Interview: Dr. Karen “Doc” Halligan on affordable pet care

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Dr. Karen Halligan

PawsCorner: One big issue for pet owners is the affordability of pet care. A lot of readers who write me are seniors on fixed incomes, a lot of them have financial challenges, are out of a job, and they’re having trouble finding affordable pet care. Are there some key things they need to focus on to keep their pet healthy, without spending too much?

Doc Halligan: One of the big things that happened in veterinary medicine … is this new company, FidoPharm, that’s come out with the first ever generic flea and tick product for dogs and cats. That’s revolutionary. I’ve been a vet for 22 years and it’s unheard of for a company to come out with a generic for pets. So many animals come to the shelters, come to the clinics, because they have problems with fleas and ticks which lead to worms, dermatitis and all these problems when the owners aren’t doing prevention.

What’s happened is Frontline Plus is quite expensive. PetArmor Plus is generic, so it’s basically the same thing as Frontline, same concentration, same active ingredients, but it’s half the cost. So that’s huge for pet owners across the country because every pet suffers from fleas and ticks. And the other thing is they’re able to get it at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. What happens is they don’t want to go to the vet, or even me, if I’m running out of cat litter, and I have to go to the pet store, it’s a pain, (especially) with gas being $4 (a gallon).

Now I’ve gotta get the owners to put it on, and they need to put it on before the flea and tick season. That’s the problem, a lot of times they’ll wait. Then their dog’s infested, they have worms, they have allergies, and then the bill is like $400.

So my key advice to pet owners is prevention. Every cat and dog suffers from fleas and ticks, so there’s no reason they’re not going to be able to go out there, get the PetArmor Plus, and put it on and do it every 30 days religiously, at least during the peak season which would be May through the fall.

Vaccines, that’s another thing too. We see parvo (virus) out in California a lot, and it’s preventable. So that’s another area where people can do prevention.

Doc Halligan on Animal PlanetThirdly is, I know people resist taking their pets into the vet, but I try to tell people that animals age seven years in one year. If you take them in every three years, that’s (like) 21 years that they are being looked at by  a veterinarian. So they’ve got to take their pets in once a year and have a physical exam done. We can pick up on things, and we can go over are you doing prevention, and then we can try to help you save money.

PC: What if a pet owner is having trouble affording an in-clinic visit?

DH: Be up front with your vet. Say (that) money is a factor. Don’t come in there and think that we’re going to change the way we treat your pet because you tell us you can’t afford it. That’s not the case. We need to know if you’re on a fixed income. If you’re a senior, I need to know that so I can come up with a game plan to keep your pet as healthy as possible and try to save you money.

That’s a chapter in my book (What Every Pet Owner Should Know: Prescriptions for Happy, Healthy Cats and Dogs): Money is a factor. They shouldn’t feel shy to tell us that they don’t have a lot of disposable income for their pet. Most vets are going to work with you, especially if you don’t have pet insurance, which is another area that if you can’t afford it is going to save you a lot of money with your pets.

PC: Do you have any tips on pet insurance owners might want to look for?

DH: I always tell people to ask other pet owners about their pet insurance and what experiences they’ve had. VPI (Varian Pet Insurance) is the one that I usually recommend because they’re the oldest and most reputable. I’ve had really good experience working with VPI.

But there are 20 different policies they can get, so they need to look at their pet, they need to look at the policy and see. What do I want? Do I want it just for emergencies, do I want to cover vaccines? There are policies that cover flea stuff, that cover prevention. It just depends on the type of policy they want. They should read the fine print and just be sure they understand what policy they’re getting.

It’s funny because we don’t do a lot on zoonotic diseases, we get taught a class on that. But it’s big right now: Lyme disease from ticks, kids get tapeworms and stuff from their animals. The CDC recommends doing like six fecals a year, we’re supposed to be telling pet owners, and that’s like $30 a pop. That’s just insane. If you just do like the PetArmor Plus,or the topical flea, that’s gonna get the fleas, the ticks, the tapeworms, and it’s going to prevent everything instead of having to go and get a fecal to see if youre pet has somethingafter the fact. So I can’t stress prevention enough.

PC: Does FidoPharm have a website?

DH: It’s PetArmor.com. They have an application video of how to put the topical PetArmor Plus on. We videotaped me showing you how to do it, because sometimes people aren’t putting it on right. Just click on the video, it shows you how to do it. And also on that site are so many good questions on fleas, on ticks, and it has a wealth of information that we put together to educate pet owners on fleas and how you can prevent it. It’s really good website.

PC: Let’s talk a bit about seniors on fixed incomes. Seniors have their own health issues as well. How do they keep their pets healthy when they may have mobility issues?

DH: That’s a really good question. I always tell seniors to make sure they have someone that they can reach out to if something happens to their pet, especially if they have a bigger pet. Look in the neighborhood, ask friends—seniors need to have a backup for themselves in case something happens to them.

I think having a pet is really good for you, mentally; it alleviates loneliness. I did an article on the positive power of pets, and people who have pets have lower health bills, care bills, they go to the doctor less, it’s a healthier lifestyle. So I encourage seniors to get pets, but they also need to think about what pet they want to get. I usually recommend a smaller pet, being able to medicate and pick them up and take them to the vet. So also think about if you’re wanting to get a pet, think about those kinds of things before you go out and get a pet.

When they (take their pet) to the vet hospital, seniors should ask for a senior discount. Most clinics offer a senior discount. Also, ask for generics. This isn’t going to be the (only) generic product, there are going to be other generics. It’s okay for them to ask, is there a generic form of this? So ask the doc, can you write me a generic prescription, I’m on a fixed income? The vets are going to work with you, because they understand that. We all know what that’s like, having gone through school, all the student loans. We understand what that’s like.

PC: For people who don’t have the financial issues but might want to help out those who are financially challenged, is there a way for people to do so? Can they contact their local SPCA, volunteer or donate to help other people take care of their pets?

DH: What they should  do is, instead of the SPCA, what they should do is go to the vet organization in their community. Like, I have the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association. They do have a program that you can donate to, and they will distribute money to different veterinarians. So they can contact their local veterinary chapter; if they can’t find that they can go to their state, e.g. the California Veterinary Medical Association. So it’s better for them to go through the vet associations, probably not every state but a lot of states have something that they could donate to to help people that are on fixed incomes.

Doc Halligan is a veterinarian and author who has had appearances on shows like The Today Show, and Animal Rescue 911. She is the author of Doc Halligan’s What Every Pet Owner Should Know: Prescriptions for Happy, Healthy Cats and Dogs . She also has a website that provides much more information on keeping your pets healthy. Visit her site at www.dochalligan.com.