In This Chapter
- Taking your dog for an annual checkup
- Neutering your dog
- Knowing what to look for when choosing a vet
- Allaying your dog’s fears about trips to the vet’s office
- Taking advantage of special payment and savings plans
Knowing What to Expect from the Annual Checkup
Before your annual veterinary appointment, make notes of any changes in your dog’s health or behavior. Jot down any questions you have about your dog’s care. These notes will help you provide a complete description of your dog’s health history so you can get answers to your questions — and so you’re not left saying, “I know there was something I was going to ask, but I can’t remember what it was.” Bring a pen and paper to the appointment to take brief notes about your veterinarian’s recommendations — they can be hard to remember later.
Take advantage of your veterinary appointments. Ask questions and be sure that you understand the answers. Use these meetings as an opportunity to work with your veterinarian to promote your dog’s health and longevity. If your dog is found to be healthy at the annual checkup, don’t feel you’ve wasted your time and money. Instead, count your blessings.
If a specific problem has prompted your visit, bring a written history of the problem. If your dog has been vomiting periodically, for example, record the date the vomiting first began; how often your dog has vomited; when (in relation to eating) he vomited; and the amount, color, and texture of the vomited material.
Don’t talk to your veterinarian or rub your dog while he’s listening with his stethoscope. It makes it hard for the vet to hear your dog’s lung and heart sounds.
Dogs on heartworm preventive should still be tested every year, just in case the medication was forgotten or was ineffective for some reason.
Most heartworm preventives are given monthly. The pills are so tasty that you can just drop one in your dog’s food bowl and he’ll gobble it up. A heartworm preventive can be given to a puppy with his first set of vaccinations. A heartworm test isn’t necessary for a puppy under 3 months of age.
Blood chemistry, urinalysis, and vaccinations
Choosing the Right Vet for You and Your Dog
Personal references from friends and acquaintances or your dog’s breeder, if she lives nearby, can be very helpful in making your selection. Ask your friends whether their veterinarians have been able to make a diagnosis when their dogs haven’t been well. If their dogs had surgery, find out whether the recovery was uneventful and complete. Also find out whether their veterinarians discussed the dogs’ illnesses and treatments, and whether they answered questions thoroughly.
When you’ve compiled a short list of possible veterinarians, call and make an appointment to see each of them without your dog. Tell them you want to meet them, tour their clinics, and discuss your dog’s care. Look for the following qualities when choosing a veterinarian for your dog:
– Someone who can diagnose: Your veterinarian should usually be able to give you a diagnosis after she has examined your dog and performed the necessary tests. She may not always come up with a single diagnosis, but she should have a list of possibilities and a plan for how to differentiate between those possibilities. And if your veterinarian doesn’t know the diagnosis or can’t answer the questions you have, she should at least be able to offer you an explanation of her thought processes and plans for further evaluation.
– Someone you can communicate with easily: Your veterinarian should be willing to answer your questions and should be able to explain, in terms you understand, both your dog’s diagnosis and her recommendations for treatment and follow-up care. Your veterinarian should be willing to listen to you and shouldn’t ignore your observations regarding your dog’s health. She should work with you as a partner, as someone who can help her work to improve your dog’s health.
– Someone who works in a modern facility: Your veterinarian should have a modern, clean facility with capable veterinary assistants and access to a diagnostic lab that can provide the results of most tests within 24 hours. She should have staff on the premises 24 hours a day to care for seriously ill dogs, or she should be able to move seriously ill dogs to a 24-hour emergency facility for overnight care and observation. Your veterinarian should be available during emergency hours or should be able to refer you to an emergency clinic for problems that occur at night or on weekends.
– Someone who is willing to make referrals: Your veterinarian should be willing to refer your dog to a specialist for further evaluation. She should not be threatened if you ask for a referral to obtain a second opinion about your dog’s condition.
– Someone who has specific interests and specialty training: Every veterinary professional has areas of special interest. Perhaps your veterinarian is especially interested in working with dogs. Maybe she has a particular interest in your breed of dogs. Not all veterinarians enjoy or are equally talented at performing surgery. And that’s okay. But because many dogs need surgery at some time in their lives, you need to know how comfortable your veterinarian is with surgery — what surgical procedures she performs and what kinds of cases she refers to a specialist. Ask her about the surgeons she refers to. Do the surgeons work in the same practice? If not, do they visit the practice to perform surgery, or would you have to transfer your dog elsewhere?
