Spending Health Care Dollars Wisely

Veterinary expenses are for most dog breeders a make-or-break item in the budget. You can plan for feed costs, grooming products, replacement equipment, and other normal and usual expenditures. But the wild card is the big veterinary bill that breaks the bank – for an injury, or for surgery to remove the pieces of the rubber duckie the dog swallowed and didn’t pass, or for the old dog who develops some bizarre condition that isn’t fatal but costs thousands to diagnose and treat.

Is there any way to rein in these mortal blows to the future of your breeding program? Maybe, just maybe. Following are some tips.

1. Expect the unexpected. If you plan a ballpark yearly budget with a dollar figure for emergency vet bills for each dog you own you might end the year even, or only slightly in the hole. Some years you might actually have money in the kitty at the end of the year which you can use for a trip, or to buy something nice for a long-suffering spouse.

2. Don’t skimp on dog food, and don’t think because you pay a lot the food is necessarily superior. Good nutrition means good health and an optimally functioning immune system. Good health translates into fewer illnesses and more rapid recovery from sickness or injury. Don’t rely on a single food product, especially dry foods. All dry foods are cooked at high temperatures, which sacrifices some nutrients, especially amino acids. Feed at least some canned, homecooked, or raw meat.

3. Choose your veterinary hospital for optimal quality care, but at the same time pay attention to costs. If you are new to an area and are choosing a vet, look at the number of employees. You are going to be paying their salaries! You want a facility that has well-trained employees but that runs lean in the staffing department. Do the vets in the practice do any of their own after-hours emergencies? This alone could save a lot of money.

Resist excessive vaccinations. Do your homework. Find out which core vaccines are necessary, and be assertive about the intervals at which the initial puppy immunizations are given. Do not give yearly boosters; there is no research that shows that they are necessary except to the veterinarian’s bottom line. (Did you know that yearly boosters only came into vogue in the 1970s?)

Make sure you understand the purpose of each lab test, and weigh the cost/benefit ratio against your bank account. One area you can save money on is stool exams for parasites. This is an example of an historic custom that has outlived its usefulness.

When I was a child, it was critically important to check a dog’s stool so that it was only treated for exactly the parasites that were present, because the medications were harsh and potentially life threatening. That is no longer the case. Today it doesn’t present appreciable risk to young puppies to treat them for hooks, rounds, and whips. So why pay money to test for them, when the treatment costs a fraction of the test? A pup may have a low level of parasites that if left untreated could contaminate the yard with eggs, or under the stress of going to a new home cause symptoms, so just give the pyrantel or fenbendazole.

An adult dog with a normal stool really doesn’t need a fecal test. Tapeworms don’t show up anyway, and their segments can be detected visually on the stool or in the hair around the anal opening. If a dog or pup has diarrhea, by all means have a fecal specimen examined.

Lab work on old dogs can be expensive. Hopefully, you know your dogs and your breed. Properly nourished Lakelands under 10 years old rarely have medical issues. Again, some vets will insist on extensive lab work on any dog over 6 or 8 before they will do even minor surgery.

Dental cleaning can be a hefty expense. Even if you prefer not to raw feed, you might consider periodic feeding of raw, consumable bone, such as chicken backs. which will effectively remove tartar from the teeth. (Freeze for a couple of weeks first, which will destroy Campylobacter bacteria. Risk of Salmonella to the dog is negligible – most so-called cases of Salmonella in dogs are mere supposition and not backed up by actual laboratory confirmation.) Of course, use common sense: Treat any raw meat carefully, and avoid cross-contamination. Feed dogs separately so there is no competition nor tendency to bolt a tasty chunk.

4. Let go of the ego. The most important veterinary cost-cutting move you can possibly make is to realize that it is not to your advantage nor the dog’s to keep every one of them from the cradle to the grave. If you love the dog, after its show and breeding career let it go live with someone who can give it more attention in a household with only one, two. or three pets. If the dog loves you, and has been well socialized to people and places, the dog can learn to love someone else just as intensely. They won’t forget you, but when you meet, they will love on you, but you can tell by the look in their eye, they know they have a good gig, and no longer have to share attention with other younger dogs currently going to shows or triaJs.

In today’s society I see more and more couples and families whose life situation is not conducive to raising a rowdy terrier puppy into a sane adult. but they can make marvelous homes for your young adult terrier. Truly a win-win situation.

— Pat Rock, AKC Gazette Breed Columnist · hollybriar@widomaker.com

© AKC Gazette, May 2013 · Lakeland Terrier Breed Column · Reprinted with permission