Every pet owner’s worst nightmare is a serious illness or medical emergency and inadequate funds to cover it.
With veterinary bills ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, what’s a caring but cash-strapped owner to do?
If paws-ible, don’t panic. Instead, be prepared. Plan ahead.
The easiest first step is to open an “emergency expenses” savings account even
BEFORE your chosen companion puts one paw inside your home. Decide on a given
amount to be set aside – whether daily or weekly – and build it into your budget.
Example: By setting aside only $10 a week, you’ll save $520 a year. Within two
years, you’ll have saved enough money to cover most medical procedures. But
should your pet need a sudden and more costly procedure, you’re more likely to
receive help from others when they know that YOU’RE paying most of the bill.
A second option is purchasing pet insurance. An increasing number of insurance
companies now offer specific plans for pets, ranging from the most basic to the most
inclusive with monthly premiums to match each plan. Caution: Make certain to
“read the fine print” and to learn whether or not the company will work with the
vet of your choice.
For those unable to either save in advance or purchase pet insurance, being faced
with the possibility of a medical bill they can’t pay is devastating. And this, sadly, is
one of the reasons so many much-loved pets are euthanized. But there are solutions.
1. Speak with your vet and discuss the arrangement of a payment schedule until the
bill is paid in full. Many vets do offer payment plans to their regular and trusted
2. Contact local animal rescue organizations and ask for the names of any low-cost
veterinary clinics they might know.
3. Many veterinary schools offer medical services at discounted rates, and if you live
near a college or university, contact them to see if they have just such a program.
4. If it’s feasible, apply for a line of credit from your bank. There are also reputable
companies that offer loans to help cover medical emergencies, including those of
pets. (Note: Interest is charged in both cases and rates will vary).
5. Ask your family members and friends for help.
6. Use one of the more popular online fundraising platforms and start your own
fundraiser, bearing in mind that the more people you reach in your own social,
work and community circles, and the more original you are in drawing attention to
your plight, the greater your chances of success.
7. Apply for financial assistance from the specific funds, charities and pet assistance
organizations across the country. While their organizations’ budgets are limited and
their grants small, your chances of getting help increase if you’re disabled, a senior
or a veteran, or are living solely on pensions or on a low, fixed income.
Millions of dogs go missing each year. Unfortunately, very few of them are ever reunited with their owners. Many of them become and remain strays. Others are taken to pounds or shelters, where they are all too often, euthanized. The luckier ones are saved by rescue organizations and ultimately placed in adoptive homes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Lately, an increasing number of conscientious dog owners have begun to rely on a dual form of protection for their precious family pet. Included in this “protective package” are visible forms of identification – ID tags -- and permanent ones -- microchips.
Pet ID tags are small metallic or plastic tags personalized with your name, address, and phone number, and attached to your dog's collar. These tags are as close as your nearest pet supply store or online vendor, and if your dog ever goes missing, will immediately identify you as the owner.
Microchipping is a simple and safe procedure. A veterinarian injects a microchip designed especially for animals -- the size of a grain of rice -- beneath the surface of your dog’s skin between the shoulder blades. Similar to a routine shot, it takes only a few seconds and most dogs don’t seem to even feel the implantation. Unlike ID tags, a microchip is permanent and, with no internal energy source, will last the life of your dog. Your dog must then be promptly registered with the microchip company (usually for a one-time fee), thus storing his unique, alpha-numeric code in the company’s database.
Whenever a lost dog appears at a shelter, humane society or veterinary clinic, he/she will automatically be scanned for a microchip. If there is one, the screen of the handheld scanner will display that dog’s specific code. A simple call to the recovery database using a toll free 800 number enables the code to be traced back to the dog’s owner. But in order for the system to work efficiently, all owners are cautioned to keep their contact information up-to-date.
