Alarm Over Economy's Impact On Pet Health

Dr. Sheldon Rubin, president of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, offers simple things you can do at home to make sure your dogs and cats are in the best of health, on "The Early Show," March 21, 2009. CBS

An ounce of prevention is not only worth a pound of cure, but lots of saved money for pet owners.

That's the message veterinarians are trying to get out as the economy takes a bigger and bigger toll on the health of our four-legged friends.

Vets nationwide say they're seeing owners putting off routine checkups and regular vet visits to save money.

But on The Early Show Saturday Edition, Dr. Sheldon Rubin, president of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, stressed that preventive care does just that - helps prevent illness, enabling owners to avoid much bigger bills down the road if their pets get sick.

He also told of simple things you can do at home to try to keep Fido and Fluffy healthy.

The dogs in the segment are all up for adoption at Animal Haven.

IS THE ECONOMY REALLY IS CAUSING A CRISIS IN PET CARE? HOW WORRIED ARE YOU ABOUT THE DROP IN VET VISITS?

Nationwide, we're definitely seeing the number of visits to vets down, but the emergency clinics are doing a lot better. People are putting off preventive care, and when the animal does have an issue, they put it off, hoping it will go away. Then, at one or two in the morning, it hasn't gone away, and suddenly it's an emergency.

BUT CARING FOR A SICK PET CAN BE VERY EXPENSIVE, WHILE A LITTLE PREVENTION CAN SAVE PET OWNERS A BUNDLE DOWN THE ROAD, AND KEEP THEIR PETS HEALTHIER?

Yes, it is expensive, so we're trying to get the message out that, for the cost of a weekly visit to Starbucks, you can provide flea, tick and heart worm protection for your pet. If you let that go, it can cost you thousands in the future.

Our campaign is called, "Help Your Pet, Get to the Vet." The Website has a downloadable checklist with the kinds of actions you can take at home, and you can bring it with you to the vet, so you'll know what questions to ask. Most people think of their pets as a part of their families. We just want to get the message out: Don't skimp on your pet's health care, it will cost you a lot more in the long run.

WE'VE BEEN HEARING ABOUT THE TWO PUPPIES OPRAH ADOPTED, ONE JUST DIED FROM PARVO, THE OTHER IS NOW SAID TO BE RECOVERING. YOU SAY, GETTING YOUR PET VACCINATED IS THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO DO.

Anyone's dog can get Parvo. It usually develops in dogs that have been in a huge population of dogs. But it is preventable, and that prevention starts with a vaccination. It's also your pet's best defense against things like rabies and distemper. So, you must start with a good base, and that base is your dog's vaccinations. You cannot skip them. The illnesses they would be more susceptible to without vaccinations will cost you dearly in the long run.

APART FROM VACCINATIONS, YOU SAY THERE ARE SOME BASIC THINGS YOU CAN DO AT HOME, THAT WILL SAVE YOU A LOT OF MONEY AND KEEP YOUR PET HEALTHIER LATER ON. FIRST, YOU SAY, KNOW YOUR PET'S REAL AGE.

You have to know that, for every human year, your pet ages between five and seven years. That's important because, if you understand that, you will become more aware of health issues, concerns, diet changes that you might expect in a human who's much older. A six-year-old dog is 42 in human years, so consider that as you look at changes in your pet's behavior.

YOU SAY CONDUCT ROUTINE CHECKS ON YOUR PET AT HOME. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

You want to conduct simple, routine checks that won't cost you a dime. Learn to run your hands over your pet's fur, and look for lumps or bumps. You'll be able to detect ticks or fleas; you'll see if your pet's skin is a bit dry, meaning he or she might need to add a little more fatty acids to his or her diet. Check the animal's teeth. Dental disease occurs in 85 percent of pets, but if you pick it up early, you might have to spend a little money to get it treated. You think dogs are supposed to have bad breath, but if it's too bad, it could be a sign of developing dental disease. If you leave it, it could cost a lot more. Unusual bumps should be reported to your vet. It won't necessarily be a malignant tumor, but it could be a cyst. And, one thing people may not remember to do: Check your pet's ears. They can get ear infections. An infected ear smells like Fritos. Just by petting your animal, you can discover a lot of issues.

YOU SAY FLEA AND TICK PREVENTION, ALONG WITH HEART WORM PREVENTION, IS A LOT CHEAPER THAN DEALING WITH THE PROBLEMS THEY CAN CAUSE LATER ON.

Flea and tick medication, which you'll have to apply maybe once every couple of weeks, or once a month, will cost you very little. But if you do that, you won't have to deal with the consequences. Fleas are annoying for your pet and your family. Ticks are much more dangerous. Ticks cause Lyme disease in humans, and in pets, and that can cost you thousands to treat, and it might kill your pet or cause irreparable damage that will stay with the pet for life. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes, and it only takes one mosquito bite for your pet to get heartworm. We're seeing heartworm spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., especially in the Southeast, along the Mississippi River, and along the East Coast. It can cost you anywhere from two or three dollars to seven or eight dollars a month for prevention. It can cost more than $1,000 to treat if your pet gets it.

FINALLY, YOU SAY, DON'T ALLOW YOUR PET TO GET TOO FAT.

As in humans, obesity is a huge problem for pets. One of the big problems is that we show our pets we love them with food. We do the same thing with our children. But you have to remember that, with a pet, it's not the amount of food you give them, it's the act of giving that's important to them. If you have a treat for them, you can cut it into 10 pieces and hand them little pieces when you want to, and it will mean as much to them as giving them the whole treat. So, feed your pet twice a day, and don't leave the bowl on the floor. Don't necessarily go by what it says on the bag, to determine the amount you should feed your pet. It all goes according to lifestyle. We should cut down on what we feed our pets by about one-third.

And exercise, exercise, exercise! Get into a routine of physical activity with your pet, whether it's running around the yard, taking him to the park, or just taking her out for a good walk once or twice a day. It's good for you, and it's good for them. If you have a cat, set something up in the house with their toys that gives them a way to exercise.
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