plan, the same one I had contemplated cancelling months before, paid 90%.

Cancer treatment 5
His CT Scan showing the boney tumor…osteosarcoma
Cancer treatment
Computer-generated 3-D Model for use in radiation treatment planning

$10,000 may be crazy to spend on a dog…any dog… soul mate or otherwise but I figured a bargin compared to the cost of that same technology applied in human health care. When owners complain about the costs of veterinary care being more than human health care it highlights the misunderstanding. The same supplies, drugs, education, equipment sits in our veterinary hospitals but as pet owners we pay out of pocket and feel every single penny leave our wallet. I have received statements and bills from hospitals and half the time I have no idea what was charged to the insurance company (in my mind it reads: $40 million dollar IV catheter. You own $1.47! So someone, somewhere paid or negotiated the difference).

Cancer treatment 3
The medical equipment used to deliver steriotactic radiation therapy

Then Piper, our beloved GSP, developed Congestive Heart Failure. Echocardiograms and monitoring were doable without the worry of cost. I had considered stem cell treatment for her shoulder arthritis and had the $2000 cost approved through insurance before her heart condition worsened. Then that same puppy I acquired in vet school now with a gray face and aging body, developed a limp. I had done rads after rads with radiologists reviewing and though I suspected elbow arthritis, never got the answer I needed. A visit to Colorado State University and a CT scan provided the answer I needed to know.

So when we got a new puppy that was learning how to explore the world with its toxins and hazards and how to use its limbs without falling or tripping, it made complete sense he needed health insurance too. I couldn’t stomach the thought of not being able to offer him the care I knew was available just because money was the limiting factor.

Houses, boats, and cars…well they all have a set insurable value. But pets their value is determined by our connection to them. For some they may be totally replaceable but not in my world.

It may come down to priorities…what do you want to spend your hard earned dollars on. I value health care and realize the options and associated expense that comes with it. My pets are family and I want the best for them. I just don’t have unlimited funds to do that so insurance has helped offset the financial strain.

In addition to the question of “What is your pet worth to you?” I would consider “Are the odds in your favor?”.

The reality is certain breeds are more prone to medical issues such as cancer or orthopedic disease. General higher risk breeds may include the giant breeds such as the Newfoundland, Great Dane, or Mastiff and also Bulldogs (I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Support your veterinarian. Buy a Bulldog” and perhaps there is some truth in that).

Is your pet’s lifestyle such that an injury like a broken bone or athletic injury more likely to occur? This could include the canine athlete or working dog (hunting, ranch dog, or competitive dog) or the dog that runs at the family farm (with its associated risks of livestock, 4-wheelers/Quads, toxin, etc) on the weekends. Then insurance may be worth it.

No one gets home insurance planning for the day it burns but the reality is insurance is there if the worst should happen. Pet health insurance is largely designed to cover your pet’s accident and disease, not wellness care. 

There are several insurance options and resources to fit your unique needs and budget. The following companies are consistently well rated and recommended (Insurance Comparisons) : PetsBest, PetPlan, Embrace, and Healthy Paws.

My General Considerations are:

1) Does the policy cover hereditary or congenital diseases? If you have a Lab and they don’t cover cruciate disease surgery your plan won’t be very helpful to you. Research the diseases  must likely to affect your pet’s breed and read the fine print to ensure you are covered.

2) How are pre-existing conditions handled? This is still the world of insurance so if you pet has developed a disease such as allergies or hip dysplasia prior to acquiring your plan prepare for limitations in your coverage of the condition. The best way to get around pre-existing conditions is to get insurance early in your pet’s life.

3) What are the limits and deductible? Like all insurances, a higher deductible will mean a lower monthly premium. I personally have a higher deductible with the idea that my plan covers for the big and major. Some have no annual limits, others might.

4) How much and what do you want covered? Are prescription drugs covered? If you have an athletic dog such as a hunting dog which may be prone to injury you may want to make sure rehab services are covered.  You may need to tailor your plan if you wish to have routine vet care (vaccines, dental cleanings, heartworm testing, etc) covered.

5)How do they pay out? I prefer they pay a portion of my bill and not a set amount for the condition. Costs vary from location to location and this ensures I am not having to price shop. Most plans can be tailored to cover anywhere from 70-90+% of the treatment costs.

Pet health insurance isn’t for everyone. Only a small percent of the millions of pets in this country are insured but I am glad for the option and how it helped my family make decisions based on medicine and not money. Could my pet’s go their lifetime and I never get my money back? “Sure”. But their policy could also prevent heartbreak if the worst does happen.

