The start of a new year is when many of us make resolutions to do something better than we’ve done before; we decide to eat more healthy, to exercise more, hopefully lose some weight; maybe you decide to quit smoking or save more money or make some other stab at self-improvement. Personally, I’ve always figured that any time of year is a good time to decide to do something better – no need to wait until the calendar says January 1st. However, this year I do find myself wanting to be more organized – to get my house in better order and dispose of all the clutter and useless items that take up space, cause me stress, and hold no purpose. I want to have more patience with my daughter, even as she tests it daily. I want to continue to grow as a veterinarian and practice the best medicine that I am capable of.
As pet owners, we all love our pets in equal measure, but not everyone holds the same ideals when it comes to what constitutes the best care for them. We see pets who get veterinary check-ups on a regular basis, for both wellness care as well as any medical issues that crop up – and there are pets we see maybe once every three years, when their required-by-law rabies vaccine is due. We have pets that are routine kept up-to-date on all their vaccines, screened once a year for heartworm and intestinal parasites, and kept protected against said parasites as well as fleas and ticks. We also see pets that never see a veterinarian except as a last resort – and in some of those cases it’s not been until a medical issue has gone on for so long that treatment options have become limited to humane euthanasia. Some pet owners feed their pets so-called “super premium” diets, regularly get them groomed, and lavish them with treats and toys – and at the same time question if the dental care we recommend or heartworm prevention we prescribe is really necessary – or simply decide it’s too expensive or not worth the cost. There are pet owners who will seek second opinions from specialists and pursue aggressive diagnostics and treatment for everything from skin allergies to cancer; while others, either because of financial limits or personal philosophy, will do what they can to make their pets comfortable until it is no longer possible.
By no means do we judge those pet owners who choose to do “less” versus those who do “more” – the amount of money spent on a pet does not necessarily reflect the amount of love felt for their pet. Everyone has their different reasons for choosing what they choose for their furry four-legged companions – sometimes it comes down to money, and sometimes it comes down to what people value and what is a priority for them. Since there is no “Obamacare” for pets and less than 5% of the pets we see are covered by some form of pet health insurance, owners’ choices may be limited by how much discretionary spending one’s personal budget allows. As a veterinarian, I’ve always tried to present pet owners with the best medical plan possible for their pets, and then allowed them to decide what they afford to do – I’ve never thought less of someone for choosing “Plan B”. I get it – I’ve been there myself.
However, with the start of 2016, it might be worthwhile considering that perhaps, in many cases, there is more that we, as “pet parents”, can do for our “fur-kids” – maybe something we have not done before but we can do now. Maybe your dog or cat has never had a dental cleaning – but if it’s been recommended every year that they are seen for their check-up, perhaps this is the year we decide to schedule it. Maybe your dog was never spayed or neutered – but as they get older, the odds of them developing some serious diseases increases, so maybe this is the year we get it done. Maybe your cat has not had a vet check-up since it was a kitten – after all, she stays inside all the time and appears normal and healthy on the outside – but a routine check-up at least once a year can find issues that may be easier to treat if caught early. Maybe your dog has never been on heartworm or flea/tick prevention – it’s never been an issue for them before and maybe you’ve even had dogs before that never had an issue either – but not having them protected against parasites is gambling that they will still be okay; treating theses parasites is more difficult than preventing them in the first place – and in the case of heartworm, exponentially more expensive, as well as potentially deadly.
So this New Year’s, consider making a resolution that you will do something more for your pet’s long-term health that you have not done previously. Cut back snacks and other extra calories and take them for more walks or play with them more instead. Talk to your vet about scheduling a dental cleaning, or having your pet spayed or neutered if has not already been done. Have them seen for a wellness exam and find out what vaccines are recommended if it’s been more than a year since their last vet check-up. Have your dog heartworm tested, and on regular heartworm and flea/tick preventative – and consider it for your cat as well. Such steps don’t have to cost a ton of money – but they can potentially save you much more money, and spare you a lot of heartbreak, by preventing serious medical issues down the road. Our pets give us so much love and bring such joy to our lives – shouldn’t we do a little more to give something back to them?
Kirsten Ura-Barton, DVM