By Dr. Becker
The average U.S. pet owner spends more than $600 a year on veterinary care, and this rises to more than $900 if your pet has a chronic condition.1
According to the Pet Healthonomics Survey, 3 out of 4 pet owners are concerned about the costs of pet health care,2 and many use cost-cutting strategies as a result. Unfortunately, some of these strategies, like skipping vet visits, may backfire.
The survey found, for instance, that 67 percent of cat owners do not take their pets in for a yearly check-up, and 43 percent said they only visit the veterinarian when there is an active health issue.
By the time this happens, however, you may end up spending far more to treat your pet for a condition that was potentially preventable.
On the brighter side, a sizeable minority of pet owners (42 percent) say they have saved on veterinary costs by learning more about preventive health care, and this is an area of extreme importance.
By taking steps to give your pet a healthy lifestyle, you can actively support his health and, in so doing, save money on his health care costs.
Top Preventive Strategies to Save Money on Veterinary Care
This is tool No. 1 because it will provide your pet with the nutrients he needs to flourish, support his immune system health and keep his weight in check, provided you're feeding the appropriate portion size.
You'll want to avoid feeding highly processed, high-carbohydrate and low-moisture foods (including most commercial kibbles and low-quality canned foods).
This type of junk-food diet is the opposite of what your pet is designed to eat, and feeding such foods to your pet will lead to significant metabolic and physiologic stress.
Unfortunately, convenience pet foods have become the root cause of most of the inflammatory processes and degenerative diseases that plague today's dogs and cats.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Excess weight in dogs and cats can shorten lifespan and lead to conditions such as arthritis, bladder and urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes and more.
Please don't make the mistake of feeding a low-calorie or "diet" pet food to help your dog or cat lose weight, as many of these are filled with grains and fillers that will hinder your pet's weight loss goals.
Using the first strategy — feeding your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet — will be imperative for healthy weight loss. Add in careful portion control (no "free feeding" buffets and watch the size and type of treats), aerobic exercise and active play, and your pet should be well on his way to a healthy weight.
3. Minimize Stress
Stress takes a toll on pets just like it does on you. Further, if your pet is bored, he may look to unhealthy behaviors for entertainment, like chewing up furniture (which could lead to intestinal blockage).
Some stressed pets may also develop obsessive behaviors, such as excessive licking that could lead to a skin problem.
To minimize your pet's stress, remove any obvious stressors (if possible) and continue with a balanced, species-appropriate diet, plenty of exercise and environmental enrichment.
4. Provide Pure, Fresh Water
If your pet isn't adequately hydrated, it puts extra stress on his kidneys and heart while slowing blood flow through his liver and spleen. It can be difficult to know how much your pet is drinking, but one of the best ways to encourage adequate water intake is by providing fresh, pure water daily.
Your pet's water bowl should be washed daily and filled with filtered (chlorine-, fluoride- and metal-free) water.
You can further encourage adequate hydration, especially in cats, by offering a variety of water bowls around your house or using a drinking fountain, in addition to feeding moisture-rich food (and minimizing dry food). You can also add small amounts of water or broth to your pet's meals.
5. Pay Attention to Hygiene
Big problems can be prevented by paying attention to small details — i.e., trim your pet's nails regularly, clean his ears if necessary and brush his teeth daily.
Regular brushing will help your pet's coat stay healthy, too, while washing off his paws after coming in from outdoors can minimize his ingestion of lawn chemicals, pollutants picked up from the street or road salts (in the winter).
Seek Proactive Preventive Veterinary Care
It's important to bring your pet in for regular veterinary check-ups, but not to receive annual vaccines. Unfortunately, conventional veterinarians often focus "preventive" veterinary care on excessive vaccinations, pest preventives, and other veterinary drugs and products.
In reality, minimizing unnecessary exposure to vaccinations and medications is a key way to keep your pet healthy. Truly effective preventive health care involves regular monitoring of your pet's health status and taking proactive steps as necessary to prevent the development of disease.
This isn't a one-size-fits-all approach; it should be tailored to your individual pet's needs. Proactive vets advocate the use of vaccine titers in place of unnecessary, repeated vaccines. I also use what I call the Three Pillars of Health as a proactive approach to wellness. These pillars include:
1. Balanced species-appropriate nutrition, as described above
2. A sound, resilient frame. This aspect of your pet's health involves maintenance of his musculoskeletal system and organs. Periodically evaluating organ function is critical to assure all body systems are functioning optimally.
3. A balanced, functional immune system.The goal here is to keep your pet's immune system in balance. It should protect against pathogens but not be over-reactive to the point of creating allergies and other autoimmune conditions. This is accomplished by titering in place of vaccines and evaluating environmental chemical load.
These pillars involve different steps, such as tracking changes in your pet's blood work over time to monitor organ function, regularly reviewing physical exam changes and dietary needs and supplement protocol reviews as pets age.
How to Keep an Eye on Your Pet's Health Between Vet Visits
It's key to monitor these things while your pet is well to avoid preventable disease. If you wait until your pet is already sick to seek veterinary care, it may be too late. Ideally, take your pet to the vet at least once a year (or twice a year if you're managing a chronic condition).
When you're between visits, you can keep a close eye on your pet's health by conducting an at-home physical exam (I give a demo in the video below). By helping your pet lead a healthy lifestyle and seeking proactive preventive veterinary care, you can minimize your pet's health care costs while maximizing his longevity.