Information about the high cost of veterinary care for animals and how to make the right choices when caring for a sick animal.
The cost of veterinary care for animals: What happens when you can't afford the best treatment?
For many animal lovers and owners who face decisions about
the health and care of their pet, the most difficult
problem can be a matter of balance between what we feel in
our hearts is right for our animal friends and what can be
achieved both practically and, unfortunately, economically.
For example, if a dog is diagnosed with a tumor or a horse
with laminitis, both potentially fatal problems,
veterinarians often suggest treatments including surgery,
chemotherapy, or other drugs that will definitely treat the
problem and may provide months or even additional years of
life for the animal. However, if the owner has a somewhat
modest or, worse yet, restricted income, the thousands of
dollars involved in these treatments might not be available
to treat the pet in such an optimum way.
When it comes to the high cost of veterinary care for animals, we all know what we would ideally
like to do. However, for many folks, this best-treatment
plan simply may not be an option. Should owners sell their
car, move into a cheaper apartment, or forfeit the house so
that their pet can live six months longer? I wish these
were simple hypothetical dilemmas for many companion animal
owners, but, alas, they are not. Where is the balance
between a desire to do what's right for our pets and what's
feasible for us?
As a general practitioner, I have become well acquainted
with these gray areas and the complexities which simple
lack of health insurance for pets brings. While we may not
always be able to opt for the best treatment or care, we
can try to be as informed and compassionate as possible, to
alleviate the most pain and suffering we can, and to keep
in mind that basic care for our companion animals should be
no different than care for any member of our family. There
should not be despair in being unable to afford the optimum
treatments for our pets' problems. Indeed, many solutions
to medical and surgical problems often begin and remain
simple, in those gray zones, far from optimum. What matters
is that we do care about the well-being of the pets that
share our lives; and we can bring wisdom and solutions to
almost any of their problems, if we are smart enough to
look for answers. Keep those questions coming!
Our six-year-old cat was suffering from a tumor
caused by feline leukemia virus and was
euthanized in December. We can't replace her, but I would
like to get another cat sometime if I weren't so afraid it
would get the same thing. How soon is it safe to be thinking of this?
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is transmitted from one cat to
another via bodily fluids — urine, saliva, blood, and
milk. There is no way to tell how your cat was infected,
but one usually assumes that exposure to the virus occurs
through contact with an infected cat. Cats can even get the
virus from their mothers through ingesting infected milk
when they are kittens.
The virus usually requires the incorporation of cells into
a cat's blood and bone marrow to remain active and
infective. Outside the body, it dies within minutes. In
rare cases, it can remain infective in the environment for
up to 2-3 days, but, again, this is rare. Thus, there
should be little chance of you having a live virus in the
house or yard to infect a new cat or kitten, unless some
other cat is still spreading the germs.
Be sure to have the new cat tested for the disease—a
simple blood test is all that's required. If the animal is
negative, a vaccine can be administered to prevent
infection in the future—or you may simply choose to
keep the cat under close scrutiny when outdoors in order to
guard against cat fights, the major method of viral spread.
If the animal tests positive, I would recommend retesting
again in 2-3 months as many cats "clear" (get rid of) the
virus over time.
It was recommended that we spay our one-year-old rabbit. We are worried about the surgery, and it's costly. Is it worth it?
Ovariohysterectomy in rabbits is a common procedure to
perform. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to
having it done. The most common reason to perform an
ovariohysterectomy, or spay, is to prevent uterine
adenocarcinoma (a cancer) from occurring in the uterus,
which all female rabbits are at risk of developing. This
form of cancer is aggressive and difficult to remove once
Spaying a rabbit also prevents the occurrence of
pseudopregnancies which are false pregnancies that occur
after a sterile mating or mounting by other does or female
rabbits. In pseudopregnancies, does pull hair, build nests,
and become aggressive for protective or territorial
The downfalls to performing a spay often revolve around the
anesthesia. Sadly enough, these animals are often so small
and easily stressed that the drugs we are accustomed to
using for our other companion animals like dogs and cats
may not be appropriate for rabbits. However, if dosed
accordingly certain drugs, even inhalant gases, can be used
safely and effectively to achieve lade of feeling and
suitable anesthesia. The actual surgery is not complicated,
and if the animal is in good health prior to the procedure
it may be worth having her spayed.
Weigh the pluses and minuses. If you plan on this rabbit
being around other animals, it is in her favor to have her
spayed because of the behavior changes associated with
pseudopregnancy. Also, as she ages, the risk of developing
the uterine tumor becomes higher, and if she is suddenly
diagnosed with it it's usually too advanced and too late to
have it removed.
Our border collie, Stella, and four cats play
together constantly. Stalls commonly scratches her ears
after play. Is it possible that she has ear mites from the
cats, and, if so, how do we treat them?
Otodectes cyanotis (the ear mite) may cause an external ear
infection (otitis externs) in dogs, cats, foxes, rabbits,
and ferrets. The mites live on the surface of the skin and
membranes of the ear canal, and feed by piercing the skin
and ingesting lymph and serum, resulting in a bad
irritation, inflammation, and a lot of crust formation.
There are several species of mites that do the same but
Otodectes is the most common.