The most complete microchips comply with International Standards Organization (ISO) Standards. These standards define the structure of the microchip’s information content and determine the protocol for scanner-microchip communication. They also include the assignment of a 15-digit numeric identification code to each microchip; 3 digits either for the code of the country in which the dog was implanted or for the manufacturer’s code; one digit for the dog’s category (optional), and the remaining 8 or 9 digits for that dog’s unique ID number.
As with anything else, however, problems can and do arise. Not all shelters, humane societies, and veterinary offices have scanners. Although rare, microchips can fail, and even universal scanners may not be able to detect every microchip. Accurate detection can also be hampered if dogs struggle too much while being scanned or if either long, matted hair or excess fat deposits cover the implantation site. And because there are an ever-increasing number of pet recovery services, there is, as yet, no single database that links one to the other.
Since no method of identification is perfect, the best way owners can protect their dogs is by keeping current ID tags on them, microchipping them, and never allowing them to roam free.
Whether your dogs have been “naughty” or “nice” this year, there’s no better time than
Christmas to show them how much they mean to you. From the tangible to the intangible,
consider celebrating the legendary Twelve Days of Christmas by wrapping some of these
suggestions in bright ribbons of love and “gifting” your dog with them:
1. Get your dog a large, personalized dog treat jar. Fashioned from clear glass, his name
will be emblazoned across the front in glittering letters and then filled with especially
tempting and delectable holiday treats.
2. Sweeten your conversation with “baby talk.” Since studies show that dogs understand
human language better than once thought, using a high-pitched voice coupled with words
your own dog recognizes will be welcome music to his most receptive ears.
3. Get your dog an oversized and especially soft blanket featuring his photo front and
center. Choose one in a color that complements his preferred doggy bed and have your
favorite photo of him printed on it.
4. Gaze deeply into your dog’s eyes. One way of expressing your love is through direct eye
contact. Take a moment, speak softly, pet him gently and stare into his eyes. Try raising
your eyebrows -- preferably the left one – and he’ll recognize this as an obvious display of
5. Get your dog an especially hardy KONG that’s shaped like a small tire. Ideal for rousing
games of fetch and tug-o-war, they’re guaranteed to outlast even the strongest chewer.
6. Rub his ears. Rather than patting your pup on the top of his head, rub him gently behind
his ears and watch his reaction. In all likelihood, he’ll melt into a puddle of pure doggy
bliss because rubbing a dog’s ears stimulates the release of endorphins, the hormones that
both relieve pain and induce pleasure.
7. Get your dog a DNA test. Are you curious about your pup’s ancestry? Eager to know if
he’s a purebred or a marvelous mixture of two or more breeds? All it requires is this
simple test and all will be revealed.
8. Lean on your dog. Think of the many times your dog has pressed up against your legs or
leaned into you while you were sitting together. Seen as one of the ways that dogs seek out
affection – their version of a hug – return the sentiment and “hug” your dog back by
leaning into him.
9. Get your dog a gift basket of bacon flavored dog chews. While real bacon is a no-no, this
“sense-ational” substitute should keep his taste buds tingling and his palette satisfied all
10. Cuddle your dog.
With the holidays approaching, it’s time to think not only about celebrating, but also about dog safety.
To ensure that the season stays merry and bright, plan ahead and start early. Change the appearance of your home from everyday to holiday gradually, over a period of several days. This will allow your dog time to grow comfortable with everything from new or additional furniture and tabletop arrangements to wall and window decorations. To encourage your dog to view this as something positive, reinforce the sentiment by keeping him occupied with Kongs filled with cheese spread or peanut butter, or puzzle toys to puzzle over while you slowly transform the space around him. Maintain your dog’s normal feeding and walking schedules. Ensure that your dog’s “go to” place for security remains the same, unless you know from past experience that his doggy bed, crate or favorite blanket should be moved to a room far from the festivities.
Whether you’re hosting a single event or several, follow the same routine to minimize your dog’s potential uneasiness. Ask any unfamiliar guests and all of the children to calmly ignore your dog. Monitor your dog for any signs of anxiety or stress, and lead him to his “safe” place if necessary. On the other hand, if he appears relaxed and is eagerly going from guest to guest, provide them with some of his favorite treats so that they can keep him happily fed.
