08172017Headline:

Personal finance: Tips to keep your pet’s health…

For lots of Kiwis, their pet is as close as any child or member of a family – in fact an especially loved little dog I know is called a “fur child”.

And as with non-furry children, pets can be expensive. So here are our top five tips for keeping the price of your pet in check.

1. Keep your pet fit and healthy

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or in this case, not letting your dog eat off your plate every night then lie around all day could help you avoid costly bills.

As in humans, animal obesity is linked to a swathe of conditions including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and orthopaedic problems from too much weight bearing down on the joints. The treatments for these conditions are also similar to those given to people, but there’s no Pharmac or local health board swallowing the costs of your precious pet’s treatment.

Pet Doctor’s Seton Butler says he hates to think how much insulin for a 60 kilogram dog would cost – it’s a lot. And orthopaedic procedures can run up into the thousands, and keep on running, depending on how complicated the surgery may be.

Keeping your pet fit and healthy can also be the difference between life and death. A ground-breaking study undertaken by pet food company Purina found dogs that consumed 25 per cent less than their study-mates (they used labradors, notorious for their tendency to overeat and become fat) lived on average almost two years longer. Plus you save on lower food consumption!

With pet food accounting for 48 per cent of the over $ 1.5 billion Kiwis spend on their pets every year, feeding your pet the right food seems like a no brainer.

But with “non-prepared” pet food – not out of a packet or tin – making up 21 per cent of that expenditure, home-prepared diets are often nutritionally inadequate, a report published in New Zealand last year found.

In this case it could be worth investing in a prepared food which would meet your pet’s needs rather than spending on food which doesn’t – and could lead to a range of potentially costly nutrition-related health issues.

Nutrition has been adopted by vets around the world as the fifth “vital assessment” undertaken when animals are treated. Make it a priority for your pet too.

2. Regular check-ups

The vet isn’t there just to look after injured or sick animals.

Kevin Darling, group general manager of diagnostic testing company Gribbles Veterinary Pathology, says regular testing and check-ups allows pet owners to build up a baseline profile of their pet’s health.

It means any changes in their condition should be easier to identify and deal with – hopefully before they become serious or life-threatening and therefore potentially bank-busting.

A check-up costs around $ 60 for a half-an-hour appointment, with any additional treatments like worming on top.Staying on top of parasite treatments like worming and vaccines is also a must, Butler says.

3. Animal-proof your home for pet hazards

It cost about $ 30,000 for the Wellington Zoo to get celebrity penguin Happy Feet back on his, err webbed feet, after he ingested a range of sticks and stones after hitting our shores.

And even for a bog standard companion animal the cost of removing swallowed objects, or even just looking for them, can be pricey.

Butler says an exploratory operation to look for obstructions in an animal’s stomach can cost about $ 1000 but again, it depends on the difficulty.

It could well be more if a section of the bowel needs to be removed for example, he says.

That’s why he endorses animal proofing your home much like you would for a toddler. Look around – what temptations are there for a chewing puppy? Are there electrical cords your rabbit can chew through? This actually happened to Butler. His rabbit pulled through.

4. Get them neutered

If you thought feeding one meowing face was going to hurt your wallet, imagine another seven or eight and the $ 100 to $ 300 it can cost to get a cat spayed suddenly seems reasonable.

Aside from saving yourself from more hungry mouths to feed, neutering can change animal behaviour and stop them from fighting with other animals which could lead to injuries, surgery and guess what? A vet bill.

However, it has other positive health outcomes, Butler says, including lower rates of infections and cancers – which would all need treatment.

This is particularly important for bitches. Bitches who are not spayed and who live through three seasons on heat are 25 per cent more at risk of developing mammary cancer, Butler says.

5. Get pet insurance

New Zealand Veterinary Association chief executive Julie Hood says uptake for pet insurance in New Zealand is still low, and research released by the New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NZSPCA) puts pet insurance uptake at a meagre 5 per cent for cat owners and 8 per cent for dog owners.

Hood says the poor uptake of pet insurance shows Kiwi vet bills are affordable, but despite this argument the industry does encourage pet owners to buy insurance.

This is because unlike for people, there is no health safety net for pets. If their owner can’t afford to treat them, they don’t get treatment.

Butler says it is heart-breakingly common for owners to be faced with a decision between their pet’s life and draining their finances or deferring paying a bill due that month.

Pet insurance spreads the cost of treatment across years rather than having a big vet’s bill land on your lap out of the blue.

There are numerous pet insurance providers, including a product promoted by the NZSPCA with costs for cats around $ 250 per year and dogs about $ 350 per year.

Shop around and read the exclusion list to make sure you get the cover your pet needs.

If you doubt your ability to have the cash on hand to deal with a pet emergency, think about insurance. Or be prepared to part with between $ 50 to $ 150 to have your animal put down when trouble strikes.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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