Consumer guide to saving money on pet care

November 21, 2009 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

Live from the CWA conference in White Plains, we’re about to hear from a great panel–if I say so myself–on caring for pets in tough economic times. We have Dr. Susan Little; Carol Frischmann, author of Pets and the Planet: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Pet Care; Susan Logan, editor of Cat Fancy; and Kimberly Cassar from Hartz.

Susan Little is saying that all pet owners can learn how to do a basic physical exam so they know what’s normal. The biggest thing you need to learn is what’s normal so you can recognize when something’s wrong. Being observant and listening to your pet…doesn’t take much time. Subtle clues, particularly for cats. Pay attention to variations. If you have a good relationship with your vet, you can call and say ‘this is what I’m seeing; what do you think?’

Carol F. says to keep the annual exam on your budget list because prevention is less expensive than treating problems. Accident prevention is important. I think a lot of people don’t think about this. People are averse to using leashes for their dogs or have cats that go out at night. Encourage consciousness of the fact that these things can put animals at risk. For those who are less familiar with birds, if you see any clue that your bird is not well, immediately call work and tell them you’re not coming in and take bird to vet. With birds, by the time you can see it, they’re half gone.

Susan Logan is talking about owls, coyotes, other predators that are risks to cats that go outdoors. Says to feed the highest quality food you can afford; should be meat-based. Cats are not omnivores.

From a manufacturer’s perspective, Kimberly Cassar thinks brushing teeth is really important for keeping dental health better and agrees with Susan’s food recommendations. Educate yourself about poisonous plants and other hazards, especially during the holidays.

What can you buy over the counter and how do you know how much is safe for your pet? Cats are sensitive to so many things that you and I take for granted, Susan Little says. Talk to your veterinarian first and find out what is safe. Wound care, ear cleaning things are usually safe, but talk to vet first. Don’t just pull it off the shelf and try it on the cat. It can be pretty scary what people will do simply because they don’t know.

Carol F. says for birds nothing OTC is safe because their bodies are so small. A bird the size of a hummingbird is the same weight as a postage stamp. For dogs, she says her favorite remedies are cans of pumpkin because fiber in the pumpkin can help with diarrhea and constipation. Go back to what is normal for your animal. if you have a dog with a sensitive digestive system, a little pumpkin can help, but if it continues or is unusual for the dog, see the vet. There are very good ear cleaners available. have your vet show you how to properly clean the dog’s ears.

Susan Logan wouldn’t use anything for a cat that isn’t labeled for a cat; she’d be afraid to. Kimberly Cassar advises against using highly fragranced products on cats or shampoos that aren’t made for cats. Moderator Darlene Arden notes that the formulas have changed for Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate have changed and are no longer safe for pets.

Next question: Darlene says visits are being canceled because of the economy. How often should pets see the vet; how long can you go between visits? Dr. Little thinks it’s dangerous to deviate from a formula of at least an annual exam. She believes most owners are not good enough at detecting when things are going wrong with pets and thinks senior pets, especially cats, should see the vet more often. It’s a false economy to try to save the cost of an annual exam. It doesn’t have to be high-tech. The vet’s most powerful tools are eyes and ears.

Carol Frischmann says as I look at budgeting and what I could advise, purchase less, purchase better and think long term. Purchase highest quality food and don’t forego the annual exam. I disagree with her advice that if you can’t do those two things you should rehome your pet. She says they don’t need toys if they have your attention, which is good advice.

Susan Logan would rather sell things or make other economies for herself before cutting back on her pets’ medical care and her own medical care. Health is our greatest investment, so never compromise on your own or your animals’.

Kimberly Cassar: don’t trip over the dollars to save pennies.

Darlene turns the discussion to nutrition. What are some of the best choices available to consumers?

Kimberly Cassar: bargain shop by channel shifting. Look harder for stores that sell your chosen high-quality product at a discount. Read labels, read and understand guaranteed analysis.

Susan Logan: meat should be the first ingredient you see on the label. Food should taste good to cat or you’re just wasting it.

Carol Frischmann: a lot of my readers are interested in organic products. Wants people to remember that just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s good. Organic agriculture is not subsidized in this country so that’s why it’s expensive. Buy in bulk and freeze foods.

Susan Little: The #1 nutritional cats have is obesity. Feed the right amount. A good quality food fed in the right amt is more economical than too much of a lower quality food. Vets now have cool software programs that can figure out how much your cat should be eating to maintain weight or lose weight or whatever. I can’t remember the last time I told someone ‘please feed more.’ Learn to feed your cat properly. Cats do not need to have dry food available 24/7. It’s not only what we feed, it’s how we feed.

Audience member is noting that guidelines on bag are often overly generous. Susan Little is responding that that’s a great point. Feeding guidelines are way too generalized. Depends on cat’s age, health, lifestyle, etc. Very complicated. The annual exam is an educational event as much as it is a health exam.

Susan Little addressing vaccination recommendations: have to look at individual cat’s lifestyle and needs. It’s easier to have a playbook but it doesn’t help our pets. Titers are inexact. I am uncomfortable using them as a basis for deciding vaccinations. We don’t have the tools or tests that can tell us ‘this cat needs this vaccine and not that one.’ I’m very happy with moving to a less than annual system. It’s about individual risk assessment and using products according to their label. We do not use titers. You can have an antibody level that’s close to zero and be protected.

Carol Frischmann: It’s important to consider the risk you take taking your birds out in public or introducing them to other birds or boarding them.

Susan Little: If you want to “cheat” on your vet, please cheat in a responsible way by going to American Association of Feline Practitioners website for information.

Susan Little: obesity is an owner-driven problem. people come home from work and the cat wants interaction and the only way people can think of to interact with them is to feed them. Cats are not social eaters but we can turn them into social eaters if that’s the only way we know how to interact with them. Give them 10 to 15 minutes of playtime instead.

Janet Velenovsky in audience: Cats do need toys. Clicker train them. Treat the cat after a play session. The owner that wants to feed could incorporate it into play sessions as long as treats are appropriate. Mentions AAFP guidelines noting that most cats that are overweight are underexercised.

This session is pretty much over and we will be heading for lunch and speaker Lesley Lyons, a geneticist from UC Davis. I’ve interviewed her before and she’s very inter…

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Just for fun: Measuring the tongue Leslie Lyons on feline genetics

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