Insure Your Kitty's Health

Gretchen von Grossmann was stunned when her vet told her that it would cost $3,000 to treat her 8-year-old tabby, Bob, for a serious infection. “I stepped outside the office and cried,” she says. “Then I went back in and told them I had to put him down.” 

Luckily that didn’t happen, since von Grossman and her veterinarian discussed other options and agreed on a more affordable treatment. But for many pet owners, the cost of care does lead to that desperate outcome. An often-overlooked solution is pet health insurance. Knowing that they will never have to put their kitties down for lack of money to pay for veterinary fees offers cat owners peace of mind.

Why cats are good candidates
Pet insurance is less common among cat owners than dog owners, even though kitties are perfect candidates for it. Why? Maybe because it’s easy to think a young, healthy or indoor cat doesn’t really need it -- or that an older cat may not even qualify for it. In all of these cases, however, insurance can be life- and money-saving.

“Cats will hide their illness or injuries,” says Jack Stephens, DVM, who founded the Boise, Idaho, insurance company called Pets Best Insurance. “It’s their wild nature to hide when they’re vulnerable, for protection.” Because of this, a pet owner may not realize a cat is ill until a disease has progressed to a point where treatment is expensive. “Cancer is the main reason for euthanasia of cats,” says Stephens. “We’re working to make sure pet owners don’t have to do this.”

Younger cats, and indoor cats of any age, can also get into household mischief that leads to accidents or ingestion of nonfood items. When James Helmer’s cat, Mittens, began limping around the house, he immediately took him to the vet and learned that Mittens had a torn ACL (a ligament in the leg). Surgery and testing came to $1,800, but Helmer’s pet insurance -- Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI) in Brea, Calif. -- reimbursed him $1,400. “If it wasn’t for VPI, we probably would have put him down,” Helmer says.

What to look for
A lot of pet owners don’t even think about insurance until their pets become seriously ill, and by that time, it’s usually impossible to get coverage. So, do your feline family member a favor, and look into the costs and benefits of pet insurance well before a crisis. Here are some questions to ask when looking for a reliable insurance company that will fit your needs:

  • Does the company offer coverage for routine health care? Often, different levels of programs are available, one of which may cover basic care, sometimes referred to as “well-cat care.”
  • Does the company spell out what it does not cover and explain all fees? A schedule of benefits and any extra fees should be clear to you.
  • How long has the company or its executives been in this business? Look for stability, as well as experience with veterinarians.
  • Does the company require you to visit only certain veterinarians? If this is the case, check to see if your veterinarian is on the list of accepted doctors.

Insurance makes even more sense if you have more than one cat, because of the eventual costs of care they may rack up. “The earlier you can get your cat enrolled, the better,” says Brian Iannessa of VPI, which currently insures over 400,000 pets. “The longer you wait, the greater the chance that an illness or injury will occur.” Also, be clear about what is not covered. For instance, some insurance companies do not cover diseases that are preventable by vaccines, orthodontics or treatment for parasites.

How it works
Once you enroll your pet or pets, you will be charged a monthly premium. You can get an estimate on premiums at many pet insurance Web sites. When you take your cat to the doctor, you will need to later submit a claim for the cost, and the insurance company will then reimburse you the full amount, or a high percentage of the fees.

“Pet insurance is a form of risk management,” says Iannessa. “It’s there to protect you and your pet against the unexpected.” It can give you the confidence of knowing you’re doing everything you can to provide your kitty with a long and healthy life.

Photo: Corbis Images

Top 5 Ways to Improve Life for Your Senior Cat

If your senior cat is starting to slow down, there are extra steps you can take to ensure that it is healthy, comfortable and content.

