Every year, despite our efforts to remain as affordable as possible, costs for providing outstanding veterinary care increase.
Pharmaceutical companies, pet food companies, and reference laboratories annually mark up their prices 8% or more (even during the last recession). Veterinary practices’ overhead costs for insurance, utilities, taxes, and the like increase.
And to keep the same familiar, educated, and experienced smiling faces caring for your pets, staff wage costs rise as well, including the Seattle new minimum wage increase and rising health insurance costs.
Mars, Inc. Owns 15-20% of America’s Veterinary Hospitals
It’s a rapidly changing world out there. Small, family-owned veterinary clinics compete with huge corporations for purchasing power.
One corporation now owns 15 to 20 percent of America’s 26,000 pet hospitals — candy maker Mars, Inc. A $35 billion global business who makes the likes of M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way, Skittles, Twix, and Wrigley’s, Mars now wants to provide your pet’s health care.
Ironic, isn’t it?
Mars has been buying up veterinary practices at break-neck pace over the past two years, and its pet-related holdings now include:
Seattle Veterinary Services
VCA veterinary hospitals
Plus, they own pet food brands Pedigree, Whiskas, and Royal Canin; one of the two largest veterinary diagnostic reference laboratories (we use the other one); and Seattle-based Sound Technologies, a digital medical equipment company.
Three Ways To Support Neighborhood Pet Clinics
What can you do to help provide excellent care for your pet without breaking the bank or handing your pet’s care over to a multibillion-dollar corporation?
Third, carefully consider your online and big box store pet purchases – and choose to buy local instead.
Supporting your neighborhood, family-owned businesses with your purchases helps keep the focus on your pet, keeps the overall cost of pet care down, and keeps your money in Seattle, instead of the accounts of corporate stockholders.
We’re all familiar with the mess going on in human health insurance. Even before the arguments for and against the Affordable Care Act, health insurance for humans was a hot topic, rife with accusations of care being over-priced, inefficient, and sometimes denied when needed.
Insurance companies were often accused of taking the control of medical decisions away from patients and their doctors. I used to tell pet owners that if veterinary medicine went the way of human medicine (meaning the issues with health insurance for humans), that I was going to drive a truck instead – and I wasn’t kidding.
How Pet Insurance Differs from Human Insurance
Fortunately, I learned more about health insurance for pets and was happy to discover that it currently works differently than health insurance for humans.
It functions a lot more like dental and eye insurance for humans – the medical decisions are left in the hands of the pet owner and veterinarian, and the company reimburses the pet owner a portion of the cost of care, based on its own formulas for a particular condition.
The veterinarian is completely out of the payment picture; in other words, it’s not third-party-pay like health insurance for humans.
Be Prepared for Pet Medical Emergencies
Learning this, and after experiencing several very sad situations where pet owners were unprepared for a pet medical emergency (such as an advanced surgical procedure with a veterinary specialist), I’ve changed my tune to become an advocate for pet health insurance instead.
When pet owners make the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize their pets instead of seeking medical care for serious, yet very treatable, medical conditions, a beautiful life is cut short and hearts are broken.
While most family-owned veterinary practices have payment plans and small charity funds, they don’t stretch far enough to cover every pet in need, and as a small business, we’re unable to provide the care free-of-charge.
As our pets have become valued members of the family, advances in medicine have also influenced the quality of care we provide our pets, many consider pet health insurance an increasingly integral part of responsible pet ownership.
Not all pet insurance companies work the same way, and it’s worth your time to research and carefully read the fine print.
Setting aside a regular monthly contribution in special savings account designated for pet emergencies until you reach a cushion (say, $5000 – $10,000) and having a room on a credit card to cover until you reach your goal sum, is another way to prepare for an pet health emergency so you aren’t faced with a difficult decision of choosing to pay rent over medical care for your pet. And, you get to keep the “premiums” with interest if no emergency occurs.
In addition to the benefits listed above, we also have Wellness Plans that include a professional dental prophylaxis (“teeth cleaning”) with full-mouth dental x-rays and general anesthesia. The plan allows the cost of the procedure to be spread over 12 months.
