Vet costs: Paying by the pound Let your furry buddy get fat, and watch your bank account get thin
VETERINARIANS perform similar and often identical procedures to those of doctors, but at a fraction of the cost of human medicine. Yet, I realize that pointing out that the $3,000 procedure that will save a pet's life would be 10 times that cost in human medicine doesn't help a bit if you don't have one-tenth of that amount available anyway.
I can't fix that situation, and neither can the veterinarians I know. They have to pay all the costs of doing business, and they've struggled to get by right along with everyone else as the economy has staggered along. Pet health insurance can help, as can third-party credit plans - and I recommend looking into them both before you're faced with hard decisions.
But what frustrates me - and so many veterinarians I know - is the way that so many pet lovers overlook, downplay or completely ignore the No. 1 thing that will keep their pets healthier, longer-lived and out of veterinary offices. Even more astonishing, this not-so-secret way to save money on veterinary care can be absolutely free. What is it? Take excess weight off your pet.
More than half of all pets in the United States are overweight - many of them desperately so. Veterinarians say that we have gotten so used to seeing fat pets that we have come to think it's normal. If you cannot see a tuck in (from above) or up (from the side) behind your pet's rib cage, and cannot see just a hint of rib under a little bit of padding, your pet is fat.
Pets cannot feed themselves, and they cannot overeat unless you overfeed them. Even if you and your pets lead sedentary lives, you can adjust your pets' daily portions accordingly. They'll even learn to stop begging if you stop rewarding that behavior.
Slow, steady weight loss is what you're going for, especially for cats. That's because crash diets in fat cats can trigger a deadly condition known as "fatty liver disease." If you're free-feeding, stop, and if you're not measuring, start. You can buy a "diet" food or you can reduce portions and add "empty" bulk to the kibble you already use by adding green beans or pumpkin to smaller amounts. Wet food is another good strategy, since the water content makes pets feel more full. Your veterinarian can tailor a weight-loss plan, or you can use an app such as my friend Dr. Patty Khuly's "The Fat Dog Diet" (free from thefatdogdiet.com). (Pet food labels are often notoriously generous with their recommended portions.)
Do what you can, but do something, please. Here's my bottom line: If you have an obese pet, you have no business complaining about the costs of treating conditions caused by or made worse by your pet's weight.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.