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Q: I have heard how much money some people have spent on their pets and it shocks me.  I am thinking of getting a new dog for my family but afraid of what the health care costs might be.  Can you comment?

A: Prevention is the key to controlling the cost of pet health care.  The more responsibility you accept to keep your pet healthy the fewer veterinary bills you will face.  Many preventative techniques start in the home.

            Nothing will help your pet stay healthy more than maintaining its proper weight.  Being overweight may bring on arthritis that can cripple your pet and result in the need for expensive surgery.  Diabetes and cancer are also more prevalent in obese animals, as are breathing problems, spinal disease and severe skin conditions.  Long term studies have show that dogs kept on a lean diet live as much as 15% longer than their overweight littermates, and that lean dogs postpone age related conditions such as arthritis by more than two years.   Of course a regular exercise program will help your pet keep the weight off.  Your veterinarian will give you advice as to the ideal weight for your pet and develop a diet to achieve and maintain that weight.  Remember “eyeballing” feeding amounts and over supplementing with treats are poor habit to get into. Measuring your pets’ food is a first easy step.

            Don’t skip your pet’s routine examinations which should occur yearly for young animals and twice yearly for older cats and dogs.  Because animals age far more quickly than humans, their diseases tend to progress more rapidly.  By catching developing health problems during a comprehensive examination by your veterinarian, you can identify health problems at an early stage when treatment is more effective and less expensive.

            Focus on oral hygiene habits.  By the age of three years, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of gum disease.  Infections that begin in the gums can spread to major organs with grave consequences, particularly with the heart and kidneys.  The first line of defense against gum disease is regular tooth brushing.  Make sure you use a soft brush designed for pets, and toothpaste formulated for pets.  Human toothpaste with fluoride can be toxic to pets.  Your veterinarian will instruct you as to how to get started.

            Poison proof your home.  Certain human foods, medications, plants, insecticides, and household chemicals all have the potential to sicken your pet.  Taking care to prevent accidental poisoning can save you an emergency trip to the veterinarian.  The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center website will provide you with more information on preventing accidental poisoning.  www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control

            It’s a good idea to consult with a veterinarian to help you select an animal that fits your budget and lifestyle.  The costs of providing proper nutrition, health care, shelter, training, and attention can vary widely from animal to animal. .  Investigate pet insurance as an option to reduce the financial impact of a serious injury or illness.  Veterinary medicine has made great strides in recent years.  New treatments and diagnostic techniques have raised the standard of care for animals and given owners more options when it comes to treating illness and injury.  With these advances have come increased costs, so it is more important than ever to take all the steps you can to keep your pet healthy and happy.

Mary Ann Crawford, DVM, DACVIM (Internal Medicine)

Dr. Crawford received her veterinary degree at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1978. Dr. Crawford is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. She has been board certified in internal medicine since 1985 and joined the Oradell Animal Hospital staff in 1986. Dr. Crawford was Professor and Head of the Medicine Department at Louisiana State University College of Veterinary Medicine before coming to Oradell Animal Hospital. She is also a past president of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and a past president of the Northern New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Crawford was awarded "Distinguished Alumnus" from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995 and in 2004 "Outstanding Alumnus" from the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She is also the recipient of the 1997 Friskies Pet Care Award for Feline Medicine and Nutrition given for outstanding clinical research in the area of feline hepatic lipidosis. Dr. Crawford is involved in a number of clinical research projects and acts as a consultant for Antech Diagnostic Laboratories. In her free time she spends time with her family and enjoys biking and swimming.