Thursday, November 05, 2015

Pet Insurance 2015

"Should I get pet insurance?" People often ask this question, and over the years my answer has gone from maybe, to YES!  This is why:

Today, we can diagnose and treat your pet for as many illnesses as we can for people.  This means we can do xrays, ultrasounds, CT scans, transfusions, experimental drugs and specialized surgeries, if needed.  As with most people, at some point in your pets life, he/she is likely to experience some sort of health related issue that will be costly.  For many of us, that is not going to be something we plan for, and will undoubtedly take us by surprise.  But with at least major medical insurance, the cost of an $8000 issue can be much more affordable if your insurance covers on average 80%.  $1600 is expensive, but not as formidable, and could mean the difference between treating your pet, or simply not being able to afford it. 

There are many more different pet insurance options on the market today than there were 15 years ago.  Some do major medical only (e.g. Trupanion) and others will do this plus routine coverage for annual exams and vaccines, dental cleanings, senior labwork, etc. (e.g. Pets Best).  Some are even offered by employers at a discount as an employee benefit.  Things to consider when choosing coverage may depend on how old your pet is, her/his likely health concerns due to their breeding, background, or conformation, and how active your pet is going to be outside the home (hiking, camping, etc.).  Insurance can be more expensive or can even exclude coverage if your pet has pre-existing conditions, so the best coverage begins before those conditions arise.  Some insurance policies can also include additional riders for cancer treatment, and many reset with regard to allowable expenses or maximums paid out with referrals to specialists, should that be necessary. 
Pet insurance is however not quite as easy to use as our own health insurance where the doctors offices bill insurance companies for us.  With most policies/practices now, the pet owner has to prepay the medical bills and file a claim for reimbursement with the insurance company.  Nevertheless, our clients who have insurance have not regretted or cancelled their policies, and many are able to provide the kind of healthcare they want to provide with significantly less economic worry as a result of carrying these policies. 

Its important to do your research and speak to your veterinarian about insurance companies they have had experience with before deciding which would be best for you.  In addition, some companies have comparison applications built in to their websites to help you decide the best fit for you and your pet.  Hopefully your pet will be lucky enough to never need insurance, but should he/she become ill, you will be more prepared financially to address the expenses associated with illness with it.

Here's a list of a couple Pet Insurance companies to review and compare:
Trupanion Pet Insurance:
Pets Best Health Insurance:
Veterinary Pet Insurance (A Nationwide Insurance Co.):

Friday, July 24, 2015

Rattlers and the Wild West

Last year, the drought and warmer spring temperatures drove many rattlesnakes out of wintertime dormancy early in search of water and food.  The effect was that we had more human/rattlesnake encounters than typically noted.  In some cases, Californias fire fighters even had to delay entering fields to fight fires due to heavy rattlesnake encounters.  
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California actually has several different types of rattlesnakes. You can find a good synopsis of snakes in California, what to do should your pet encounter one, what to do should your pet get bitten, and whether or not you should consider the rattlesnake vaccine for your dog at

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Basically there are several things to remember.  The severity of the bite depends on the species of the snake and the size of the pet among other things. Some have more toxic venom than others, and how long it is been since the snake has last bitten, how mature it is, and if it is able to control the amount of venom ejected, can vary.  Statistically approximately 20-25% of bites have no venom, and on average 5% are fatal.  The venom is a toxin that spreads through the blood stream and circulates quickly.  It inhibits clotting and damages the blood vessels leading to swelling and loss of circulation.  Treatment is most effective the earlier it is given, and immediate medical or veterinary treatment should be sought.  One should not try to suck out the venom or cut open the wound in any way.  

Treatment usually involves immediate IV fluid support to prevent circulatory collapse, and usually antibiotics and antihistamines.  Approximately 1/3 of the bodys total blood volume can be lost to bleeding within a few hours.  Antivenin is a product made from horse or sheep antibodies to several common rattlesnake venoms.  It can cause an anaphylactic reaction if your pet has an immunologic reaction to horse or sheep serum and therefore a scratch test” is usually done before administering.  It helps to counteract the venom but needs to be administered intravenously within about 4 hours of a bite to be effective.  It is also quite expensive (over $800/vial not including supportive care here in Sacramento) and depending on the size of your pet, he/she may need several vials.  It is important to know that not all hospitals carry the antivenin as well.   
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There is a vaccine against the venom of several rattlesnakes that can provide protection similar to giving 2-3 vials of antivenin.  It is typically given as a series of 2-3 injections initially, and bolstered annually.  Even with vaccination, however, immediate care should still be sought.  A snake bite is always an emergency.  

Hopefully this will not be an issue for you and your dog(s), but with the increasing pressures of habitat, food resources and water in our state, we hope you will be aware of what they might encounter.  Happy trails!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Should I Spay My Dog And What Is A Pyometra Anyway?

