While doing the things that need to be done to keep an animal healthy may seem expensive, it can save money in the long run by preventing many health problems.
There are four things that pet owners should keep in mind to prevent health problems that could lead to costly veterinary bills down the road: vaccination against common diseases, protection against parasites , daily nutrition , and spaying or neutering.
Before getting a dog or cat you should look at the probable costs for veterinary care, preventative health medication, feeding and shelter. Look at the initial cost of vaccinating and spaying or neutering a young animal. The costs will be higher the first year. If these costs don't fit in your budget consider getting a different type of animal. Although smaller dogs live longer, they eat less and cost less to medicate. Cats are an even longer term investment.
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Both cats and dogs should be vaccinated against the rabies virus. Not only to protect the animal and public safety, but because it is the law virtually throughout the United States .
Rabies is spread to domestic animals through the saliva in the bite of a wild animal. It is important to vaccinate your pet not just to protect it from the deadly disease, but because if an unvaccinated pet bites someone it must, in general, be quarantined for 10 days to see if it exhibits any signs of rabies. In many areas of the country, this quarantine must be at a county shelter or animal clinic, the pet must be checked at least twice by a veterinarian and the animal must have all its vaccinations upon release if it is healthy. If not it must be destroyed. All those days of boarding, exams and vaccinations add up to a lot of money. A lot more than one vaccination would have cost.
Other canine diseases requiring vaccination include canine distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, canine parvovirus, bordetellosis, parainfluenza and leptospirosis.
Other feline diseases requiring vaccination include feline panleukopenia, viral rhinotracheitis, calcivirus, and pneumonitis, and feline leukemia virus.
And talk to your pet's veterinarian -- she knows your pet's health needs best.
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Dogs and cats can be afflicted with both internal and external parasites and it has never been easier to prevent these problems. There are a wide range of products that can treat these parasites and while less expensive products sold at discount and farm stores may appear to provide the same protection as those purchased from your veterinarian, they may be less effective. Your veterinarian should be able explain the difference to you.
Internal parasites include heartworms which are transmitted through mosquito bites and effect the animal's heart -- both dogs and cats can get heartworms, but cats are less often killed by heartworms -- and intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms.
In general, your dog should be on a good monthly heartworm protection like Heartgard or Interceptor. These are one pill, once a month medications which also provide protection against some intestinal parasites. These pills cost between $5 and $11 a month depending on the size of your dog, but the cost is far less than heartworm treatment which also puts the life of the animal at risk.
Many vets now recommend that you keep your dog on heartworm medication all year. Although, those that live in cold climates may be able to suspend medication during very cold weather. Again, discuss this with you veterinarian. It is also recommended that you have your dog tested yearly for heartworm. This is a blood test. Most vets will not prescribe medication without a test first. In most cases, manufacturers of heartworm medications will pay for heartworm treatment if your dog gets heartworms while using their product on a continuous basis.
Again, parasites are a public health problem because roundworms, for example, can be passed to humans through animal feces. Never let your children go barefoot where untreated animals may have defecated. Make sure you take in a stool sample yearly to be tested by your vet for intestinal parasites.
External parasites such as fleas and ticks can be prevented with a wide range of products such as monthly topical medications like Frontline Topspot or oral medications. Sentinel combines the heartworm protection of Interceptor with an internal flea preventative which acts as flea birth control. They can get on your pet and bite them, but they can't reproduce.
These products have a wide range of effectiveness and cost. Don't be fooled by discount products. Read the fine print. And again, it is best to discuss them with your vet who not only knows the details but has heard feedback from other pet owners on what has worked best for them -- and, of course, your vet is undoubtedly a pet owner too who knows what has worked for his dog or cat.
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Nutrition is another area where consumers are often lured toward apparently less expensive products. A few years ago Consumer Reports was forced to print a retraction after saying that discount store dog foods provided the same nutrition as premium dog foods at a lower price. The fact is their study was flawed because they were comparing cup for cup when premium dog foods are designed to be fed in smaller amounts. They contain less filler and are more nutritionally concentrated. The animal eats less, but gets the same -- or better -- nutrition.
Premium pet foods like Hill's Science Diet and Eukenuba/Iams have some distinct advantages. They use what is called a closed formula. Every bag or can of food is made with the same ingredients. This is especially important in animals with allergies. One bag of discount food may be fine for an allergic pet but the next one may cause some kind of health problem. There are even prescription foods made specifically for pets with allergies which are available through animal hospitals and clinics.
More and more pet foods are being geared toward specific niches: senior, less active, hairball control for cats. There are even special foods for large breed puppies which prevent the bone deformities that regular puppy foods can cause by allowing large breed puppies to grow too fast. Poor nutrition can lead to a host of health problems -- kidney disease is the most common. Again, there are prescription foods designed for animals with specific health problems. If your veterinarian prescribes a specific food for your pet -- these foods are often from Hill's and have names like c/d, r/d, t/d, etc. -- never feed your pet anything else -- no treats, no table food, no goodies -- unless approved by your vet.
Vets will sometimes not go into routine nutrition as deeply as they might for fear of sounding like pet food salesmen. Ask your vet or veterinary technician about nutrition. Good nutrition now could save you money on vet bills and your pet needless suffering later.
Good nutrition is important to your pet just like it is to your children. If money is a concern, remember that in general, dry pet food is far more economical because with canned food you are purchasing mostly water. Also, many premium pet foods are available now at discount, farm and pet supply stores.
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PETHOOD OR PARENTHOOD?
An animal that has had a litter is happier and healthier than a spayed animal right? Wrong. In fact, spayed and neutered animals are far less likely to have diseases of the reproductive organs than those that have not been altered. In addition, of course, spaying and neutering prevents the birth of puppies and kittens that are unwanted.
There's no cleaning up of blood from with spayed female. No crying and pacing of spayed female cats. Less wandering or straying of neutered male dogs or urine spraying of neutered male cats.
But it's expensive right? Maybe not. How much will it cost to feed and vaccinate all those unwanted puppies and kittens? And how much of your tax money will go to euthanize all those unwanted animals at the county shelter each year?
Spaying and neutering would save pet owners and the general public thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars each year. And it would save the animals so much needless suffering.
It is recommended that puppies and kittens be spayed or neutered after about four months of age, but before a female's first heat cycle at about six months.
Again, discuss sterilization with you veterinarian.
Some of the information above came from the American Veterinary Medical Association website. You can find a link to it and other pet health and animal welfare organizations on our links page.
P.A.D.S. does not endorse any specific brand name products, talk to your veterinarian about what pet products are right for your pets.
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