Some additional resources:

2017 Canine Journal’s Top 3 Comparison

Pet Insurance as the Latest Work Perk

Consumer Reports: Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Life as a Veterinarian, Pet Care

Assigning a Voice.

DSC_2837pIt came up in a conversation at work this week. When you work with a crowd of similar animal lovers and you meet hundreds of animals a week it seems natural to want to assign them a voice. The question was “Do you talk for your pets?” “Do you share their inner dialogue?” “How accurate are we really in knowing that voice?” Besides our own pets we know and love well, we may even assign the voice and thoughts to our patients during their exam or hospital stay with us.

We often give clients an assumed dialogue from their dog’s perspective after their adventure with us. This can be after a brief stay for testing or when we return them to the owner after a quick trip to the treatment area for a blood draw. In a given day, I’d say I meet quite a few animals that would be up for making casual small talk if it were possible but I’d say there are a fair amount that we would talk thru a panic attack or grimace at the shouted explicits. I often wonder if our dialogue and “voice” given matches that which the owner may have.

In some ways, we create this inner dialogue for them to ease our own concerns for them. When your child is hurt you say comforting words and you hope they understand those words and respond with trust and feel safe and comforted. Our patients may understand the soothing tone but they don’t know the words “We are here to help.” or “It is really important we get this sample and it will only hurt a second.” We make verbal promises of care and relief from pain and fear they really can’t understand.

I think it is natural to want to know them better or question the inner workings of their minds since they are such a large part of our families and world. Voice and language are such a huge part of how we communicate. I sit in anticipation and sometimes frustration as I communicate with a toddler on the verge of language explosion. Sure they are words but we still communicate with grunts, gestures, pointing, and body language. In a year, I will probably be requesting a break from the chatter of the inner workings of a busy toddler brain but today I just want the words to come so as to open that connection.

Many of my pets have a “voice”, but especially my dogs. The dialect, pitch, cadence all contribute to the personality I have created and that which has come forth. Roscoe, our former Newfoundland, was assigned a simpleton, sort of dumb voice really. His name also alluded to that personality. He was goofy, comical, immature, and sometimes a royal pain in the you know what.

Roscoe Newfounland with ball
Roscoe’s first picture- forever thereon known as “Big Dumb”

This is the first picture I ever took of Roscoe so it is no wonder I didn’t assign him a voice of a British intellect. It was 2009 and he quickly got the knick name “Big Dumb”. But maybe I was wrong? Maybe he was an intellect with a large and impressive vocabulary. I just heard the demanding bark of a hungry dog that had us well trained to deliver dinner.

Cassy, our Lab Collie mix, is a bit of a frantic, anxious, overzealous pleaser. So we don’t have deep “conversations”. Most include a discussion of retrieving and balls, and throwing the ball again and again. I hear her voice as “Oh, a ball. I love balls. I really love balls. Please throw the ball. Please. Please. Please. Oh, you threw the ball. I love running to get the ball. Oh again, again!”. She isn’t a calm minded creature so when I hear her voice it is a high pitched, fast paced question, always a question….”What do you want me to do now? I can sit? Or bring you a ball? Did you want me to sit? Just tell me what you want and I will do it!”

DSC_1730

I meet a lot of dogs in a day and some very clearly have a voice and often it is associated with a breed. Call it stereotyping if you will. Well groomed Poodle. You probably get a classy snooty diva voice. Big Mastiff or overweight Lab. Sorry you probably get a slower paced simpleton voice with a focus on food. So do we create our pets voice or do they have a voice of their own we bring to life? Shelby, our miniature poodle’s voice has likely changed from her previous life with a Senior Citizen woman to her current life as the
“Rhinestone Cowdog”.

Ripp, the Australian Shepherd puppy… well he is finding his voice. He is this obnoxious testing teenager now so in a way his voice is being found and than changing just as I can see the voice of my own Kiddo changing. How it was always “Mommy” and now I hear “Mom” sneaking in that vocabulary more and more.

Does your pet have a voice? Are we accurate in our idea of that voice? What do you think…do you wish pets could talk? As a vet, there are plenty of times I wish they could just tell me already but I also know I would get cussed out and that may change my level of career satisfaction.  I think I like the world as it where we create the voice and build a relationship with our pets beyond words.

“Dogs do speak, but only to those that listen.”

-Orhan Pamuk