Learn how to avoid the most expensive veterinary bills.

The economy is tough right now. Your regular vet bills are bad enough without unnecessary emergency expenses. In this article I’d like to explore a few ways to avoid the most common preventable emergencies I see time and time again.

With the help of a little info published by the ASPCA, and through my own experience, here are five of the most expensive veterinary emergencies that can usually be avoided:

  1. Dental emergencies
  2. Feline urinary obstructions
  3. Foreign body gastrointestinal obstructions
  4. Pyometra/mammary tumors
  5. High rise syndrome (and preventable traumas)

Of course, there are exceptions, and sometimes the incidents on this list cannot be avoided. But with awareness and careful monitoring, we find that these costly emergencies should be less common.


1. Dental Emergencies

With routine care and check-ups, most dental emergencies can be avoided if caught early and a treatment plan is set. Routine dental care by your veterinarian and good home care is the key. If your pet is prone to dental disease and gingivitis, knowing that your pet needs proper care at home can lessen the chance of emergency tooth extractions, abscesses and extensive, costly dental work.

2. Feline Urinary Obstruction

Although this expensive emergency predominantly in male cats cannot always be avoided, be aware of the risk factors that lead to urinary obstructions:

  • Dry food diets
  • Stress
  • Ignoring male cats displaying urinary difficulties

Young male cats are most susceptible to urinary obstructions. As discussed previously here and on other sites, dry diets and stress can be risk factors for developing urinary tract symptoms.

If your cat is straining to urinate or is uncomfortable in the box for one or two days, don’t wait until Saturday night when he’s lying on his side and unable to urinate to call the vet! See your vet as soon as your cat is showing signs. Maybe you can avoid an actual urinary obstruction with early intervention.

Unfortunately, some of these emergencies are unavoidable. But start your young male kitty out on wet food, a “stress free” environment and a sufficient number of clean litter boxes, and you’re off to the best start possible.

Remember: The cost of prevention and any care at your regular vet is much less expensive than at emergency hospitals.

3. Foreign Body Ingestion and Obstruction

Here is some hay removed from a cat.

You can’t watch your dog or cat all the time. That would be impossible. But you can try and pet-proof your environment as much as possible to avoid the cost of emergency gastrointestinal surgery to remove a foreign body (toy, shoe, string, etc.)

Risk factors:

  • Young animals
  • Children in the home
  • Messy environments
  • Pets that are not monitored in or out
  • Awareness of a particular pet’s “oral fixation”

Most of this is common sense. But most obstructions occur in younger animals, and most of them swallow something that could have been avoided.

Fact: All cat and dog toys are possible obstructions. Maybe a massive Kong is an exception, but I have even seen pieces of Kongs swallowed. Cat toys are not safe! The ideal situation is monitoring your cat or dog at play. When they get too obsessed with the toy, give it a rest.

Children drop things all the time. People leave their stuff on the floor. I had a cat who became severely obstructed TWICE with the owner’s pantyhose. The second time, he almost died. This owner knew her cat had a fetish. She created it. When the cat was young, Mrs. L’eggs actually made her own cat toys out of catnip wrapped in pantyhose. Hint: Wear your pantyhose. Feed your cat nip a la carte.

Hint: Point out the underwear drawer, even for visiting guests.

The month of May was a new one for me. A 5-year-old cat came in with a rock-hard obstruction in his abdomen. His owner said she knew what it was: He loved to hang out in the bunny hutch and share their hay. Yup! He had 2 pounds of wet hay in his stomach, and he couldn’t pass it. The surgery was amazing; the cat did great. Hint: Cats are not ruminants. Limit their hay to a la carte catnip!

4. Pyometra/Mammary Tumors

A pyometra is a uterus full of pus. This painful and life-threatening condition can be avoided. How? Well, if there is no uterus to fill with pus in the first place!

Please spay your dog or cat when your vet recommends it. If you insist on breeding, spay the animal as soon as you are through making her produce puppies or kittens. Then you will never have to pay an emergency vet to save your dog or cat’s life because her uterus broke open in her abdomen, dumping a gallon of pus into it.

Mammary tumors occur almost 100 percent in unspayed dogs, or in dogs that were spayed later in life. Spay your dog by the time she is 2, or have a really good excuse not to do this. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when, later in her life, you get the bad news that she has mammary cancer.

5. High Rise Syndrome, and Other Traumas

Cat-proof your home or apartment, particularly in the warmer months, when windows are open.

Yes, cats can fall out of high rises and survive. One comprehensive study followed cats that fell from heights ranging from two to 32 stories. Ninety percent of the kitties survived. The most common injuries in high rise syndrome are:

  • Chest trauma
  • Fractured lower jaws or facial trauma
  • Forelimb injuries below the knee

Clearly, these are always emergencies, and the cats that survive usually need surgical intervention and intensive care.

Apartment dwellers in nice weather, beware! Cats do very stupid things to enjoy the great outdoors. They don’t have their normal cat common sense when it comes to open windows or loose screens. Secure your windows with safe screens.

Heat stroke and hit by cars top the list of other summer traumas. Heat stroke not only occurs when you leave your pet in a hot car; I have seen severely overheated animals who were left outside without shelter in extreme temperatures; rabbit hutches with not enough sun protection; and guinea pigs and other “pocket pets” kept inside without enough air and ventilation.

The older or compromised pet may also need special consideration. Asthmatic cats may need air conditioning. Dogs with various respiratory conditions, heart disease, collapsing tracheas, laryngeal paralysis and so on are heat intolerant. If they look uncomfortable, they are uncomfortable. Get them in the shade, near the fan or in the A/C!

What is my worst-nightmare emergency? When an owner comes in with a situation that could have been avoided, and cries poverty. Now we have to work on a way to save the pet’s life and figure out a way for the owner to pay for the life-saving care. This stinks! For everyone.

I usually turn off my beeper at 11 p.m. to get some sleep. A handful of times, I have gone in to work in the morning to find a fax from the emergency hospital. Mr. Pimm presented at 2 a.m., unable to urinate, and was “humanely euthanized due to finances.” Or Bella has been vomiting for a week after swallowing some yarn. The owners, presented with an estimate of $1,800, felt more comfortable humanely euthanizing. Not a good way to start the day. Or the week. Or the season.

Here’s hoping your pets stay healthy and out of trouble this summer, and always. Keep a close eye on them!

Photos: Army Medicine/Flickr (top), Debora Lichtenberg/Pets Adviser


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