Ear mites are very persistent and resistant parasites. They
cause the animal to shake its head and scratch or rub the
affected ears. A waxy, dark-brown, flaky exudate, commonly
referred to as "coffee grind" debris, results and
accumulates in the canal. If you look closely, you might
even be able to see small white or flesh colored mites on
Treatment involves first removing the debris which the
mites create and then ridding the mites themselves.
Instillation of a bland oil (mineral or baby oil), or some
type of cerumen (wax) lysing agent (make sure its
nonalcohol based), into the ear canal on cotton or cotton
swabs may be useful in loosening and removal of the debris.
If the debris is not removed, medication to kill the mites
is ineffective and often times the itchiness remains. Avoid
pouring anything directly into the ear canal; if the ear
drum is ruptured secondary to the mites, this is often very
caustic and may injure the inner ear as well. Also avoid
packing the debris further into the ear as you clean.
A particularly useful product for killing the mites often
contains the miticide pyrethrin or some other chemical in
an oil solubilizing base. This can be obtained from your
veterinarian and will kill the mites. Other treatments
include injections of drugs such as ivermectin, which are
effective against the mites but currently not recommended
or licensed for use on all animals, especially collies and
collie cross dogs. These animals have a different barrier
between their blood and brain tissue which may predispose
them to neurologic disease or even death if the wrong
products are used in inappropriate doses or forms.
An important treatment for all parasites is cleanliness of
the environment, which means cleaning and vacuuming the
carpets and bedding and hot washing what you can to rid the
area of mite eggs and debris.
Our Jersey cattle have been lucky enough to dodge
shipping fever and the severe pneumonia and cough it
brings. But we're interested in purchasing a few cows who
might have had this in their herd, although they look
healthy now. What do you think?
Eau Claire, WI
The disease known as shipping fever is probably the most
serious disease faced by the dairy herd or cattle feedlot
owner. There are several known factors which cause the
complex and some unknown ones as well. Shipping fever is
caused by a bacteria known as Pasturella multocida and a
virus called Parainfluenza working together at a time of
stress. Other viruses may be involved as well. The
characteristic fever (104 degrees Fahrenheit. or higher), loss of
appetite, and nasal discharge commonly appear at times of
stress in the herd or animal, such as moving or shipping,
hence the name shipping fever.
Shipping fever differs from simple cold or pneumonia in
that it tends to be quite contagious. Although stress
precipitates the disease, even animals not apparently under
stress frequently come down with it because of its tendency
to spread. Pasturella tends to be the most invasive and
problematic organism and appears to be at the root of the
disease. Pus and infection from this bacteria may clog the
lung, causing pneumonia, cough, fever, and even death.
Animals in the late stages of the disease are reluctant to
move and will stand with their head and neck extended,
gasping for air.
The key to treatment is once again prevention. It goes
without saying that you should buy only healthy
replacements. Furthermore, don't buy from commission sales;
buy directly from the farm where the animals were born and
raised if possible. Secondly, regardless of the source,
keep newly purchased animals separated from the main herd
for at least two weeks. In this period, try not to change
their feed suddenly, vaccinate them, or subject them to
To more directly answer your question, it would be prudent
not to purchase any animals with a history of this disease
in their background. This disease is so contagious that the
transfer of animals from herd to herd is likely to initiate
a recrudescence of this nasty underlying respiratory
Our Quarter Horse mare is constantly pulling
tendons on the turns. Should she be walked or mildly
exercised right after an in jury or not?
We would like to prevent scar tissue from forming, and have
heard different ideas on when to return her to
Half Moon Bay, CA
The best treatment for a "pulled tendon" — which
classically appears as a swollen, hot, painful back of the
leg or simple vague lameness — is ice, wrapping and
rest, rest, rest ! When an injury first occurs
(within 24 hours), ice should be applied for approximately
one hour, three to four times a day. The ice or cold water
is not only analgesic (pain killing) but controls
hemorrhage by constricting the vessels and slowing release
of inflammatory mediators (chemicals) from the lining of
vessels and cells. Bandaging should be constant, firm, and
uniform to collapse the tissue planes and reduce fluid
buildup between them. Exercise will only aggravate further
injury and shoes should be removed in the early recovery
Within two days of the injury, the repair process begins.
It is at this stage (2-28 days) that controlled, slow
movement stimulates circulation, maintains some
flexibility in the limb, and helps with structural repair
of the tendon fibers if the injury is not excessive.
Passive motion of the limb — your holding and moving
the limb gently — will strengthen the fibers still in
place and decrease the chance of adhesion formation. After
two days, alternating warm and cool (not ice) washes
provides for rapid vasodilatation and increased lymph flow.
Lymph helps clear the injured tendon of waste products from
"Sweats" — topical medications that improve
circulation — are also beneficial in this period if
applied appropriately and rinsed from the skin before
reapplication. Hydrotherapy, turbulator boots, or
whirlpools all stimulate circulation, as does the product
DMSO, which can be prescribed by your veterinarian and
should be used with gentle movement. Aspirin,
phenylbutazone, and flunixin are anti-inflammatories which
come in oral and injectable forms; these will decrease the
swelling and make movement easier.
Within two months, walking can be supplemented with
swimming, underwater treadmilling, or very gentle jogging
exercise. Bear in mind that the longer you are able to
stretch out the rehabilitation period, the better the
chance of healing the tendon completely. Support bandages
should still be used in this period on both the injured leg
and the opposite limb to prevent further tendon damage.