Plans for Puppies & Kittens
Puppies and kittens inherit some degree of natural immunity from their mother that helps protect them from birth to about age 6 weeks. After age 6 weeks, your new pet depends upon you to continue that protection until their immune system is fully developed.
A Puppy or Kitten Wellness Plan is designed to continue that protection by providing all core wellness services necessary to carry your young pet through the important first year of life. Our puppy and kitten plans include all essential examinations, core vaccines, lab work, and other tests recommended in the first year of life.
If your pet has not been spayed or neutered, there is a plan that includes the pre-surgical blood work, hospitalization for the day, surgical procedure, post-surgical comfort package, and follow-up medical progress exam.
How can you provide the best care for your pets while keeping costs reasonable? By taking steps to reduce the chances your pet will require expensive, unplanned medical care and expenses.
Here are some ideas to help:
1. Get Regular Wellness Checkups
Prevention is always better (and less expensive) than a cure. Pets’ metabolism hums along at a rate 7-10 times faster than our own, so disease processes move faster too. Pets often hide illnesses and your “seems healthy to me” pet may not be as well as you think.
Action Step: Make sure your adult pets (age 1-7 years) are seen by their veterinarian for a complete wellness physical at least once a year, and senior pets (age 8+ years) are seen at least twice a year.
Keep up with the vet’s preventive care recommendations, such as routine vaccinations, internal and external parasite prevention, screening lab tests, and dental care.
2. Keep Your Pet at A Healthy Weight
So many diseases in humans and pets can trace their origin to being overweight or obese. We see increased rates of arthritis, cancer, and diabetes in overweight pets, as well as more skin problems and urinary tract infections. Overweight pets die at a younger age.
Action Step: Some pet owners don’t recognize that their pet is overweight – ask us about some simple tools we can provide to help determine if your pet’s weight is healthy and be sure to discuss slimming strategies with our doctors if your pet needs help.
3. Take Care of Your Pet’s Teeth
Dental health is now recognized as an extremely important part of keeping pets (and people) healthy. Dental disease can lead to tooth loss and oral cancer. Infection, inflammation, and pain in the mouth contributes to inflammation and infection in other parts of the body, such as internal organs and joints.
Pets with good dental health throughout their life can live 2-4 years longer – that’s often a 25% increase in lifespan!
4. Regularly Exercise Your Pet
Moderate daily exercise is imperative for cats and dogs to keep your muscles and joints healthy, as well as their minds. No need to run 10 miles, but twice a day walks for dogs (even senior dogs) and daily active play time for cats immensely improves their quality of life, keeping their muscles strong, joints limber, and brains sharp. And it’s good for you too!
Wellness plans and pet insurance are two products to consider to help avoid unwelcome spikes in your family budget when your pet needs care, whether preventive care or medical care for an illness or injury.
Knowing the difference between a wellness plan and insurance is important.
Wellness plans spread the cost of routine preventive care (routine exams, vaccines, lab work, and procedures such as dental cleanings) you were planning to purchase any way over 12 months. They often include modest perks such as discounts, free nail trims, etc., making routine care a line item in a family budget.
Pet insurance, on the other hand, is useful in the case of unplanned illness or injury, helping to pay for surgery, non-routine laboratory tests, hospitalization – a product that you’re glad to have if your pet needs it, but are actually hoping that he or she doesn’t.
Alternatively, you can “self-insure” and be prepared for an emergency with a pet emergency health savings account by putting away funds each month in a special account reserved just for your pet and having room on a credit card if an emergency comes up before your savings account reaches a sizable balance.
7. Spay or Neuter Your Pet
While recommendations for the timing of spaying and neutering is evolving with new evidence, the fact remains that unaltered pets are considerably more likely to get lost, develop undesirable behaviors, have an increased risk of certain health problems, and contribute to the pet over-population problem with an unplanned mating. If your pet is not spayed or neutered yet, please discuss this with our doctors.