How to Help Your Senior Cat
Here are five basic steps you can take to make life better for your senior cat:

1. Visit your veterinarian regularly. Cat owners sometimes have the tendency to not schedule regular veterinarian visits unless their cat is due for vaccines, says Dr. Debbie Van Pelt of the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado. But bringing your cat in for at least an annual exam helps your veterinarian catch treatable illnesses in the early stages. For example, your veterinarian can check for lumps and bumps. “Cancers that are caught early can be treated and removed,” says Van Pelt. Veterinarians think of cats as senior at about age 10, says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a veterinarian in Knoxville, Tenn. However, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian do a baseline blood-check when your cat is about 7 years old, advises Dewhirst. “It’s a good landmark. Then the veterinarian has something to look back on if your cat starts to develop problems.”

2. Maintain your cat’s dental health. “From a veterinary health standpoint, oral health is really big. We see cats decline rapidly when they don’t have their teeth taken care of,” says Dewhirst. If your cat develops plaque and gum disease, bacteria can find its way into the bloodstream and threaten your cat’s heart health, among other problems. Cats with dental problems also might struggle to eat and maintain weight.

3. Watch your cat’s weight. Excess weight can lead to serious conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and a fat cat is more likely to suffer from arthritis. Make sure your cat is eating a high-quality food designed for senior cats, and try rationing the portion sizes to help your cat maintain a healthy weight, as its metabolism has slowed in the last few years. Your veterinarian can help you figure out an appropriate calorie count and portion size for your cat. You’ll also want to notice if your cat is losing weight, since older cats can develop thyroid problems, says Dewhirst.

4. Be a detective. Cats tend to be private, aloof and secretive. “By the time a cat owner notices a behavior change, things may have progressed farther,” says Van Pelt. “We see a lot of older cats where by the time we see them, we are diagnosing them with kidney disease and heart failure.” Pay attention to little clues, such as water intake, how much your cat is eating and its elimination habits. A change in elimination can signal a myriad of health problems and indicate a need for a veterinary visit.

5. Make your cat comfortable. A 16- or 17-year-old cat might show signs of creaky joints. If you simply make things easier, your cat is sure to enjoy better quality of life. Create warmth for your cat by using a heating pad or placing its bed near a warm area.

6. Give your cat extra attention. Natasha Deen, a Canadian author of young adult novels, helped two beloved kitties live to the ages of 19 and 21, and she thinks extra attention made a difference. Deen cuddled her cats more and regularly brushed and groomed them. Your loving attention is crucial, says Deen.

De-stress Veterinary Visits for Your Cat

Few cat owners relish the thought of taking their feline to the veterinarian, so imagine how your cat feels about it. “Cats are the ultimate control freaks,” explains Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif. “If you even so much as move a couch in your home, your cat will likely be in a tizzy for weeks.”

Richter is very gentle with his furry clients. He was recently named one of the top ten veterinarians in the entire country by Petplan pet insurance, but even he has seen many vet-phobic cats over the years. Is it a hopeless mission to ease the fears of a freaked out feline in such situations? Absolutely not, he says, as does Dr. Jane Brunt CATalyst Council Executive Director and former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Here’s what they suggest:

1. Schedule appointments at less busy times.

The same way you wouldn’t want to wait in a noisy room packed with malcontent patients, neither does your cat. Richter advises scheduling appointments either early in the morning, first thing, or toward the end of the vet’s day. In both cases, the crowd should have dissipated, making the atmosphere less noisy and chaotic.

Brunt additionally says that “you might want to consider finding a cat-friendly veterinarian. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has developed a program that certifies veterinary practices as ‘cat friendly.’” Participants have to apply and may obtain either a gold (“optimum level”) or silver (meets “essential criteria”) status.

2. Get your cat to like its carrier.

Richter echoes Brunt’s advice above. “You wouldn’t believe some of the carriers that people bring in,” he says. “Some look like they’ve lived on a workbench in a garage for ages. They come in dirty and smelly. It’s no wonder the cat hates the carrier.” He and Brunt recommend that owners do the following:

·         Leave the carrier out in the open in high cat traffic areas. The cat will then become more used to it and not only associate it with scary things.

·         Keep the carrier clean at all times. Cats are among the world’s most fastidious individuals.

·         Place a soft blanket, towel or other cover inside. Brunt says that many cats may even nap inside the carrier willingly.

