Nine Surprising facts about Pet Insurance

Everyone knows that it isn't a good idea to be without health insurance, but what about your cat? "Like people, pets live longer these days," says Gina Spadafori, co-author of Cats for Dummies (For Dummies). "If you're the kind of pet owner who expects your pet to get the same level of healthcare as the rest of the family, get pet insurance." Unfortunately, navigating the various providers and plans can render that advice less simple than it sounds. Here are nine things you need to know about cat health insurance before you buy.

1. Your pet's monthly premium can go up each time you file a claim.
The premium is what you'll pay each month to insure your cat. Premiums can range from as little as $8 a month to well over $100 a month after your pet has been sick. Like car insurance, your pet's monthly premium can increase every time you actually file a claim for an illness or an injury. The less you pay, the higher your deductibles will be. Preventive care is never covered by the lower-fee plans.

2. Your cat may have a "pre-existing condition," even if it has never been sick. 
Insurance companies will not cover any condition that is diagnosed before your pet becomes a subscriber to the plan. Seem straightforward? It's not. Some companies consider hereditary conditions to be pre-existing. For example, Siamese cats are genetically prone to hip dysplasia, which means that your healthy Siamese may never be covered for that condition even if it first manifests years after you initially subscribe to the plan.

3. Many companies will cover a condition one year, but not the next.
Some insurance companies "reset" your cat's pre-existing clause each year the policy is renewed. "My insured cat got diabetes in 2004 and my insurer reimbursed me for her treatment," says Jenna Blank, 29, of Hartford, Conn. "What I learned when I renewed my policy the following year, though, was that now diabetes was a pre-existing condition for her because she had it during the last policy year. So they would no longer cover it."

4. Even if your cat has no pre-existing conditions, an insurance policy won't cover everything.
It's not only pre-existing conditions that don't qualify for coverage. Depending on the insurance company and the policy you purchase, there are countless procedures that may not be covered (such as neutering or spaying, for example). These conditions may not be clear on a company's website. Ask them to send their literature and if you have any specific concerns, put them in writing. Save any and all written correspondence with the company.

5. Your vet may not be covered in your health plan.
Some insurance companies require that you visit a specific veterinary office in their network for your cat's care. But if you and your cat have a long-term relationship with your current veterinarian, switching might be less than ideal.

6. Many common procedures are not covered unless you ask for a "wellness rider."
Inoculations against rabies, heartworm testing, dental and eye care, nail trimming and flea control are normally not covered unless you add a "wellness rider" onto your policy, which can cost an additional $100 per year.

7. You may still be responsible for a portion of the bill.
Some insurers guarantee a certain percentage of reimbursement for any treatments they cover. These companies will compensate you for, say, 80 percent of your veterinary bill, leaving you responsible for the other 20 percent. Others rely on what they call "usual and customary fees." In this case, the insurer determines what a procedure should cost (based, at least in theory, on what vets in your area charge on average for the procedure) and reimburses a portion of that.

8. If pet insurance isn't for you, create your own plan instead.
Unhappy with the pet insurance he'd tried in the past, Don Fieldman, 45, of Atlanta, Ga., took a tip from a veterinarian friend. "I dedicated first a savings account, and eventually a money-market account to my pet's healthcare," he explains. "Every month I deposited the amount I'd traditionally been paying to an insurance company. It's a good buffer for emergencies, and unlike the premiums I was paying out before, it grows and collects interest."

9. Pet "HMOs" are a cheaper alternative for those on a budget.
For less than $100 a year, you can join programs like Pet Assure and Pet Protect Savings, which offer 25 percent off veterinary bills (and up to 30 percent off medicines and supplies) for visits to vets in their network. There are no exclusions and no limitations -- and that's just what the (animal) doctor ordered.

Acupuncture for Cats

You knew alternative medicine was catching on with some people, but how about for pets? The truth is, the use of acupuncture on animals traces back to China's Western Jin dynasty, circa 300 A.D. In the western world, animal acupuncture's roots are more recent and seeping into the mainstream. But when might it be appropriate to try it with your cat? And what should you expect from treatment? We asked New York-based veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist Stacey Joy Hershman to provide a fresh look at an age-old therapy.

An Overview
Acupuncture involves inserting thin, sterilized needles into pressure points slightly below the skin for between five and 30 minutes. It works by increasing blood flow, thereby promoting healing, relieving muscle spasms, stimulating nerves and helping to regulate the immune system. In doing all of the aforementioned, it is thought to treat the whole animal, rather than simply treating a set of symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments, including traditional Western medicine.

Kitty acupuncture is indicated mainly for musculoskeletal problems, skin problems, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory problems and cancer (to boost immune functioning and control pain). "Some common chronic illnesses treated with acupuncture include torn ligaments, muscle sprains, slipped discs and arthritis," says Dr. Hershman. 