Allowing us cats to roam outdoors is a decision that requires careful consideration.
There are camps on both sides of the issue, passionate about their opinions regarding whether we cats should to be allowed to roam, as we’re not a native species to North America and there are dangers out there.
Recent research has shown owned cats roam an average territory of 5 acres, considerably larger than most people’s backyards (feral cats have even larger territories). I used to be one of those guys, wandering the streets of Lynnwood looking for the lady cats.
Beyond neutering, vaccinations, parasite prevention medications, a microchip, safety collar, and ID tag, what can be done to keep our outdoor feline colleagues safe and healthy? And what about our impact on the outside world?
The benefits of allowing a cat to roam
On the one hand, kitties allowed outdoor access tend to exhibit fewer behaviors you humans find objectionable, like destructive clawing and urine marking – a stimulated mind is a healthier mind.
My kitty counterparts allowed outdoors are more likely to maintain their body weight in a healthy range and refrain from excessive grooming because they get more exercise and don’t eat out of boredom.
The drawbacks of allowing a cat to roam
On the other hand, cats allowed outdoors face considerable danger—including death—from cars and urban predators (raccoon, coyote, eagle, and big dogs).
They often get into fights with other cats over territory boundaries, risking dangers ranging from bite wounds and abscesses, to life-threatening viral infections like feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline infectious viremia (FIV).
They frequently are exposed to internal and external parasites (intestinal worms, fleas, mites, ticks), which they can pass to their human families.
Ornithologists (those scientific types who study birds) blame them for dramatic declines in wild bird populations.
And some cats just plain get lost and never find their way back home.
A better alternative: Cat yards
But there’s a compromise I’d like you to consider that’s gaining popularity: outdoor cat yards. In the 10+ years of providing house calls for cats throughout the Seattle area, our doctors have seen an amazing variety of cat yards exhibiting cat families’ creativity and love for their furry friend(s).
Using a wide variety of configurations and materials, folks have constructed outdoor spaces for their cats to play, lounge, and explore that keep the cats (and birds, for the most part) safe while providing exercise, mental stimulation, fresh air, and a place to catch a sunbeam in warmer weather.
Some of these enclosures resemble three-season porches; others enclosed a portion of the backyard, keeping a kitty contained and other animals out; still others were an enclosure attached to the side of a house with a cat door in a window, providing easy access. I’m secretly jealous and have been promised a cat yard “someday” when we remodel. Sigh…
Ideas for configuring an outdoor cat space
There are companies, like Purrfect Fence, that specialize in helping cat people configure the outdoor space they have available into a pleasing (from both the humans’ and cats’ perspectives) outdoor play space.
However, more than half the cat yards our docs have seen were constructed from scratch with re-purposed materials by ingenious owners who didn’t have a large budgets.
One owner created a Japanese-themed garden in his side yard with cat fencing hidden in a non-invasive bamboo hedge.
Another created what she called an underground “chunnel” connecting the only space available for a cat yard located 10 feet away from the side of her house.
Others were built underneath a back deck or overhang using deer fencing purchased at a hardware store, providing access through a sliding glass door beneath the deck.
Some used aviary netting on an existing cedar fence to enclose the entire backyard. Each of these enclosures featured with homemade climbing things, scratch-able surfaces, and shelves for lounging.
See why I’m jealous?
If you’re interested in outdoor enclosures for your kitty, I’ve heard there are lots of ideas and pictures on the internet. Just do an image search for “cat yards” or “cat enclosures.”
And please remember my feline colleagues in outdoor enclosures still need parasite prevention.
Please send me pictures if you build an enclosure for your lucky kitty!
We’ve had a run of “blocked” cats over the past month, so I wanted to tell you more about it so you can save my kitty colleagues—and your wallet—a great deal of pain.
Urinary blockages occur almost exclusively male cats when a plug of material gets stuck in their urethra, the tube leading from the urinary bladder to the outside.