·         Put food treats in the carrier every so often, again so that your pet will associate it with pleasant happenings.

3. Make the vet visit as fun as possible.

Your cat reads your emotions, so stay calm and upbeat. Drive smoothly, avoiding any bumps and sharp turns, if possible. Avoid loud air conditioning and radio, since less stimulation during potentially scary times is better for your cat.

4. Lessen visual and auditory stimulation while in the waiting room.

If you have a scared-y cat, it helps to lessen what your pet sees and hears. Ideally, your veterinary office will have separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats. Place a towel over your cat’s carrier, if necessary, to close out visual stimulation and some smells (your cat will be sensitive to these).

5. Work with your vet to determine the proper level of restraint.

Richter has some feline patients who seem to crave any and all attention, while others “get really wound up and are ready for blood by the time I enter the room.” Even cats that are tame at home can suddenly revert to a more feral state when out of their familiar environment. In those cases, it helps to have an understanding, experienced vet. Richter keeps detailed records on each cat patient, so that he knows exactly how to manage each feline’s needs.

6. Keep the visit brief.

“This is more on the vet,” Richter says. But you can help by not stopping for unnecessary social chats or running errands while your cat may be hoping to get back home.

7. At home, allow your cat to calm down.

“Cats are classically known for displaced aggression,” Richter explains. “They may dig you one if they are unhappy once out of the carrier. If stressed, just let them calm down for a while.”

All of the above might seem like a big hassle, but Brunt reminds that 68 percent of all cats over the age of three suffer from dental disease. She adds that most cases of diabetes can be prevented with proper advance care. “A simple checkup can help detect and treat preventable diseases and conditions that can cut a life short,” Brunt shares. Patience and preparation before vet visits can therefore offer big rewards.

How to Prevent 5 Common Cat Illnesses

You are more than a source of food, catnip and scratches behind the ear. You are your cat’s health advocate.

Many common cat illnesses and health problems are readily preventable with simple actions on your part, say veterinarians. “There are very basic things you can do,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “But a lot of people don’t do the basics.”

Make sure your cat receives regular veterinary exams, and follow these practices to help ensure your kitty’s long life, say experts. Here are five problems you can work to avoid.

GI Upset
“Often, when pets present to veterinary hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and preventable,” says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. Too often, we yield to temptation and that pleading look, and we feed our cats people food. Although you might be able to process sugar-loaded or fat-laden foods, your cat can’t handle these morsels. “When we decide to treat them with one of our yummy treats, we often do more harm than good,” explains Nelson. An upset stomach could mean a case of diarrhea or even pancreatitis.

Diabetes

Nelson considers diabetes to be the most preventable condition veterinarians see today. “Diabetes is not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but also very expensive, very difficult and very time-consuming to manage,” she notes. Obesity in cats is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes, advises Dewhirst. Managing your cat’s weight through portion control is a key to your kitty’s good health. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, and provide play opportunities that offer your cat some exercise.

Dental Disease

Poor teeth and gum health leads to other serious health issues, the veterinarians advise. “Inflammation of the mouth causes chronic inflammation all over the body,” says Dewhirst. Yes, you can indeed learn to clean a cat’s teeth. Regular veterinary exams and cleanings will help maintain your cat’s dental health.

Heartworm and Other Parasites

Heartworm isn’t limited to canines. This serious parasite afflicts cats as well, and Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, says the disease can be easily avoided. A monthly application of a preventative will protect your cat. The heartworm is a parasite that is spread through the bite of mosquitoes, and heartworm disease is particularly problematic for cats, says Dewhirst. “It’s not treatable in cats,” she says. Even if your cat lives indoors, you should use a preventative to protect against heartworm, fleas and more.

Injuries and Trauma

The world can be a dangerous place for cats, particularly at night, notes Dewhirst. If your cat does go outdoors, limit outings to daylight hours, advises Dewhirst. “They need to come in at night; they need to be somewhere safe,” she says. She sees cats injured and bitten after being chased by dogs or after confrontations with wild animals. Cats also fall victim to cars. Helping your cat maintain a healthy weight will also keep stress off its joints and prevent injuries, notes Nelson. “Over 60 percent of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly increase the pressure on our pets’ joints,” she says.

