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.

Cooking at Home for Your Cat

 

You love a delicious home-cooked meal, right? Turns out that your cat just might enjoy one, too. "The ingredients in homemade cat food are fresh and less processed," says Nathalie LaPierre, a veterinarian at the Lilburn Animal Hospital in Lilburn, Ga. "Digestibility is easier, and the benefits to the cat's body are greater."

And many pet owners take this to heart. Joy H. Bailey of Cartersville, Ga., has been making her cats homemade meals for years. "When I make my cats' food, I'm in control of the ingredients," says Bailey. "I love my cats, and they give that love back tenfold. Why wouldn't I give them the healthiest food I can?" 

Are you ready to hit the kitchen? Before you pick up your frying pan, it's important to know that cats are not able to eat all of the ingredients people can eat. To make sure your efforts result in a safe and healthy meal, learn these important safety rules about cats and food.  

1. Certain foods are toxic for cats
"Never feed your cats chocolate, or anything in the onion family," warns LaPierre. Why? Chocolate contains the compound theobromine, which is a diuretic, as well as a cardiac stimulant. This can cause a pet's heart rate to increase or cause the heart to beat irregularly, both of which can be dangerous to the animal. Onions contain sulfoxides and disulfides which are toxic to the red blood cells of cats and can lead to anemia. Other foods to avoid are pork (including bacon), raw fish, raw eggs or bones. Each of those forbidden foods has its own ill effects on cats.

2. Skip the milk
Even though many people believe cats love a big saucer of milk, most cats are lactose intolerant. "The adult cat has lost its intestinal flora to break down milk properly," Dr. LaPierre says. "It can cause diarrhea in cats. Even kittens shouldn't drink cow milk -- only the milk from their mommies."

3. Don't create a diet for your cat that has vitamin deficiencies
"When you make your own cat food, you risk nutritional deficiencies if you don't prepare it correctly," Dr. LaPierre warns. Consult your vet about suggested vitamin or mineral supplements for your feline.

4. Go by the book
There are many cat cookbooks in bookstores, such as Real Food for Cats: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Feline Gastronome by Patti Delmonte (Storey Publishing, LLC), and The Ultimate Treat Cookbook: Homemade Goodies for Finicky Felines by Liz Palika (Howell Book House). Using vet-approved recipes found in books like these will give you peace of mind that your cat is getting all the required nutrients. "I think a cookbook takes some of the risk out of making homemade treats," says Palika.

One of Palika's favorite recipes for felines is for "Sardine Spectacular Cat Treats." The only two ingredients you need are one 3.75 oz. can of sardines in oil, undrained, and a half-cup of plain, unseasoned bread crumbs. Place the sardines and their oil in a food processor or blender and puree to a thick paste (Add a tablespoon of water if the fish doesn't form a paste.) Place the paste in a mixing bowl and add the bread crumbs. Stir until thoroughly combined. Place the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least one hour, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Bon appétit!

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!"

Christmas Tree Needles and Your Cat Don't Mix

Tis the season. The lights are up, the tinsel is sparkling, the fridge is stocked and the mistletoe is hung. And the tree is also up, which means you've got a serious health risk ready to ruin your otherwise perfect Holiday for you and your cat. Cat are by nature curious, playful creatures, and some of them will become very mischievous if given the chance, and the little pine needles that fall off your Christmas tree over the course a few week provide a temptation they might not be able to resist. Natural Christmas trees you buys at you local church or vacant lot were most likely grown a few hundred miles away on a farm or in the woods, and are usually treated with herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals to preserve them through the Holidays. The chemicals concentrate in the boughs and the needles can become toxic. If ingested, this chemical cocktail can make your cat very sick. Symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to coughing and loss of appetite, which can make for an unpleasant Holiday break. Hopefully your cat will vomit up the needles and not repeat the mistake. But, in the event that the needles make it into your cat's digestive tract, the then the real problems begin. The needles can damage or even puncture the lining of you cat's stomach or intestine, and could result in a very large veterinary bill or even worse.

So, what are the best ways to minimize the risks of this kind of disaster? Here are three easy steps toward keeping your car safe:

  1. Know your cat. Understanding that your cat is prone to accidents and mischief is key.
  2. Sweep Up. If your cat is prone to get into trouble, frequent sweeping up of the needles is an easy way to lower risk.
  3. Deny Access. Keep furniture away from the tree so your cat can't get at the boughs and needles still on the tree, and you should spray the lower boughs of the tree with a pet repellent for further discouragement.

This might seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but consider the alternatives and you'll agree that it is the best gift you can give yourself and you cat this Holiday season. For information on keeping your pet dog from the Christmas tree needles, please visit here.