Don’t wait until your dog is ill to find a vet; get the facts and start developing a working relationship with a veterinarian while your dog is healthy. When you visit a veterinary clinic, watch the staff. It always is a good sign when the receptionist and technical staff enjoy being with dogs and work well together.
Don’t choose a veterinarian on the basis of the prices she charges for her services. Veterinarians have a great deal of time and money invested in their education, clinic, and equipment. A veterinary clinic has very high overhead because of the cost of maintaining assets and equipment (the building, the surgical and anesthetic equipment, an X-ray machine, ultrasound equipment, and so on), and the cost of top-notch personnel to care for your dog and to assist with surgery. A veterinarian who consistently charges less for her services than other vets in the same area is probably cutting corners somehow, perhaps in a way that can affect your dog’s care. To get the best healthcare for your dog, expect to pay for it.
Neutering Your Dog
If you want to teach your children a wonderful lesson about the animal population, teach them the importance of spaying and neutering pets, and take them to visit your local Humane Society or animal shelter so they can see firsthand how many dogs are in need of a good home.
The bottom line? Having a litter consists of either weeks of intensity or a lifetime of responsibility. If you’re ready for this, be sure to join your local breed club, where you’ll find many other individuals who will be glad to help you with all the details of making puppies. If you aren’t ready for the work involved, get your dog spayed or neutered. If you are really interested in breeding, take a look at Chapter Dog Breeding 101.
Spaying involves removing both the uterus and the ovaries. Castration refers to removing a male dog’s testicles. The term neutering is a general term to describe either spaying or castration (but you may hear the terms neutering and castrating used to mean the same thing — neutering certainly sounds less horrible).
– Female dogs who are spayed before their first heat cycle (which usually occurs between 6 and 9 months of age) have a significantly reduced chance of developing mammary (breast) cancer, compared to dogs who have had even one heat cycle.
– Spayed females can’t develop pyometra, an infection of the uterus that can be quite severe and can even result in death.
– Spayed females tend to have more even temperaments and do not go through the hormone-induced mood swings that intact bitches sometimes have.
– Neutered dogs often are better behaved than their intact counterparts. Not only are they less likely to roam (visiting neighborhood females is a major reason for roaming), but they are also less likely to mark their territory by urinating in the house (testosterone is one of the major drives for this dominance-related activity). In addition, neutered male dogs are much less likely to be aggressive toward other male dogs. These behavior benefits are particularly true if you castrate your dog between the ages of 9 and 12 months, before he becomes sexually mature and develops bad habits.
– Neutering reduces the incidence of prostate problems often seen in older dogs.
– A neutered dog won’t develop testicular cancer, a common cancer of older, intact male dogs.
Male dogs who lift their legs to urinate don’t leave urine burns in the middle of the lawn because they usually urinate on trees, fence posts, and other vertical objects around the perimeter of the yard. If you prefer that your male dog lift his leg rather than squat to urinate, wait until this habit is well established before getting him neutered.
Many people think their dogs will get fat if they are spayed or castrated, but this isn’t the case. Neutered dogs frequently don’t need as much food as their intact compatriots, but a simple solution is useful if yours does: Don’t feed him as much.
The gory details
Neutering a male dog involves surgically removing the testicles with a relatively simple operation. When you make an appointment to have your dog castrated, your veterinarian will ask you not to give your dog any food or water after 8 p.m. the night before the surgery. (Keeping your dog from eating or drinking decreases the likelihood of the dog regurgitating during surgery.) The veterinarian will anesthetize the dog and make a tiny incision in the skin just in front of the testicles. The testicles are then slid up under the skin and removed through this little slit. The skin is sutured with three to five sutures. Your dog is then allowed to wake from the anesthesia and to rest overnight — either at the veterinarian’s office or at your home — after the surgery.