Thinking preventively will help ensure your cat is around for many more years of head rubs and cuddles. “Make sure to come in for a physical every year,” says Dewhirst. “Make them as parasite-free as possible. Keep them safe and don’t over-feed them. Don’t contribute to a lifestyle that will put them at risk.”

Cats Can Improve the Mental and Physical Health of Kids

Cats have always possessed a coolness factor. Uber-hip jazz artists were called “hep cats.” Felines grace billboards, conveying a sexy chic. Over the years, however, this coolness has somehow become confused with danger, perhaps because movie villains seem to favor felines, and Halloween evokes the old “bad luck” stereotype. It’s time that cats shed this dangerous reputation, because the truth is cats are good for us -- especially for kids.

If you don’t have a cat yet, you might reconsider adopting one. If you do already share your digs with a cat, the latest research should reinforce your fondness for your feline pal.

Cats Safeguard Against Respiratory Illness
In recent research published in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, studied 397 children from their birth onward. A diary was kept for each child, mentioning the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections, together with info about dog and cat contacts during the first year of life.

Kids that were in contact with dogs and cats had fewer instances of infection and, as a result, required fewer antibiotic treatments. (Antibiotics can, of course, come in handy, but they do sometimes have undesired side effects, such as nausea and rashes.) Children even had a lower risk of dying from infection, with the decrease associated with time spent with pets. As Bergroth and her team wrote, “both the weekly amount of contact with dogs and cats and the average yearly amount of contact were associated with decreased respiratory infectious disease morbidity.” They added: “Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood.”

The researchers speculate that “animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system.” It’s therefore possible that early exposure to pets stimulates growing human bodies to jumpstart the immune system, which can then better kick into action to ward off illnesses with a health boost that could extend into adulthood. Some individuals are allergic to pet dander; for these people, the problems probably would outweigh the benefits, but the majority of people are not allergic to cats.

Cats May Help Prevent Cancer
Tied to the “cats are dangerous” stereotype is a misrepresentation of feline research over the years. Over the past several months, for example, tabloid-like headlines have falsely linked cats to cancer and even craziness. Marion Vittecoq of the Tour du Valat research center actually worked on the cancer-related research, and even she and her colleagues conclude that cats should not be blamed for human cancer. In fact, studies show just the opposite.

Vittecoq says that “studies that have focused on the link between cancer and cat ownership so far have found either no association at all or a reduced risk of cancer in cat owners.” Vittecoq and colleague Frederic Thomas mention a National Institutes of Health Study by G.J. Tranah and colleagues. It found that dog and cat owners have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The longer the duration of pet ownership was, the less chance the individual would suffer from this type of cancer.

Cats Promote Good Mental Health Too
So far, we’ve been addressing how cats can benefit our physical health. Studies also show that felines are good for our mental health too. For example, psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted multiple experiments to see how pet ownership affects people. Almost 400 individuals -- with pets and without -- participated.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell of Miami University in Ohio. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

We haven’t even mentioned the other positive aspects of pet ownership, such as comfort, companionship and a pleasant, vibrant life force to share one’s days with. The fact that felines may also improve our mental and physical health is merely sweetening, so to speak, the already sweet kitty.

Cats have always possessed a coolness factor. Uber-hip jazz artists were called “hep cats.” Felines grace billboards, conveying a sexy chic. Over the years, however, this coolness has somehow become confused with danger, perhaps because movie villains seem to favor felines, and Halloween evokes the old “bad luck” stereotype. It’s time that cats shed this dangerous reputation, because the truth is cats are good for us -- especially for kids.

If you don’t have a cat yet, you might reconsider adopting one. If you do already share your digs with a cat, the latest research should reinforce your fondness for your feline pal.

Credit: Infographe_Elle