Success for Some
Concerned about the side effects of conventional medicine, Barbara Stocker of Tuscan, Arizona took her cat to an acupuncturist to treat a hip joint disease. "When my cat, Violet, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, we thought her fun-filled, active life was over. We didn't want to go with painkillers, so we talked to the vet about acupuncture," Barbara says.  "Violet has responded so well to the treatments. From the beginning, we saw increased mobility and energy. It was obvious that the treatment was alleviating some of her pain." Today, she receives an acupuncture treatment once a month.

Olivia Goldstein of Chicago wasn't sure how her new cat would react to the treatment, but decided to experiment as a last resort. "I adopted an abused cat, and before I adopted her, she'd gotten her front paw stuck in the grill of a car," says Olivia.  "The vet could have amputated the paw, but suggested trying acupuncture first. Apparently, the needles can restore nerve function, and that's what they did. Banjo walks normally now, and doesn't seem to have pain anymore."

Unique Approach to Healing
How a cat responds to acupuncture has a lot to do with its individual temperament. "It depends on the cat," says Dr. Hershman. "Some relax and stay still, or fall asleep. Others won't tolerate the needles." Because cats tend to be more comfortable in their home environment, Dr. Hershman and many other certified veterinary acupuncturists make house calls, though this option is more costly. (For example, Dr. Hershman charges $100 for a house call, plus the cost of the treatment -- between $65 and $80 per application.)

Dr. Hershman notes that the needles can also be used to treat depression and behavioral problems. "After the possibility of any underlying medical issues are ruled out, a cat can receive calming points for anxiety, stress and spraying of urine due to stress," says Dr. Hershman.

Acupuncture isn't a one-shot cure-all, and requires commitment on the part of a cat owner. "Treatment can be once a week for four to eight weeks depending on what the cat is dealing with," explains Dr. Hershman. If relief from symptoms occurs during the initial treatment period, some cats are put on a maintenance schedule of one visit each month.

Soothing Spas for Precious Paws

Soothing Spas for Precious Paws

As the growing trend of day spas for cats spreads across the country, felines everywhere are learning to love the same kind of pampering people do -- body wraps, massages, hot oil treatments, pedicures -- all in a relaxed, serene setting. Of course, most cats are natural born divas, so taking them to a spa geared specifically to their needs is one opportunity to provide them with the royal treatment they so richly deserve. "Because pets give their owners unconditional love, owners like to pay them back with a luxury experience," says Liz Sands, owner of Lulu and Luigi's Grooming Pawlor in Wayzata, Minn. That's why a visit to a cat spa is so special.

Stephanie Lantgen brings her two long-haired cats, Max and Moe, to Lulu and Luigi's at least once a month for The Shed Reducing Treatment and a full brush-out. "I can tell they're happier after a visit to the spa by the way they strut around afterwards," says Lantgen. "It also gives me peace of mind that their nails, teeth and coat are getting the best possible care."

Most spas get creative when it comes to making kitty feel special. Exotic treatments such as aromatherapy baths and even Thai massages are not uncommon. The blueberry facial is a big hit at The Golden Paw in San Diego, Calif. And at the Biju Pet Spa in Sherman Oaks, Calif., cats can have their hair dyed with organic, washable hair color. Or at The Cats' Inn in Belmont, Calif., every feline spa package comes with a pick-up and drop-off in the "kitty limo."

No time to visit a cat spa? Creating a spa-like atmosphere at home is easier then you might think. Christi Fabisiak, a cat groomer at Claws N Paws Day Spa in Fountain Valley, Calif., suggests using clippers, not scissors, when grooming a cat. "A cat's skin is a lot thinner than a dog's, so clippers are safer," she says. She also suggests wiping your cat's fur down with baby wipes to keep the dander down, which will prevent fur from matting.

Next, bath time! "Before giving a cat a spa-worthy bath, make sure your cat is relaxed," suggests Sands. "Place the cat in a shallow tub of lukewarm water. Bathe the cat slowly with a pet-friendly shampoo. Watch for the cat's reaction -- if it's nervous or skittish, cut the bath short. Have a warm, fresh-from-the-dryer towel at the ready."

After the bath, take a cue from Kelly Roll of Lakeland, Fla., and treat your cat to a salon-style blowout. "I spend ten minutes every day blow-drying my long-haired tabby Annabelle's hair -- first with the round brush, then the straight brush," she says. "She just loves being pampered!"

Homeopathic Remedies for Cats ... and are They Healthy?

While most people take their cats to a traditional veterinarian for care, some may wonder whether homeopathic veterinarians are actually the way to go. Homeopathy in general is about addressing symptoms rather than naming a disease, which some may say puts limits on treatments.

Dr. Arthur Young, DVM, CVH, was a traditional veterinarian for 30 years before moving over to homeopathy gradually. He changed his focus when he began to think that many animals’ health problems stem from over vaccination, excess antibiotic use and poor nutrition.

Here are some of the basics you should know before making the decision to switch your own pet over to the homeopathic route.