Stinky Rose is one of our cutest little patients, but at age 8 she had not yet been spayed.  About two weeks after being in heat last year, she became severely ill.  She had a fever, stopped eating, and was drinking excessive amounts of water all of a sudden.  She also had a mild milky discharge from her vulva.  Stinky Rose had an infection in her uterus called a pyometra, and she underwent an emergency ovariohysterectomy, or spay procedure.  No longer a routine procedure, and with high risk of infection spreading, her surgical expenses were nearly 4 times higher than the discounted routine spay she would have undergone had she had this taken care of before this happened. And her chances of a smooth recovery were now much worse. Luckily, the uterus was able to be removed without rupturing, and the infection contained, before she became septic.   In a few days after hospitalization, she was able to go home and fully recover.  
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Dogs have a reproductive cycle that is unlike human cycles.  Female dogs will go into heat every 6 months and it is during the heat cycle that they are able to get pregnant.  The heat cycle is often distinguishable to breeders by a bloody vaginal discharge that lasts for about 2 weeks.  Unlike a human menses where bleeding is due to shedding of the uterine lining when a woman is not impregnated, the bloody discharge during the canine estrus cycle is caused by the effects of estrogen on the uterus.  There is no shedding per se and as such, no cramps, and no active turnover of the lining of the uterus.  The bleeding in this case indicates a fertile and receptive uterus.

Dog uterus with pyometra
Normal-sized dog uterus
When a dog fails to be impregnated after her estrus or heat cycle, she is prone to cystic endometrial hyperplasia. This is because the uterine wall has been stimulated and is responsive.  Because the lining of the uterus becomes thickened and vascular, bacteria, which can more easily enter when the female dog is susceptible and her cervix is open, can get trapped in this very fertile environment.  The cervix normally closes after the heat cycle and in some cases, this can trap unwanted bacteria and lead to a serious infection.  If the cervix is open enough to allow for drainage of the infection, one will see a purulent malodorous discharge.  If the cervix is only partially open or closed, the uterus will swell and become filled with pus and could eventually rupture.  The infected uterus is known as a pyometra.  A closed pyometra does not have a way to drain and is more dangerous because there are less outward signs and more risk of rupture.  Rupture can lead to an acute peritonitis, or abdominal cavity infection, similar to what happens with a ruptured appendix in people.  This can be life threatening.

If we spay a female dog before her first heat cycle, she will avoid the risk of pyometra, which could potentially happen after every heat cycle.  She is also more than 100 times less likely to have a malignant breast tumor if spayed before her first heat cycle, and 500 times less likely than she would be after her second heat cycle. 

It is safer and healthier for your female pet dog not to have these odds working against her.  Please spay your pet before her first heat cycle whenever possible, and avoid these unnecessary risks.

Friday, March 20, 2015

But The Squirrels Are So Cute!

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Last month, we came face to face with a previously thought to be uncommon infection in urban areas known as leptospirosis.  This is a bacterial infection carried by urban wildlife (squirrels, raccoons and other rodents), or grazing cattle, in their urine.  It doesnt harm these critters but can cause serious kidney and liver problems in dogs and people.  Apparently, the long dry summer followed by heavy concentrated rains in December allowed for a perfect storm so to speak, and this bacteria was able to follow the rainfall into standing pools and drainage areas.  When dogs drink or walk through these areas (in many cases our own yards after a heavy rainstorm), they can become exposed to the organism.  It causes acute kidney failure to start with, but what owners of dogs that are infected notice is their dog misses a meal, and then two and maybe three

How many times has your dog missed a meal or two and then felt better in 24 hours?  Mine have.  Sometimes it isnt that easy though.  One such Border Collie, a young 5 year old neutered male named Sammy, recently experienced just that.

Sammy was always a little picky about his food, but when he didnt eat for the second day, his owners became concerned.  He had vomited once, then just stopped. He seemed especially sluggish too, but had no fever.  He didnt act painful or sore, just seemed depressed.  A routine blood test alerted us that his kidney function tests were very elevated - more than one would expect with dehydration, although he was certainly dehydrated.  After receiving a liter of fluids and obtaining some urine, it became clear that his kidneys were not acting normally, and the diagnosis of leptospirosis was considered.  He did not have a yard that had standing water, but he had been to the dog park on occasion, and had killed a skunk a week earlier.  We ran the screening test and fortunately the diagnosis was made quickly. 
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Leptospirosis usually responds well to antibiotics if they can be administered before permanent damage is done, and if aggressive diuresis is started to keep the kidneys from shutting down.  In Sammys case, that meant aggressive IV fluid therapy and hospitalization for three days.  Since he wasnt eating to begin with, we also had to give him medication to stimulate his appetite, prevent him from vomiting, treat the acid build up due to the kidney problems, and the antibiotics to treat the infection.  Despite all of this, his liver also started to become affected by the organism.  In some cases, these dogs do not recover despite our best efforts, and the recovery period can take weeks to months.  Luckily for Sammy, he started to turn the corner after about 1 week and now, 1 month later, he is gaining weight back and feeling like a normal active 5 year old Border Collie again!

To learn more about leptospirosis, visit this website: