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The Importance of Insurance

Most people don’t know that pet insurance exists; or if they do, that it is affordable, can provide peace of mind and could make the difference between a highly stressful decision and an easy decision.

Why even bother with pet insurance?

The non-pet owners in the crowd may be wondering why anyone would even need pet insurance. We are talking about animals here, right?

Annual, preventive medical care for pets (annual physical, vaccinations, parasite/heartworm prevention) can range from $150 for small dogs and cats to $200 for large dogs. Dental cleanings can add an additional $300-400 more.

However, preventive care is only the tip of the iceberg. If your dog or cat has a medical emergency, develops a critical illness or requires complicated surgery, your bill could quickly reach the thousands.

Examples of common conditions and their associated costs are:
Tooth extraction – $829.
Torn ACL or cartilage – $2,667.

Simple Ear infection — $186
Acute vomiting and diarrhea – $320.

Surgical removal of benign skin mass – $409.
Bladder stones – $1300.
Toxin ingestions requiring hospitalization — $813.

Wellness plans vs. pet insurance

If those prices convince you it’s time to get your pet insured, be aware that not all pet plans are created equal.

Some operate more like discount plans than true insurance, and you need to know the difference between wellness plans and pet insurance before you begin shopping.

Wellness plans

These plans aren’t the same as insurance but work more as a form of prepaid vet care. You pay a monthly fee that could be as much as $20 to $40, and in return the plan covers routine care for the year. Some plans are bare-bones while others throw in extras such as nutrition counseling and dental cleanings. Wellness plans are often offered by specific providers, and if you use all of the offered services you might come out ahead. However, if you only take your pets in for an annual checkup, you might not get your money’s worth.

Pet insurance

True pet insurance is provided by a third party and can be used either at any vet or one within a participating network of providers. Like human health insurance plans, there may be a deductible, co-payments and exclusions. Premiums typically vary depending on your pet’s species, breed and age and whether you buy comprehensive or catastrophic coverage.

What to ask before buying a plan

Not all plans are created equal so it is important to do some homework. You need to be sure to ask plenty of questions before signing up. For example, make sure you know the answers to the following:

  • Does the policy include preventive care such as physicals and immunizations?
  • Is there coverage for accidental injuries?
  • Are there any exclusions to the coverage?
  • What about pre-existing conditions?
  • How much are deductibles, co-payments and other fees?
  • Can any vet be used or does the plan require care be provided by a member of its network?
  • How are claims handled? Does the bill need to be paid out-of-pocket first?
  • Is there a limit to how much the plan will pay out each year.


The following are some of the companies offering pet insurance in Canada

President’s Choice Pet Insurance
CAA Pets for CAA members


The bottom line:  should you actually buy it?

If you are talking from a purely financial standpoint, you may be better off saving monthly in a TFSA or high-interest savings account. As an example, consider a $30 per month premium; you will spend $3,600 in premiums over a 10-year period. If your pet never gets sick, that would be $3600 in your pocket. However, if your pet develops a critical illness, requires an extended hospital stay or involved surgical procedure, that could easily exceed that amount in a short period of time. Buying insurance can also make sense if you don’t have the self-discipline to set money aside from your budget each month for pet-related expenses.

For an owner, it is devastating to see medical bills so high that owners can’t afford them or otherwise cause a financial strain preventing them from providing the necessary medical care to a beloved companion. As a veterinarian, it is crushing to see pets and their owners suffer over financial decisions.  We don’t have to suffer these decisions when it comes to most of our own medical needs, since our taxes pay for our medical bills.  Making the choice between seeing our loved ones suffer or having to euthanise because of financial issues isn’t a decision  we should have to make.




Reducing Fear in Feline Vet Visits


Veterinarian examining a kitten on blue background

How often does your cat go to the vet? For healthy cats, this visit may only occur once per year. As most cat owners are aware, this is a very stressful event in a cat’s life, though it’s never too late to make improvements.

Start young. If you have a new kitten, make sure they have a carrier that is a part of their every day life. The carrier should be left out and accessible to the cat at all times. Consider the carrier to be the cat’s bedroom. Put a bed or fluffy blankets in there, as well as toys and treats. To get them used to entering a carrier for the first time, try feeding their meals in the carrier so they understand it is a happy and safe place. Make sure to leave your cat or kitten alone if they have chosen to lie inside of it (this is important for children to know). You may also find that covering the carrier in a towel or blanket allows it to be darker and warmer which contributes to the feeling of a “den” for the cat. When the time comes to take the cat to the vet, they will not be afraid of going into the carrier.

Most people only use the carrier when the time comes to take the cat to the vet. This practice increases stress because the cat will associate the carrier with stress if they only go into it once per year. We often hear people say when they take the carrier out of storage, the cat runs away and hides (sometimes the owner then can’t find the cat and misses the appointment!). This is the very reason the carrier should be a part of every day life.

Once it’s time to get in the car, make sure to face the carrier towards the front. Front and back movement are less likely to cause nausea versus side to side movement. You may find it helpful to place the carrier where the cat can see out the front window. Covering the carrier with a blanket may be necessary in the winter, especially with a windchill. Conversely, cool down the car before putting the carrier in it during the summer to prevent over heating and stress2015-Feliway-Diffuser-Legacy_medium

At our end, we like to book cat appointments at a time of day that is quieter. Feel free to request this when you book the appointment too. We like to try to get your cat into an exam room as quickly as possible so they don’t have to see too many people or dogs walking by. You can leave the cat in the car for a moment to come and check in, and if the exam rooms aren’t quite available yet, you may request we phone your cell when we are ready so that you can stay in the car with your cat to wait.

There are a few products available that also reduce stress in cats. Feliway is a spray that mimics “happy cat pheromones”. You can spray the inside of the carrier with it, or the blanket that you cover the carrier with.

thundershirt-catThunder Shirt is a snug-fitting shirt that is similar to swaddling babies. It creates a sense of comfort during stressful events.

Before the appointment, be sure to allow your cat to use the litterbox if possible. Try not to feed him or her within a couple hours of the car ride. Some cats will vomit in the car from nausea or urinate/defecate from stress. Having eaten a recent meal increases the chances of these unfortunate accidents.

Desensitization is a training method that allows our pets to get accustomed to new things. Leaving the carrier out every day desensitizes them to its presence; frequent car rides desensitizes them to the car, and frequent visits get them used to the sounds and smells of the vet hospital. We encourage you to stop by for a visit once in a while, where we can weight the cat and give them a toy and/or a treat. This may go a long way to not associate the vet with needles or too much handling. Understandably this may simply be too stressful for some cats.
It is important for the veterinary staff to have relaxed cats during their examinations. Stress can cause cats to act fearfully (which they may have never done in their life before) and they may scratch or bite either the staff or their owners. Taking steps to reduce stress will go an awful long way.

One final trick that we use when it’s time to go home at the end of the appointment and your cat doesn’t want to go back in the carrier – put them in the carrier backwards! It works almost every time.

Obesity: The Thick and Thin of It

Happy 2016!

After a holiday season that hopefully included friends, families, long walks in the snow with our four-legged friends (or catnip induced bliss), it seems only natural our minds should turn to thoughts of: I’m leaving for Mexico and why I can’t i fit into my bathing suit? Gym memberships.  Okay, that is very much a bipedal train of thought. But what about our pets? We can forget that weight gain can occur with them as well, and while they’re not concerned with looking good in bathing suits, it can have some very serious future health implications.

The population of overweight and obese pets continues to expand in the Canada and around the world. As with people, excess weight is associated with several potential serious and even life-threatening health conditions. In this post, I explore the various causes and consequences of pets being overweight or obese, and what we can do for them.

While there are very specific definitions for overweight and obesity in people, the definitions in pets are more arbitrary. Dogs and cats are often considered overweight if their weight is >15% above ideal and are obese when weight is >30% of ideal.  In veterinary medicine, body condition scores (BCS) are used to evaluate a pet’s weight. The 2 most commonly used scales are:

A 5-point scale  (we use this at St Vital Veterinary Hospital):

Click to enlarge

A 9 point scale:

body charts - cat
Body Condition Score for Cats – Click to Enlarge
body charts - dog
Body Condition Score for Dogs – Click to Enlarge









Obesity causes – luck of the draw, or?

In 2012 the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention ( published some pretty staggering facts: 52.5% of dogs and 58.3% of cats in the United States are overweight or obese. It is likely similar here in Canada. I know in everyday practice, many of the patients I see continue to gain weight from year to year. So how does this happen?

  • At Risk Breeds – Some breeds have been shown to be predisposed to obesity, particularly: Terriers – West Highland White Terriers, Scottish Terriers; Shetland sheepdogs; Hounds – Basset hounds, Dachshunds, Beagles; Spaniels – Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Cocker Spaniels; Labrador retrievers. Interestingly certain breeds, particularly sight hounds (i.e: Greyhounds, Whippets, etc)., appear to be resistant to the development of overweight and obesity. But what about cats? Several cat breeds are also over-represented with overweight and obesity, including: Sphinx, Birman, Ragamuffin, Shorthairs (British, American, Exotic, Domestic), Manx and Persian.
  • Age – As pets age, they are generally less active and they can lose lean body mass, which means they need less daily calories. The total daily energy needs of an average-sized 7-year-old dog may decrease by as much as 20% when compared with its needs as a young adult. If their food intake does not decrease proportionately with the decreasing energy needs, they gain weight.
  • Spaying & Neutering – When we spay & neuter, this results in a loss of circulating sex hormones that slow a pet’s metabolism by directly affecting the hunger center in the brain through changes in specific hormones (leptin and ghrelin).
  • Medications – Certain medications, especially those given chronically, can contribute to obesity in pets. For example, Corticosteroids (ie. Prednisone) used in autoimmune diseases, and allergies, can cause increased appetite leading to weight gain, increased sugar levels and abdominal fat production.
  • Nutrition – It’s not always what we eat, but how we eat. A good quality diet that suits your pets needs are ideal, but even the the most calorie restricted diet can cause weight gain if overfed. How many meals a day? What about dog cookies and table scraps? Interestingly, the cost of pet food may have an effect on body weight. One study showed obese dogs were more likely to be fed a higher volume of cheaper brand foods than premium.
  • Pet Owners – What is our role as pet owners? I know many owners find it difficult to say no when their pet beguiles them with “Please, I’m starving even though you just fed me 30 minutes ago, please share that microwave popcorn” or “Look how cute I am grooming myself! I know I can’t reach my bum, but please pile Temptations in front of me like the royalty I am.” Food is love (in moderation), but so are other non-calorie dense ways we can interact with our pets that keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated.

Interestingly,when people are exposed to environments with a high prevalence of overweight and obesity, they often develop inaccurate perceptions of what constitutes a healthy body shape. A recent survey study collected data from 829 dog parents through personal interviews; they were asked to subjectively evaluate their dogs’ body condition score (BCS). Additionally both the pet parent’s body mass index (BMI) and the dog’s BCS were assessed. Obese dogs were twice as likely to have obese owners as non-obese dogs were. Furthermore dog parent underestimation of their pet’s BCS was nearly 20 times more common in dogs that were obese than in normal or underweight dogs. Given this information, pet owner misperception of an obese dog’s BCS is a major obstacle in weight management.

Obesity consequences: You are what you eat

Fat absolutely has a vital role in the body: it helps to insulate against cold, provides cushion against trauma, and produces hormones called adipokines that help regulate energy balance, metabolism and immune function. However, when too much fat is present, adipokines can actually contribute to a state of chronic inflammation.

Just as overweight and obesity have many possible consequences in people, so too do they have serious health implications in dogs and cats. Excessive fat impacts our pets in many ways,

Longevity: Studies have shown that pets fed a calorie appropriate diet lived 1.8 years longer than pets fed free-choice

Hormone Diseases: Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) requiring long term medication (insulin), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Orthopedic Conditions: increased development of arthritis from excessive weight on the joints, soft tissue injuries like Cruciate ligament tears requiring expensive surgical repair.

Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure & Respiratory Conditions: Tracheal collapse, asthma, exacerbation of Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome. As in people, overweight and obesity can affect blood pressure. Untreated hypertension (high blood pressure) causes damage to various organs, most notably the kidneys, brain and heart.

Cancer: A limited number of scientific investigations have evaluated the correlation between overweight/obesity and cancer development. Some of the data suggest overweight and obese dogs and cats have an increased risk of developing cancer.

Combating obesity: bootcamp?

Wow! That previous section seemed really negative you’re thinking. It’s certainly not meant to be a scare tactic, but a realistic view of what can happen with excessive weight. Even though overweight and obesity are becoming more common in our companion animals, identifying excess weight on your pet is the first step! If you think your pet is overweight, or if we identify your pet as overweight at their annual physical, don’t despair; we have successfully helped many pets achieve a healthy weight through a combination of:

  • Dietary modifications – a calorie appropriate amount of an appropriate nutrient dense food, often calculated with consistent weigh ins & adjustments,
  • Lifestyle changes – exercise programs, appropriate play (both indoors and outdoors), increased mental stimulation to prevent boredom eating,
  • Drug therapy – as a last resort.

The take-away (not take-out) message about obesity

  • Excess weight is an increasingly common health problem in dogs and cats here in Canada and around the world, increasing the chances of diseases and decreased quality and length of life.
  • Fat is a metabolically active tissue that, in excessive amounts, contributes to a stage of chronic inflammation.
  • Overweight and obesity are treatable, and several effective therapeutic interventions are available. A collaborative effort between pet owners and your veterinarian results in a highly effective team to achieve healthy weight loss through regular monitoring of prescribed weight loss techniques.