Pet Profiling

Homeopathic remedies are not species specific, but symptom specific.  As Dr. Young explained, “Homeopathy is individual specific. Once you have a picture of the patient built by questioning the owner, that creates a profile of the animal and the problem. It doesn’t have to be a cat; it could be a dog or hippopotamus. There are over 2,000 homeopathic remedies, and whatever fits a patient’s problem, that’s the one that’s correct.”

Treatments

Dr. Young said that he sees many cats that he believes have problems due to over vaccination. The solution, according to Dr. Young, would be to vaccinate your cat when she’s a kitten, and then not do it again. In his practice, Dr. Young says that cats he’s seen who he believes have been over vaccinated tend to have emotional instability and increased fear, which he treats with Bach’s Flower remedies. This type of remedy helps alleviate stress, which is a huge obstacle to getting better.

An important part of homeopathy is solid nutrition. “Cats get 70% of the moisture [they need] from their food,” said Dr. Young. “Cats are notoriously bad water drinkers. Dry food contains 10% moisture, so they have a 60% moisture shortage if your cat only eats dry food. This lack of moisture leads to problems with the urinary system like cystitis or inflammation without an infection.” 

A homeopathic approach to the lack of water in a cat’s diet would be to feed her a good wet food product that contains minerals, vitamins, enzymes and probiotics. Dr. Young also recommends supplementing your cat’s diet with taurine, a dietary supplement that prevents blindness.

Check out this story for more on understanding your cat’s drinking habits.

The homeopathic remedies that your vet will recommend for your cat do not require a prescription. They come in small pellet, tablet, powder or liquid form, and are given orally. “When you give your cat, or any animal, a homeopathic remedy, the protocol is no food and no water 20 minutes before or after,” said Dr. Young. “If your cat just ate or drank, it will compromise the energy of the pill, since it produces the effect in the nerve endings of the tongue.”

Taking the Plunge

At the end of the day, the type of medical treatment you pick for your cat will be a very personal decision, and finding the correct remedy for an ailment may take some time and a few tries. If you do decide to try homeopathic medicine for your pet, find a board certified veterinarian who has been trained in homeopathy for animals. You can look up a list of homeopaths at http://www.ahvma.org/

Best Practices for Bathing Your Cat

Since cats aren’t generally known for their love of water, it’s a good thing they don’t need to be cleaned as regularly as dogs. The reason is because cats fastidiously clean themselves with their tongues and teeth on a daily basis.

Most of the time, brushing your cat will be enough to keep him clean, but on occasion -- like if your cat has gotten into something particularly dirty, or you’re trying to eliminate excess dander -- little Fluffy might need to take a dip in the tub.

In those cases, here are some tips for making the experience less traumatic for you and your furry friend.

  1. Be prepared. When giving your cat a bath, the quicker you can make the experience go by, the better. Have a plastic pitcher or large cup, a towel, a washcloth and cat shampoo at the ready. Also, the ASPCA recommends trimming your cat’s nails prior to bathing him if you’re concerned about scratching. You should also brush your cat thoroughly before bathing him to remove all excess hair and mats ahead of time.

  2. Set the scene. Fill a sink, basin or tub with several inches of lukewarm water. Keep in mind that your cat probably will try to claw her way out of wherever you’re washing her, so try confining her to a space that’s not as easy for her get out of, like a tub with glass doors. If you have access to a spot with a retractable spray nozzle, even better. Test the water, just as you would for a child or baby, to make sure it’s not too hot or cold.

  3. Be steady and confident. If you’re nervous, your cat will sense that and be nervous as well. When you’re ready, place your cat in the water and wet him from his neck to his tail using water from the pitcher. Don’t pour water on your cat’s face, and do not dunk his entire body into the water all at once. Not only will he hate it, but you run the risk of getting water in his ears and/or nose. Instead, use a damp washcloth once the cat is out of the bath to gently wipe off his face.

  4. Lather up. Clean your cat’s fur with specially formulated feline shampoo, since human shampoo can be too drying for cats’ sensitive skin. Be sure to pay attention to the specific product’s instructions.  Again, avoid your cat’s face, especially his nose, ears and mouth. Use the pitcher or cup to rinse off the soap. Since cats clean themselves with their tongues, be sure to get rid of all the suds so that they don’t ingest too much of the shampoo later. Be sure to check under his chin, paws and belly for any residual bubbles.
  5. Dry him quickly. Wrap your cat in a soft towel and dry off his fur as much as you can. For long-haired cats, you may need to brush or comb their fur to get out tangles.
  6. Give your little bud lots of praise -- and a treat! -- for being so brave. Who knows, your cat might be one of the few that likes baths or, at the very least, will stoically endure them.

If you know your cat is extremely anxious or water-adverse, be sure to consult your vet first. And if your cat absolutely will not tolerate being submerged in water, consider having him professionally cleaned at either a groomer or at the vet.