Be conscious of and careful about the greenery you bring into your home. The sap of the Poinsettia plant is considered mildly toxic, and can cause nausea or vomiting in your dog. Holly is considered moderately toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, whereas mistletoe is severely toxic and can cause everything from gastrointestinal disorders to cardiovascular problems. Christmas trees are considered mildly toxic. Their oils can irritate your dog’s mouth and stomach, causing excessive drooling and/or vomiting, while their prickly needles are hazardous to your dog’s entire GI tract. Wherever possible, keep all plants beyond your dog’s reach, or else watch him carefully for signs of curiosity, interest, or the impulse to either lick or chew. To err on the side of caution, buy artificial plants instead.
Consider next the breakable ornaments and dangling tinsel, shiny ribbons, ropes of small lights and flickering candles. All eye-catching eye candy to curious canines – from noses and teeth to paws and tails.
Hang delicate ornaments higher on the tree and resist placing any in decorative bowls on low surfaces. Not only can dogs choke on them, but the sharp edges of any broken pieces can lacerate their mouths, throats and intestines. Drape tinsel higher on the tree as well, and keep ribbons on gifts underneath the tree to a minimum. If tinsel or ribbons are swallowed, they can twist and bunch inside a dog’s intestines, causing serious, sometimes
fatal, damage if not caught quickly enough.
Artificial snow is toxic and should be avoided at all costs. Lights, large and small, solid and flickering are another danger, not only because they are hot and breakable, but because of the electrical cords holding them together. If bitten, they can cause electrical shock if not properly grounded, and if frayed, they can cause severe lacerations to your dog’s tongue.
Place all lighted candles out of reach to reduce the risk of singed fur and pads, paws and tails, and lower the chance of them being tipped over, leaving burning wax everywhere or worse, starting a fire.
As appetizing as holiday fare is for people, it can prove agonizing, even lethal for pets. The most notorious offenders are:
Grapes: Although the precise substance which causes the toxicity in grapes is unknown (some dogs can eat grapes without incident, while others can eat one and become seriously ill), keep them away from your dog.
Onions and garlic: The sulfoxides and disulfides in both destroy red blood cells and can cause serious blood problems, including anemia.
Ham: High in salt and fat, it can lead to stomach upsets and, over time, pancreatitis.
Macademia nuts: Within 12 hours of ingesting them, dogs can experience weakness, depression, tremors, vomiting and hyperthermia (increased body temperature), lasting between 12 and 48 hours. If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.
Bones: Whether rib roasts or lamb chops, turkey, chicken or duck, they all have bones. Thick ones and thin ones. Brittle, fragmented and splintered ones. Whatever the size, shape or texture, they all spell the same thing: danger. From throat scratches to stomach perforations to bowel obstructions. To safeguard against these painful possibilities, all leftovers, particularly bones, should be carefully wrapped and promptly disposed of.
Fat trimmings: They cause upset stomachs, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Alcohol: It’s traditional to celebrate the holidays with more alcohol than usual – in cooking and in drinks such as eggnog and fruit punch. For safety’s sake, keep these temptations (including partially eaten plates of food and half-empty glasses) out of reach of your dog to avoid intoxication and alcohol poisoning.
Chocolates: Although chocolate has long been taboo for dogs, most chocolates are wrapped in foil for the holidays. Now, not only can your dog get sick from eating the chocolate, the wrappers themselves can get stuck in his throat or cause problems as they work their way through his digestive tract.
Christmas pudding, cake and mince pie: Filled with potentially toxic raisins, currants, and sultanas, they are also made with fat and suet, and laced with alcohol -- from scotch and brandy to sugary liqueurs.
And so, with some strategic planning beforehand, you and your doggy dearest can be assured of spending the happiest and safest of holidays together.