In a male cat like me, this tube has a very tiny diameter and it’s easy for urinary crystals, stones, or mucus plugs to create a traffic jam. When a cat is “blocked,” it cannot void urine and the bladder quickly overfills, causing tremendous pain and toxins to build up in the blood. This is a life-threatening emergency if not managed quickly, and can rapidly cause acute kidney failure and a painful death.
I am the poster child for urinary blockage – I’m a male, neutered cat, I live indoors, I’m middle-aged, I’m a bit chunky about the middle, and I prefer dry food. Cats with highly concentrated urine, a condition extremely common when we eat exclusively or primarily dry food, is always a factor in causing a urinary blockage.
To help prevent this in yours truly, I’m served wet food twice a day to help keep me hydrated and the dry food I eat is designed to help prevent crystals from forming.
Big hint here:
Grocery store brands of dry food are much more likely to be implicated in urinary blockage, so please don’t buy that stuff. In the long run, you’re not saving money and could be putting your cat’s life at risk.
Signs of potential urinary blockage
Repeated trips to the litter box and straining (sometimes people think their cat is constipated when it’s actually a urinary blockage)
Producing only drops of urine or no urine, instead of a normal amount
Crying, agitation, and sometimes vomiting associated with trying to urinate
Lethargy and depression as the pain and toxins becomes too much to bear
What to do if you suspect your cat has urinary blockage
If you think your cat may be experiencing a urinary blockage, take him to the vet immediately. Do not wait; this is a life-threatening situation.
The doctor will need to relieve the obstruction quickly. She will likely want to perform some tests to see if there are any significant complications, such as kidney failure and elevated potassium, which require additional treatment. Sometimes, X-rays or an ultrasound are helpful too.
To relieve the obstruction, the vet usually needs to sedate or anesthetize the cat, then carefully pass a urinary catheter into the penis, through the urethra, and into the bladder. The catheter allows the bladder to be emptied and for the vet to flush the bladder with saline to try to rinse some of the crystals out. These procedures must be done very carefully to avoid further damage to the urethra.
A softer, longer urinary catheter, called a “Slippery Sam,” is then placed to keep the pathway open and help prevent an immediate re-blockage. This second catheter will usually need to remain in place for a few days to allow the kitty’s bladder to return to its normal, un-stretched size, and to assist the kitty in passing more crystals and excess toxins in his urine.
IV fluids are usually needed to help the kitty flush toxins from his system and make more dilute urine. Antibiotics and medications to help relax the urethra and control pain and inflammation are usually prescribed.
Long-term care is aimed at preventing another urinary obstruction from happening, as they often will if not managed properly. There are special diets, both canned and dry, to help create more dilute urine and prevent the formation of urinary crystals and bladder stones.
If repeat blockages do occur, despite appropriate management, some kitties require surgery to produce a new, wider opening for urination (but this puts the kitty at risk for bacterial urinary infections, so hopefully can be avoided).
To help prevent this situation from occurring the first place, please consider feeding your cat a diet that promotes hydration, such as wet food and/or a high-quality dry food with water added.
Watch your kitty’s waistline and help him maintain his athletic build (good for him on so many levels).
And, if you ever notice a change in your cat’s urinary habits, especially a male cat, please take him to the vet immediately.
Well, mostly to get pet owners’ attention, really, because our doctors talk about dental health all year long. Frankly, as a cat, I’m a bit bored hearing them talk about it, but for the sake of your pet, please listen up!
In the past 25 years, the quality of medical care veterinarians provide has grown with the evolution of humans’ bond and relationship with their pets. We pets are now cherished four-legged family members and as such, expect the same quality of care you humans get.
In addition, significant advances have been made in the understanding of the detrimental effects of chronic inflammation on other areas of a body beyond the mouth.
Just a few decades ago, many humans didn’t grasp that we pets felt pain and that bad breath in pets wasn’t “normal.”
You get it now, right?
Bad Breath is Bad!
Pets do feel pain, bad breath is abnormal, and both can often be prevented or alleviated.
However, humans will still ask our doctors, “Why is my pet still eating and acting normally if he’s in pain?”
