Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tips to Help Avoid Costly Vet Visits

By Langley Cornwell

If you have a pet, you already know how costly it can be to go to the veterinarian’s office or worse, the emergency animal hospital. The best possible scenario is one in which you keep your dog or cat perfectly healthy and out of harm’s way, and only go to the vet for regular checkups. If only it was that easy.

Having lived with multiple animals my entire adult life, I could write volumes about all of the middle-of-the-night emergency vet visits I’ve taken. If I could have avoided some of those visits I might be driving a more reliable car, too – but that’s another story.

So what can you do to avoid some of those costly visits? I’ve compiled a list from a variety of resources as well as my personal observations and experiences. While most of these tips are common sense, it helps to have a reminder once in a while.

Socialize your dog at a young age. Dogs that are comfortable around strangers and other dogs are less likely to show aggression toward humans and they get into fewer dog fights.

Get your dog or cat used to simple grooming. Start this early too. Pets that have been acclimated to simple grooming tasks at a young age allow their owners to trim their nails, brush their teeth and clean their ears so you don't have to pay groomers or the vet to do these things.

Take basic obedience classes. As with socialization, a dog that is good with basic commands is generally better-behaved. If your dog listens to you and obeys you, you are better able to protect them. Once I was playing fetch with my dog in the back yard. Something caught her attention and she became fixated on an object in the grass, which was unusual because she loved to play ball. I issued the ‘leave it’ command as I was running over to see what was in the grass. Upon my command, she backed away from a copperhead snake.

Keep your dog on a leash. Regardless of how much training you’ve worked on, no dog has absolutely perfect recall. Our newspaper had a story recently of a dog that was killed by coyotes while on a walk because he wasn't on a leash. He wasn’t very far ahead of his owner, but he was too far away for his owner to protect him.

Pay attention to your dog. Even if your dog is on a leash, pay attention to your surroundings. For instance, when your dog walks around a blind corner ahead of you, stay alert. I’m not a big fan of retractable leashes but if you do use them, stay alert.

Eat right and exercise. As with humans, it’s important to feed your pets a well-balanced diet; stick with a high-quality pet food such as CANIDAE or FELIDAE. Also, make sure they get plenty of mental stimulation and physical exercise.

Brush your pet's teeth. Confession time: I don’t do this. I’ve tried and failed (there, I said it). Even so, I know how very important this is. I’ve had vets tell me that there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned brushing; there is no diet, treat or toy that gets the job done. Brushing will spare your pet the hardship of dental disease and will help you escape the financial burden of expensive dental work.

Beware of toxic and dangerous items. We all know this, but please be diligent with this one. One of my beloved dogs had an intestinal blockage because she swallowed a pinecone and seashells. I didn’t even know she had done it until the vet had to perform emergency surgery. Do what you can, educate yourself. Linda Cole wrote a good article about this recently: Are Your Home and Yard Free from Poisons?

Do not give your pet human medications unless instructed by your vet. Yes, sometimes a vet will prescribe human meds for your dog or cat. Still, some human medications are seriously toxic to pets. And just because the vet told you to give one pet a human medication doesn’t mean it’s fine to do that for another pet. Do not take risks with medications, as they can be fatal.

Get regular veterinary checkups. Be a responsible pet owner. Planned visits can prevent unplanned ones by catching problems before they escalate.

Use common sense. Avoid porcupines, foxtails and skunks. Don’t let your dog ride untethered in the back of a pickup truck. When on a car ride, consider the use of a dog seat belt or harness for your dog, and always crate your cat.

What have I missed? Please share your suggestions for avoiding costly vet visits.

Photo by Miss Chien

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. It is a tall order but we are trying!!!! Thanks !!!

  2. If you have a fenced in area where your dog can spend time unsupervised outside, inspect it regularly to make sure there's no way he/she can get out. And when letting your dog run off leash, make sure they don't get overly excited and end up falling off a cliff or embankment.

  3. ZOMG on the snake story! I would have froze. All of these are excellent tips. Months before we owned my dog, we had to rush him to the vet because he ran in the open door and ate Decon while we were cleaning out a rental. So my tip is even if your pet isn't exposed to hazardous substances, make sure other animals can't get to them too!

  4. Those are some excellent tips, especially with a snake lurking around. I think obedience school is the very best way to start off a puppy. They learn so much there. And it is a lot of fun. They do learn to leave it there too. The snake that is. Take care.

  5. Those are some really good tips for dog owners, Langley. A little bit of care and concern go a long way. That is so scary about the pine cone and seashells your dog ingested!

    Thank you for your nice birthday wishes for Tracey. We all had a great weekend celebrating!

  6. They are great tips! Having a regular vet visit does help a lot and we really have to be careful that our garden might have some poisonous plants.


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