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An Ounce of Prevention: The Importance of Preventative Care for Dogs

Simple things like exercise can make a big difference in your dog’s health.
Do you ever wonder if your life is destined for one veterinary bill after another?
I do! With five dogs and five cats, it seems I’m running to the veterinary clinic several times a month for everything from medications to sutures to acute lameness. Just when I think everything is under control – one of the dogs swallows a thumb tack. Or our “rescue” cat tears the cranial cruciate ligament in both his knees-requiring surgery to the tune of $3,000. Our bionic stray now has better knees than I do.

Americans spent an estimated $28 billion for veterinary expenditures in 2011, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, with $19.8 billion of the pie chart going to canine veterinary expenses. The AVMA estimated that dog owners spent on average $378 per year for veterinary care in 2011 – mainly for physical exams, vaccinations, drugs or medications (I spent that on my last visit!). However, the American Pet Products Association Inc., (APPA) estimates a 2013 figure slightly higher at $852, which includes routine veterinary care and surgical procedures.

Whether your own veterinary bills fall lower or higher than these averages, chances are you could save some money. Preventative care is key to reducing veterinary expenses.

To keep a leash on your veterinary costs, consider these 11 proactive steps:

  1. Feed Well-Balanced, Good-Quality Food
    Good nutrition contributes to healthy skin, strong bones and ligaments, and optimum health and longevity. It allows your dog to maximize nutrients while eating less, so your wallet benefits too. Shelling out money for premium dog food is more expensive up front, but the long-term benefits are worth it since good nutrition can reduce diet-related veterinary bills. It’s the easiest and least expensive way to reduce veterinary expenses.
  2. Limit Snacks Most pre-packaged dog snacks are not nutritionally complete and can unbalance a balanced diet. Limit treats to less than 10 percent of your dog’s daily caloric intake so he doesn’t gain weight.
  3. Keep Your Canine Fit and Trim
    This is a biggie! Exercise goes hand in hand with good nutrition. Studies indicate that keeping your dog at the right weight can increase his lifespan by nearly two years. Overweight dogs are subject to diabetes, heart and respiratory problems, arthritis, increased surgical risk, decreased immune function and increased damage to joints, bones, and ligaments.
  4. Spay or Neuter Your Dog
    The upfront cost is a bit spendy, but it will save you a bundle in the long run. Altering your dog decreases unwanted pregnancies in females and prostate issues in male dogs. Neutering usually decreases a male’s tendency to roam, which, in turn, decreases the chances he will ransack trash cans – eating potentially harmful stuff such as rotting garbage, poisons, animal carcasses, and so forth. If your dog isn’t roaming, he won’t fight with other dogs, get lost, or, heaven forbid, get hit by a car. Plus, you’ll be doing your part to help prevent pet overpopulation.
  5. Keep Parasite Prevention and Vaccines Current
    Internal and external parasites, such as fleas, ticks, and heartworms, and diseases like canine parvovirus, distemper, and hepatitis can wreak havoc with your pet’s health. When left untreated, many diseases require intensive hospitalization treatment, which is a great deal more expensive than the cost of flea medication or vaccinations.
  6. Brush Your Dog’s Teeth Daily
    Preventative care includes keeping your dog’s teeth and gums clean and healthy. Daily brushing prevents tartar build up, which is the primary cause of periodontal disease—a progressive disease that can, in advanced cases, lead to decayed gums, infection, and liver, kidney and heart damage. The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates more than 80 percent of dogs develop gum disease by 3 years of age. Don’t forget yearly professional dental cleanings for your dog. This helps to reduce or eliminate the need for advanced periodontal treatment, which can cost as much as $2,000.
  7. Schedule (and Keep!) Regular Veterinary Checkups
    Wellness exams are the cornerstone of preventative care. Preventative care – including dental cleaning, blood work, urinalysis, etc.,helps to detect diseases early on when they are likely to be easily treatable – thereby extending the quality of life before more expensive procedures become necessary.
  8. Groom Your Pet Weekly
    Hair and skin are reflective of nutritional health. Regular grooming helps to prevent hot spots, rashes, mats, and painful broken nails. Daily inspections of the ears, nose, mouth, teeth, and feet can help you spot minor issues before they escalate into potentially life-threatening and expensive medical problems.
  9. Dog-Proof Your Home and Yard
    Take a few minutes to store all medications and toxic products, such as herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc., as well as poisonous plants in a safe place. Keep cell phones, remote control, slippers, marbles, paper clips, thumb tacks, and so forth out of reach. Secure all fences and gates to be sure your dog can’t escape and be injured by a car or attacked by other animals.
  10. Train Your Dog
    A trained dog is usually comfortable being handled. This allows the veterinarian to do many procedures, such as examining ears, feet, and teeth, and treating small cuts, removing stickers, and caring for wounds, safely.
  11. Consider Pet Insurance
    Pet insurance can act as a safeguard against the cost of unexpected illnesses and accidents.

Following these simple and doable guidelines will keep your checkbook in the black and a leash on veterinary bills.