Well, in the wild, if an animal allows pain to prevent it from eating, it will become weak and preyed upon or expelled from the pack. In essence, we pets do our best to hide pain and any sign of weakness.
Newer research has shown that chronic oral infection and inflammation are a serious threat to our overall health and well-being.
The chronic inflammation of dental disease can initiate oral cancer, and the infection and inflammation release bacteria and other factors into the bloodstream that harm internal organs and make arthritic joints hurt more.
We offer 10% off dental services provided in the month of February.
Why Do Pets Get Dental Disease?
Firstly, because we live longer than our wild counterparts.
And secondly, we pets don’t fully utilize our teeth like a wild carnivore. Today, we get our food handily delivered in a small kibble, served in a bowl.
This lack of using our teeth, along with changes in the shape of dogs’ skulls (as a cat, don’t get me started on that one!) results in plaque build-up.
We often don’t get our teeth brushed every day to remove that plaque like you humans do, and that plaque becomes tartar, then gum disease, then periodontal disease.
Even you humans, who are brushing your teeth twice a day, are supposed to see your dentist twice a year for a professional cleaning!
Here’s a good video that will help you recognize the signs of periodontal disease in your dog or cat:
Small Dogs Especially Need Dental Care
And, as smaller and smooshy-faced breeds (like Pugs and Persons) were developed, Mother Nature kept the teeth of small breed dogs proportionately larger than those of larger dogs.
For example, if you compare the size of the teeth of a Pug to a Golden Retriever, you will notice that the Pug’s teeth are about quarter the size of those of the Golden’s, while its body size is only about one-tenth the size.
As a result, most of their teeth are rotated and stacked like dominoes behind one another, often causing significant dental problems. This makes the mouths of small breeds much more crowded, leading to severe tartar buildup which quickly leads to loss of bone and gum tissue. Those tiny mouths are also much harder to brush than those of larger dogs.
Veterinary dentistry is a relatively recent medical advancement and not every veterinary hospital may offer the same set of skills and knowledge in caring for your pet’s teeth. Dentistry has only been recently offered as part of the veterinary medical education, and many veterinarians have acquired the skills and knowledge to properly treat pet’s teeth and gums via continuing education based on their level of interest and understanding of the field.
This accounts for the fact that as a pet owner you may have received several different opinions about your pet’s teeth and likely will see a great variance on the cost of pet dental care from hospital to hospital.
Dental Care Fees
Fees for dental care in pets are determined by the level of dental disease present in a pet’s mouth, as well as the hospital’s knowledge base and quality of equipment.
Digital dental X-Ray units to evaluate the large portion of the teeth that lie below the gum line, high-speed dental drills, and laser therapy to promote healing are now considered “standard of care,” yet some veterinary hospitals still do not yet have them and are unable to perform comprehensive dental services.
If you have specific questions about your pet, please feel free to contact one of our doctors at 206-323-4433.
What a Deal!
In celebration of Pet Dental Month, our doctors are offering 10% off dental procedures the entire month of February.
“Pets Need Dental Care Too” is a theme that has gained momentum over the past two decades as we’ve recognized that our furry family members need the same kind of attention to their dental health we do to ours.
We offer 10% off all dental services provided in the month of February.
Benefits of Oral Health
Besides improving their breath, caring for pets’ oral health is an important part of maintaining their overall health and quality of life. Poor oral health can affect a pet’s entire body, including their ability to eat, as well as their immune system and internal organs.
Abscessed or broken teeth and severe gingivitis hurt, yet many pets hide their pain. Pet owners often don’t recognize the changes they are seeing in their pet’s behavior, thinking the pet is “just getting old” when in fact the pet is dealing with constant pain. Some pets completely mask their pain.
Chronic inflammation in the mouth can also lead to oral cancer, a very serious, life-threatening situation that may be treatable if detected early.
Non-Anesthetic Teeth Cleaning
Besides traditional dental care services and digital dental x-ray, Atlantic Veterinary Hospital is one of the handful of veterinary hospitals in Seattle offering the very popular non-anesthetic teeth cleaning (dental prophylaxis) for carefully screened pets with early dental disease.
