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Affordable veterinary care for dogs and cats

An estimated 23 million pets live in poverty alongside their human families, lacking access to veterinary care, proper nutrition and basic supplies. Thinkstock / Special to The Forum1 / 2
Dr. Michael Fox2 / 2

Dear Readers: According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2011, 21.5 percent of cat owners and 29.3 percent of dog owners did not visit a veterinarian because they could not afford it.

The percentage of cat and dog owners not taking their animal to a veterinarian has since increased, raising the serious issue that a growing segment of the companion animal population is not receiving any veterinary attention.

An estimated 23 million pets live in poverty alongside their human families, lacking access to veterinary care, proper nutrition and basic supplies. All animals should have access to veterinary care, which is now the rule of law in the United Kingdom.

The good news is that this serious issue is recognized by many veterinary colleges and nonprofit organizations, which provide affordable, basic veterinary care in low-income communities and to financially challenged individuals, many burdened with their own unaffordable health care concerns.

Michael Blackwell, chief veterinary officer with the Humane Society of the United States says: "We have a large sector of the American population who, frankly, are poor and can't afford private care.

The model the profession built (this robust private veterinary industry, in all of its glory) is not a panacea. It is not complete in its ability to address the needs of all animals."

Blackwell's organization is part of a coalition that is advocating for shelters and nonprofit veterinary clinics to supplement and complement the veterinary industry by addressing unmet needs in the companion animal sector. For more information, visit jav.ma/accesstovetcare and jav.ma/moneytipsforpetowners.

Dear Dr. Fox: I adopted a pair of kittens six months ago, and I love them. I am at work all day, and I hate for them to be bored. I read an article about using puzzles with food treats inside for pets, similar to what zoos use for enrichment for their animals. I got a couple, and my cats love them. They spend time fishing out a pellet and chasing it around for hours. They've stopped chewing on my furniture — a bonus!

I'm wondering if it's a problem that I use dry food pellets in the puzzles. They still eat a can of good wet food every day, and I bought dry food that is supposed to be grain-free, but do I need to worry about them eating the dry food from the puzzles? I would guess they eat only about a half-cup a day, and they are nearly adult-size at this point. — B.M., St. Louis

Dear B.M.: I am glad that you found your cats to be responsive and engage with the cat puzzles as a source of stimulation and food reward. Not all cats engage with these "environmental enrichment" toys, but when they do, it certainly does add something to their lives, especially when they live alone with no other animal in the home and no windows to look out of, ideally overlooking a bird feeder and bath.

We should all consider what quality of life we are providing our indoor cats, and for a start, having more than one cat, ideally a littermate or mother can make a big difference. Boredom, depression and obesity are all-too-common consequences of cats living boring lives. I would purchase freeze-dried meat treats as well as good-quality dry cat food that is free of corn and soy, and ideally with organically certified ingredients.

Dear Dr. Fox: My 2-year-old Saint Bernard won't eat. I'll find a food she will eat for a couple days and think I've found something she likes, but on day three, she sniffs the food and puts her nose in air and won't eat. She is healthy, but I'm wondering if she is playing with me because she knows I'll find a different food every time. What should I do?—P.S., Forked River, N.J.

Dear P.S.: You may be turning your dog into a finicky eater, or rather, your dog is playing you in a game that needs to end. Cats are better at this kind of caregiver training and manipulation, and they often make themselves sick from eating mainly canned tuna or raw beefsteak. So ignore your dog. Put the food down and sit quietly close by. Leaving her alone could make her anxious. See how she eats. Other things to consider:

  • An elevated platform for the food bowl may make eating easier, because big dogs have to bend low and may have difficulty swallowing.
  • Dry food can be difficult to swallow, so moisten with hot water or give canned or raw food.
  • Schedule a vet checkup to rule out a broken tooth or other pain-related oral issue that could make eating unpleasant for your dog.

Dog food recall

Blue Ridge Beef is voluntarily recalling two of its frozen products due to the potential to be contaminated with salmonella and/or listeria monocytogenes. Salmonella and listeria can affect animals eating the product. For details, visit truthaboutpetfood.com/blue-ridge-beef-recalls-product-because-of-possible-health-risk.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox's website at www.drfoxvet.net.

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