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Warnings for pet owners looking for cost cutting

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Posted: Sunday, June 9, 2013 12:15 am | Updated: 5:14 pm, Thu Mar 6, 2014.

Three of the most common methods pet owners use to cut costs include:

1. Skipping annual pet exams.

2. Purchasing low-cost vaccines or do-it-yourself vaccines.

3. Flea- and tick-control product purchases from online resources or copycat products.

Unfortunately, when not researched properly, small cost savings can lead to more expensive emergency care and even fatal results for pets.

Establishing regular exams with a veterinary clinic or hospital helps create a comparison of good health “normal findings” for pets.

I recommend a minimum of twice-a-year physical exams for healthy animals. During these exams, my associates and I weigh our patients, evaluate Body Condition Scoring (muscle and fat levels), dental and gum health, skin, coat, heart and lung sounds, stool samples, pulses, gait and joint health, in addition to behavior.

When we examine pets regularly, vets can detect subtle changes in any of the above findings. Unfortunately, I often see pets that have not been in for a checkup in years.

This past week, I examined a cat that was last in my office three years ago. She weighed 2 pounds less than she did at her last visit. Since I don’t know if that weight loss was gradual or more sudden, I recommended more extensive blood and urine testing to screen her for diabetes, thyroid disease, kidney and liver diseases.

If I had been examining Miss Kitty more often, my physical exam history would have answered many of my questions regarding her recent health, perhaps with fewer tests.

The bottom line is that regular exams with a vet you trust can save you money and keep your pet healthy for longer.

My next area of concern is the huge numbers of pet owners who are saving money by going to a fire hall, a mobile clinic set up in a parking lot, their neighbor who “buys shots from somewhere, where he gets them, but I’m not sure,” a catalog, breeder or feed store.

Many times I read the records of those patients and find they are being overvaccinated more often than underimmunized, vaccinated for diseases that don’t occur in our area, or vaccinated with ineffective products and still contracting diseases like Parvovirus.

I am frequently asked to perform vaccine clinics and certainly help local communities whenever possible, but the records I read at those functions reflect many unexamined pets, which are getting inappropriate types and numbers of shots, because no vet is regularly talking with the owners.

Here are some guidelines for getting vaccines:

1. Only buy them from trained, licensed professionals who have a reputation to stand behind them in a fixed business where you can find them in the event that your pet has a reaction or a problem with the vaccine.

2. Work with local vets to decide which vaccines your pet actually needs. Do not go out every year and get vaccines for everything possible, because it seems like a better value for your money. Excessive vaccines can be worse than some of the diseases.

3. Avoid going to places that pre-sell lots of vaccines at a discount or to parking lots with non-local vets who advocate “vaccinating for all diseases as the manufacturers’ labels state, because we will not change until they change the labels.” That is a quote from a website of a corporate practice that sends non-local vets to feed store parking lots to vaccinate pets.

Although that statement sounds reasonable, the reality is that the manufacturer is not going to change the label (the Food and Drug Administration would pull the product, and it would cost the companies millions to relabel), and the American Veterinary Medical Association has recommended reducing vaccines and working with local vets to establish vaccine programs that are specific for each pet and region.

The bottom line here is that a groomer, feed store or out-of-town vet will likely not be saving you money on vaccines by following the manufacturers’ label.

Finally, when it comes to using spot-on flea and tick products, ask your vet for recommendations. I treat several cases of toxicity each year, in which “safe products” purchased for lower prices, produce seizures and tremors.

Remember that “compare to Frontline,” “similar to veterinary products” and “contains the same ingredient as prescription flea control,” are misleading. Active ingredients may be the same, but the inert or inactive products make a huge difference in effectiveness and toxic properties.

Never apply dog products to cats and be sure not to split larger tubes to save money. Do not apply any products to sick, pregnant, old or young pets without your vet’s advice.

Allergic and adverse insecticide reactions accounted for 1,600 pet deaths from 2003-08. They continue to send many pets to emergency clinics. Always check with your vet; most will work hard to save clients’ money, while offering safer product solutions.

Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township.

She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, please email ellwoodvet@msn.com.

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