Spaying a female is more involved than neutering a male because it involves opening the abdomen. As with any general anesthetic, the veterinarian will ask you not to give your dog food or water after 8 p.m. the night before the surgery. After your dog is anesthetized, the veterinarian will make an incision in the center of her abdomen. He will find the uterus and ovaries and cut them out, first making sure that all the blood vessels are clamped off so they don’t bleed. In a young dog, the blood vessels are tiny and are easy to clamp off. After a female has been through a heat cycle, however, the vessels are larger and require special attention so they don’t bleed. This is why spaying a dog after her first heat is usually more expensive. If a bitch is pregnant, the vessels are very large and are full of blood to feed the growing puppies; therefore, some veterinarians refuse to spay a pregnant bitch (sometimes requested to prevent the birth of puppies) because of the danger of postoperative bleeding. After removing the uterus and ovaries, the veterinarian sutures the abdominal incision and the dog wakes up. She then may stay overnight at the clinic to make sure that she rests and doesn’t stress the incision in the early stages of healing.
For the first couple days after surgery (whether for castration or spaying), your dog should rest and should go outside only for the bathroom. For the next week, mild exercise such as on-leash walking is all right. About ten days after surgery, the veterinarian will check to make sure that the incision is healing properly and will remove the sutures (or check on self-dissolving sutures).
Helping Your Dog Enjoy His Trip to the Vet
– Occasionally drop by the vet’s office with your dog when you don’t have an appointment. Bring your dog into the office and have the receptionist give him a cookie or two. Chat for a while and then leave. This way, your dog will learn to view the vet’s office as a fun place, instead of a place where he only gets poked and prodded.
– Make sure that your dog gets experience riding in the car just for fun. If he rides in the car only when he has to see the veterinarian, he soon will become fearful as soon as he gets in the car.
– Schedule your veterinary appointments for a time when there are fewer dogs in the office, if you can. This reduces the social stresses on your dog and reduces your time in the waiting room. If your dog is particularly worried while he’s in the waiting room, stay with your dog in the car until the veterinarian is ready to meet with you (you can run in and let the office staff know you’re in the parking lot and have them come get you when they’re ready).
– Bring an ample supply of treats with you. Give your dog a treat for entering the door and another for sitting with you quietly. Train your dog in the basics of obedience — he’ll feel more secure if he is asked to do something familiar (like “sit” and “stay”) during this stressful period. During your office visit, ask the veterinarian to give your dog some treats periodically, especially just before she examines your dog or before she does something stressful such as inserting the thermometer.
– Don’t mistakenly praise your dog for being stressed. Many people make the mistake of trying to comfort their dogs when they act fearful in the veterinary office. Your dog may interpret this attention as you praising him for his worry. You’re better off ignoring him when he acts worried, and praising him and giving him treats for even small acts of boldness.
Start these preventive measures from the very first visit. Don’t wait until your dog shows signs of fear.
Covering the Costs
Personal savings plans
The only disadvantage of this system is that you have to have the discipline to make it work.
Don’t wait until the last minute to come up with funds to pay your dog’s medical expenses. If you put $2 of change a day into a savings account, at the end of three years, you’ll have saved more than $2,000 — enough to pay for your average catastrophic illness.
Making sense of the deductions, maximums, exclusions, and other insurance lingo can be tough, so be sure to read the insurance company’s literature carefully before signing on the dotted line. If you have any questions about what will and will not be covered, speak to an insurance company representative. Don’t hesitate to ask whatever questions you have about the coverage you’re considering. Think about some of the illnesses your dog (or one of your previous dogs) has suffered and ask what percentage of the charges would be covered. Using a real-life example will help you understand exactly how much you will be responsible for and determine whether the cost of the insurance is worth it.
If you keep good financial records, you can add up how much you spent on veterinary care during the last five years and calculate how much you typically spend on veterinary care every year. Take a look also at how much you have saved to deal with a catastrophic illness so that you can determine whether you may benefit from pet insurance.
If you are considering taking advantage of a comprehensive preventive care program, do a little math to figure out whether it’s right for you. Make a list of all the preventive care services you would normally avail yourself of in a year, and add up the cost of those services. Then compare that number with the cost for the services offered by the clinic’s well-care plan. Clinic-based plans often provide a significant discount to clients who want to provide the most complete preventive care for their furry friends.
Pet-care credit companies
Of course, all this credit comes at a price. These companies generally charge 18 to 24 percent interest (similar to what you may pay in interest on a credit card debt), making them an expensive prospect if you have to make payments over a long period of time. Nonetheless, this option is available if the only other choice is euthanasia.
Another option, which gives you more power over the interest you pay, is to keep a major credit card with no balance, to ensure that you have enough money to pay for emergencies.
by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD