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What Pet Owners Need To Know When Choosing A Pet Insurance Plan

Veterinary medicine has made monumental strides in treatment methods for our pets. From advanced, minimally invasive surgical procedures, to targeting specific cancer sites for radiation treatment, pets are living longer, healthier lives.

These advancements in methods and equipment come at a cost. While veterinary care is still significantly less expensive than human medicine, costs can still add up quickly in an emergency or when more specialized care is needed. That’s where pet insurance comes in handy.

So what is pet insurance anyway?

A pet insurance plan allows you to make decisions on your pet’s veterinary care based on the quality of medicine, not the cost of treatment. Since pet insurance is considered property and casualty insurance, it operates similarly to your car insurance rather than human health insurance. There is a deductible you are responsible for, after which you are reimbursed a portion of your out of pocket costs. Unlike human healthcare, there is no “in-network”, so it can be utilized at any veterinarian in the US.

What does it cover?

Most companies offer accident and illness coverage, which is utilized for the unpredictable occurrences that your pet will inevitably experience. These include anything from an ear infection or broken toenail, all the way up to complex fractures and even cancer treatments. Most companies will allow for whatever method of treatment is deemed necessary by your veterinarian, but you should verify this prior to signing up. Some companies also offer wellness coverage for assistance with things like vaccines, well visits, and preventatives.

How much will I get reimbursed?

The amount of reimbursement, deductible amount, and total amount covered for the policy year all vary based on the company policies as well as the plan options you select. Most companies reimburse a percentage of the veterinary bill, which you elect when signing up. Some will reimburse based on a benefit schedule, which means you will only receive a refund of what the company deems to be an appropriate amount for the services rendered.

What isn’t covered?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that pet insurance does not cover conditions which are deemed “pre-existing”. What is considered a pre-existing condition does vary from one company to another, but typically it means any clinical signs or symptoms being shown prior to taking out the policy or during the waiting periods. Because of this, it is important to sign up for your policy as early as possible.

How do I find out more?

There are many companies out there with a variety of coverage options, so make sure you do your research to find the company that best fits your needs and provides you with peace of mind. If you have questions about which pet insurance company may be right for you, ask your veterinarian. Additionally, NAPHIA (North American Pet Health Insurance Association) has a ton of information about pet insurance and how it works. Click here for an overview.

What are my other payment options?

At VRC, we are happy to assist you with any pet insurance claims or documentation you may need. In addition, we offer other payment assistance options such as CareCredit and Scratchpay. To learn more about VRC’s payment options, click here. 

 

The Night Before Christmas—Holiday Pet Hazards Version

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a—wait a minute, is that Jake and Fluffy, the Jones family’s golden retriever and cat creeping around the house late at night? What could they be up to?

It looks like Jake and Fluffy are quietly sneaking around so they don’t wake their sleeping family and ruin their big night. You see, Jake and Fluffy have been on their best behavior all through the holiday season, and now that it’s Christmas Eve and the big guy is on his way with their presents, they plan to enjoy themselves. Let’s see what they have in mind.

Christmas Tree Catastrophes

Fluffy heads for the Christmas tree that her family so carefully decorated. She has been eyeing the low-hanging bulbs for weeks, and now she plans to play to her heart’s desire. She knocks several onto the wood floor. One shatters. As she jumps away, Fluffy feels a sharp pain in her foot. She licks at the blood that seeps from her cut, and watches Jake head toward the tree stand. The water tastes kind of funny, but he happily laps it up, since his family was busy hosting a Christmas Eve party and forgot to fill his empty bowl. The Christmas tree water may contain dangerous bacteria, mold, or chemicals, but thirsty Jake isn’t too discriminating. 

Next, Fluffy pulls some glittery tinsel off the tree. She doesn’t understand why, but the long strands are irresistible, and she eats several. They may cause severe intestinal problems tomorrow, but she can’t help herself now. She moves on to the twinkling Christmas tree lights, and begins chewing on the cord. Her family has left the tree plugged in, since it is Christmas Eve night, and she can’t wait to gnaw through the long strand. Fortunately, as she is about to bite down, she hears Jake rummaging around in the kitchen and goes to investigate.

Holiday Food Fiascos

Jake had to smell the delicious dinner cooking all day long, and was disappointed that his family didn’t share any, but he is thrilled to discover that all the best leftovers are waiting in the trash. His family was too tired to take the garbage out before bedtime, which means that he can feast on turkey skin, bones, gravy, and mashed potatoes. He wolfs down as much as he can find, and licks up the evidence. Poor Jake will probably have a nasty stomach ache tomorrow. Let’s hope he doesn’t develop life-threatening pancreatitis after eating all that fatty food, or an intestinal obstruction, or perforation from the bones. 

After his decadent meal, Jake heads straight for the plate of sweets his family has left for Santa. He gobbles them down, and particularly enjoys the chocolate chip cookies and homemade chocolates. He rarely gets to taste chocolate, since his family normally makes such an effort to keep it away from him, telling him it’s “toxic to pets”—whatever that means.

Lastly, Jake sniffs out the treats left in the stockings hanging on the mantle. He pulls one down and finds more chocolate and several packs of chewing gum, which he devours. Hopefully, the gum doesn’t contain the artificial sweetener xylitol, which can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia or liver failure. 

Houseguest Hazards

Fluffy eats a few turkey scraps with Jake, and then wanders down the hallway into the guest room where Grandma and Grandpa are sleeping. She hopes to find the bottles of little round tablets she spotted earlier that looked like fun. She easily locates the pill bottles in the open suitcase, grabs one in her mouth, and runs down the hallway, where she chews the cap off, and eats a few of the small round pills before deciding they are too bitter. 

Fluffy leaves the pills on the floor, and heads to the back door, which one of the kids has left cracked open to ensure Santa can get into the house. She slips her paw into the crack and is able to open the door wide enough to fit through. Jake hears her, and noses the door open wider so he can also slip through, and they head out into the night. They wander down the street, but head back when they see the first morning light so they can rest up before tomorrow’s festivities. Thankfully they didn’t get lost or, worse, hit by a car. 

Jake and Fluffy had quite a night, and they may end up in the emergency room tomorrow, which will surely scare their owners and interrupt their holiday fun. If their owners would prevent these holiday dangers, they would have a safe, healthy holiday together.

To prevent a holiday pet emergency, follow these tips:

  •  Pet-proof the Christmas tree — Hang breakable decorations on higher branches, tuck all cords out of reach, and keep the tree stand covered so your pet cannot drink tainted water. Cats love to eat tinsel, so skip this nostalgic decoration if you have a feline friend in your home.
  • Ensure pets cannot get into dangerous or toxic foods — Fatty leftovers from your holiday dinner can cause a severe case of gastritis or pancreatitis, which may require hospitalization. Toxic foods, such as chocolate, raisins, macadamia nuts, and xylitol, can cause life-threatening complications if your pet eats them, so stick to pet food and pet-safe treats, and don’t leave human food put where your pet can eat it.
  • Alert guests to your pet-safety house rules — Ask guests to keep all personal belongings, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, safely out of your pet’s reach. Let them know not to feed your pet any human food, and that you will take care of your pet’s potty breaks, so they don’t accidentally let her out into an unfenced area where she can get loose.

If your pet takes a page from Jake and Fluffy’s story and gets herself into holiday trouble, our emergency department is open over the holidays when your family veterinarian may be unavailable. You can contact us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for your pet’s emergency care.

The Advantage of a Board-Certified Veterinary Anesthesiologist Caring for Your Pet

Few things cause pet owners more anxiety and fear than their beloved companion undergoing anesthesia. We understand how frightening this experience can be—we’re pet owners, too. So, we work hard to alleviate those fears with expert anesthetic administration and monitoring, and protocols tailored to your pet. Recently, we welcomed Dr. Raphael Vezina, a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist who will help us provide your pet with the highest possible standard of care.

What does board certified in veterinary anesthesiology mean?

Some veterinarians, like doctors in human medicine, dedicate their professional lives to a specialty, such as anesthesia, and its applications. An anesthesiologist undergoes three years of rigorous extra training to become board-eligible. The designation means he is specially trained to administer anesthesia and to anticipate, recognize, and care for any anesthetic issues.

This is followed by a rigorous examination to achieve board-certification status from the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA). Passing this examination grants the status of Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (DACVAA).

What does anesthesia involve for my pet and why is it necessary?

Anesthesia is controlled unconsciousness, where your pet is unaware, unable to move, and doesn’t feel pain, usually during surgery. These three points are key to ensuring the highest quality surgical care. Anesthesia may also be required for imaging cases, such as performing MRIs in animals.

The risks associated with anesthesia depend on the procedure being performed and your pet’s health status. Many pets do not need surgery—other than a spay or neuter procedure—until they are older and acquire dental disease or lumps and bumps. These older pets may suffer from concurrent diseases, such as kidney or heart failure, and a board-eligible anesthesiologist can help prepare patients best prior to anesthesia and tailor anesthetic protocols to each individual patient’s needs.

Many veterinarians refer their older patients to our hospital for surgical procedures because we have a board-certified anesthesiologist on staff. Your family veterinarian may do the same if your dog with heart issues, or your cat with chronic renal failure, needs to undergo anesthesia, or your pet needs in-depth diagnostic testing that is not available at her clinic. We will form a team to diagnose and treat your pet. As a specialty center, we are a full-service veterinary hospital that provides advanced care in neurology, emergency and critical care, internal medicine, oncology, and many other areas, and we are especially proud to offer the services of our board-certified anesthesiologist.

Before your pet’s anesthesia

After your family veterinarian refers your pet to us for a procedure requiring specialized anesthesia, we will first study her medical records to decide on her best anesthetic protocol. We may recommend additional testing, such as blood work, X-rays, an electrocardiogram, or an ultrasound, to determine the extent of your pet’s condition and the effect of anesthesia. We will perform a thorough physical examination to evaluate your pet’s health status, consult with your family veterinarian about the results, and formulate the best anesthetic plan to ensure your pet is pain-free, unaware, and safe during her surgery.

While your pet is anesthetized

When your pet is sufficiently sedated by the pre-medication, we will induce anesthesia, which generally involves an injectable medication to fully sedate her, and then an inhalant form to maintain her level of unconsciousness. With any anesthesia, we always place an endotracheal (breathing) tube down the pet’s throat to maintain the airway, provide oxygen and anesthetic gas, and prevent fluid from getting into the lungs.

anesthesia

Patients undergoing sedation and anesthesia are rigorously monitored so that any changes in their vital signs that could cause a danger to your pet is identified and treated according to current best practices.

Your pet will receive the same level of attention and care during anesthesia that you would. We use the same monitoring equipment used in human hospitals to check her vital signs, including:

  • Heart rate
  • Respiratory rate
  • Heart rhythm
  • Oxygenation level
  • Blood pressure
  • Temperature
  • Depth of anesthesia
  • Pain response

While machines are excellent at providing information regarding your pet’s status under anesthesia, there is no better monitor than our anesthesiologist, who will continuously check your pet’s signs and correct any problems.

After your pet’s anesthesia

The period after anesthesia is critical, and we will closely monitor your pet to ensure she is recovering well from anesthesia and all her vital signs are returning to an awake animal’s normal levels. To help your pet wake up smoothly and comfortably from anesthesia, we follow these rules:

  • Keep the room semi-dark and quiet.
  • Monitor pain and administer more pain control as needed.
  • Maintain ideal body temperature with warming units and blankets.
  • Ensure your pet is breathing well, alert, and swallowing normally before removing the endotracheal tube.
  • Keep your pet calm; some pets become dysphoric during recovery and may need additional sedation.

To mitigate stress and its consequences during your pet’s hospital stay, anti-anxiety medications may also be given as needed.

Your pet may be able to go home or may need continued hospitalization, depending on the procedure, how quickly she makes a full recovery from the anesthesia and her medical condition.

Has your family veterinarian referred your pet to our hospital for a procedure? Are you concerned about anesthesia? Give us a call to discuss the safety measures we take with every pet under the supervision of our board-certified anesthesiologist.

Common Exotic Pet Emergencies

Pets don’t fall ill on a nine-to-five schedule, and they often require after-hours care. Emergency treatment can be easily found at night or on weekends for dogs and cats, but what about exotic pets? Reptiles, birds, and small mammals are excellent at hiding signs of illness and may not show any visible symptoms until they require urgent care. We are excited to announce that we now offer night and weekend emergency care for scaled, furry, and feathery pets. If your family exotic pet veterinarian is not open, we are here.

How to tell if your exotic pet requires emergency care

Exotic pets require routine veterinary care just like dogs and cats, and often need an emergency veterinarian’s services as well. A pet may appear healthy when you leave in the morning but show signs of illness by the time you return home. It’s difficult to know whether your exotic pet requires immediate treatment or can wait until your family exotic veterinarian is open, so we’ve put together a list of signs that your exotic pet needs emergency veterinary care.

  • Birds require emergency care if you see:
    • Weakness
    • Bleeding
    • Straining to defecate
    • Struggling to lay an egg
    • Refusing to eat or drink
    • Staying in the bottom of the cage
    • Fluffed or ruffled feathers
    • Pronounced keel bone
    • Loose stool
    • Labored breathing
    • Discharge from the eyes, ears, or beak
    • Continuous squinting or closing of eyes

 

  • Ferrets require emergency care if they exhibit:
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Tense abdomen
    • Decreased urination
    • Pawing at the mouth, which may indicate nausea due to low blood sugar
    • Depression
    • Lack of appetite

 

  • Guinea pigs and rabbits who show these signs require emergency care:
    • Diarrhea
    • Decreased stool production
    • Lack of appetite
    • Head tilt
    • Pain
    • Rolling or flipping
    • Depression or lethargy

 

Guinea pigs and rabbits may have serious gastrointestinal issues if they are not eating. The gastrointestinal tract can go into stasis, which may require hospitalization and treatment, or even surgery, to correct. We recommend syringe-feeding ground pellets or Oxbow Critical Care mixed with water to provide enough fiber to stimulate the gastrointestinal system until you can get your pet to a veterinary hospital.

  • Reptiles require emergency care in these situations:
    • Cold body temperature
    • Weakness
    • Prolapse of body tissue through the vent or rear
    • Paralysis

chameleon

In general, if your exotic pet appears weak or lethargic, is not eating or drinking, or has a decreased stool or urine output, she likely requires emergency care. Don’t hesitate—if your exotic pet is not eating, even for less than a day, that is an emergency.

Exotic pets, especially reptiles, are adept at appearing healthy, and it may be late at night or during the weekend when you realize she has a problem. Exotic pets often require specialized care, so be sure to have emergency exotic pet care in place in addition to your regular veterinarian. We strive to be there for your pet when your family veterinarian is unavailable, and we will stabilize her and transfer her back to their care. Together, we provide round-the-clock care for your pet in all situations.

Is your family exotic veterinarian closed and you think your pet may need urgent care? Don’t worry about the late hour or holiday season—give us a call to see if your feathered, scaled, or furry friend requires immediate treatment.