Pets with mild tartar and gingivitis may be good candidates for the procedure, which is done with an awake pet lying across the lap of the veterinary dental hygienist. The hygienist carefully charts each tooth; cleans the teeth and under the gums; then polishes the teeth – just like the procedure we have done at our dentist’s office.
If any problems are found, they are brought to the attention of one of our supervising doctors, who develops an alternate treatment plan.
You may have heard about the recent outbreak in the Seattle area of a new type of “dog flu” affecting pets across the country. This highly contagious and potentially very serious respiratory infection is caused by canine influenza virus H3N2.
Chances are, if your dog is exposed to H3N2, he or she may become infected.
Dogs that are in contact with other dogs may be at high risk of infection with H3N2. This includes dogs that are boarded, enrolled in day care or training classes, go to groomers, or visit our local dog parks.
Dogs can spread the virus even if they don’t appear sick.
The virus can be spread dog-to-dog or through objects, including dog toys, bowls, and human hands, clothing, and shoes.
Severity of symptoms vary from a mild cough and runny nose, to a high fever, decreased appetite, severe pneumonia, and extreme lethargy. Symptoms can persist for weeks.
If you have a puppy, elderly, or pregnant dog, or a dog that has a chronic illness, you should take extra precautions.
The best prevention is vaccination.
The good news: our office now has vaccines available to help control illness associated with H3N2.
We also have a second vaccine for another type of canine influenza, H3N8, which is likewise capable of causing severe respiratory disease in dogs (but to date has not been reported in Seattle).
Vaccination against both types of canine flu helps to ensure maximum protection. This is particularly important if you plan to board your dog in the near future or send him or her to a grooming or daycare facility.
We are now requiring all dogs that stay with us for boarding, grooming, or bathing to be vaccinated for both canine flu viruses H3N2 and H3N8.
We are offering a new Canine Upper Respiratory Package that includes both initial flu vaccines, plus the 3-week boosters.
If your dog is a current patient and up-to-date on his or her other vaccinations, the flu vaccines can be given during a brief complimentary nurse appointment.
For the time being, we are discontinuing day admission (drop-off) exams for sick dogs.
These are still available for cats and well dogs.
If your dog develops a cough, nasal discharge, or fever, please call us right away.
We are developing infectious disease protocols to help protect all our patients, and will advise you regarding how to bring your dog to our office to minimize the risk of infecting other patients.
If your dog becomes ill after hours, please call Seattle Veterinary Specialty Center on Capitol Hill at 206-624-9111.
In our continued efforts to improve our abilities to care for the needs of you and your pet, we are in the process of “going greener.” Starting in early November, we’ll begin our transition to electronic medical records and digital X-ray radiography, a process that will require a few months to complete.
Our purpose in these improvements is to enrich the human element of our services, an important and enjoyable part of our work. The changes will enhance our internal and external communications; increase our efficiency; and improve patient care – our primary concern.
For example, you’ll soon be able to access your pet’s physical exam notes, laboratory results, X-rays, discharge instructions, and preventive care reminders right from home.
Digital X-ray will give us higher-quality diagnostic images and faster turn-around on reports from the radiologist – from days down to hours.
We’re very excited! We’ve been prepping for these changes for months and upgrading our computer hardware. Staff training begins at the end of October. Unfortunately, we anticipate a bit of temporary “construction dust” as we transition, and sincerely appreciate your feedback, positive or otherwise.
The changes are a big endeavor, and we’re bound to have a few temporary glitches along the way as we move beyond paper charts and chemical-laden X-ray films to efficient, concise electronic records and digital radiographs. If we make a mistake or miss something, please call it to our attention right away and we’ll do everything we can to fix the problem.
For example, we recently had a few cats receive dog reminders as we were making adjustments to our computer coding (Sorry! Our sincerest apologies to our kitty patients – we know you’re not a dog!).
Thank you for your continued good faith, friendship, and feedback. It’s sincerely appreciated.