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Four steps to saving on your vet bill

From the foods you sneak under the dinner table, to the things you should check every week, the key to saving hundreds on your vet bill is in your hands. Karen Halligan, veterinarian and author of "Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know," shares some tips.
/ Source: TODAY

From the foods you sneak under the dinner table, to the things you should check every week, the key to saving hundreds on your vet bill is in your hands. Karen Halligan, veterinarian and author of "Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know," shares these tips:

1. Don't feed them table scraps
Avoid giving your pets table scraps of any kind and you will save money on vet bills. My book lists top 20 foods not to give your pet and why. Among them:

  • Bones. All bones are dangerous for cats and dogs because they can splinter or lodge in the intestinal tract with disastrous results, usually requiring surgery. They can also get stuck in your pet's mouth or throat. This goes for cooked and uncooked bones as well but the cooked are more dangerous.
  • Cheese and Chips.Cheese and chips are too high in fat and can lead to a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas called pancreatitis
  • Chocolate. Chocolate is very toxic to dogs and cats because it contains ingredients that increase the heart rate; central nervous system and can lead to heart failure, seizure and death. Certain types of chocolate contain higher amounts of these; baking chocolate is the highest with white chocolate being the lowest.
  • Grapes and raisins. Grapes and raisins can cause vomiting and diarrhea and can lead to life threatening kidney failure. Symptoms start about 24 hours after ingestions. Plus small dogs can choke on grapes
  • Tuna fish. Canned tuna fish is lacking an amino acid that a cat's heart muscle needs to function properly. Too much tuna will lead to cats developing heart problems.

2. Don't let your pets get fat
Forty percent of all pets are overweight or obese. Overweight dogs develop arthritis three years earlier. The good news is that its 100 percent preventable, and lean pets live 15 percent longer.

Here’s how to do a fat check:

  • Look at and feel your pet. Start by seeing if you can pinch an inch. If so, your pet is overweight.
  • Next you should be able to easily feel but not see your pet's backbone and ribs. Move your fingers across your pet's sides or rib cage. If you can't easily feel the ribs your pet is overweight. The fatter they get the thicker the layer of fat will be.
  • Look and feel for love handles in the area of the back, hips, base of tail and abdomen. You need to actually feel your pet because it can be difficult to tell by looking at pets with thick or longhaired coats.
  • Look and feel for a waist. Pets that are fat do not have clearly defined waists. When viewed from above your pet should have an hourglass figure with a waist just before the hips at the end of the rib cage.

What should you do if you think your pet is overweight?

  • Take your pet to the vet before starting a weight-loss program.
  • Decrease your pet's caloric intake by decreasing amount of food and or switching to a low-calorie diet.
  • Increase exercise, which helps burn calories, stimulates mind and body, and makes them feel good.

3. Perform weekly home exams on all pets
Catching diseases early saves you money on vet bills. So be a pet detective and get to know what your pet looks and smells like and their habits and routines. Deviation from their normal routine usually indicates a problem. Take a systematic approach and do it the same way so you don't miss anything. Make sure there is ample lighting and go from head to tail.

Here's what to check:

  • Eyes. Look at their eyes to see if they have any redness or discharge. Are the pupils the same size? Are they producing tears - too much or not enough?
  • Lips. Look for dryness or infection or tumors
  • Nose. A dry nose does not mean a fever. The nose should be smooth without scaling or roughness. No discharge or sneezing or pigment change either. Cats and dogs can get sunburn and skin cancer.
  • Ears.Should be clean and dry. Not a lot of wax or debris. Odor indicates infection, as does redness, crusting, shaking head, pawing at ears or holding ear to the side.
  • Mouth. Look for drooling or difficulty chewing or swallowing. Open the mouth and look for tumors. There shouldn't be any odor. Teeth should be white, not green or brown.  Gums should be pink, not white.
  • Lymph nodes. All dogs/cats but especially Golden Retrievers get a type of cancer called Lymphoma which starts with the lymph nodes becoming enlarged. Feel under your pet's throat like the doctor does to you. You shouldn't feel the lymph nodes. Other lymph nodes are at the shoulder, under the forearm and on the backs of the rear legs.
  • Skin.  Look closely at your pet's skin by parting the hair and blowing gently. Look for redness, crusting, tumors, fleas, ticks and hair loss. Their coat should not be dull or greasy. Run your hands all over their body and lift up the tail looking for tumors, and check the tummy too.
  • Hydration check. Check to see if your pet is drinking enough water by gently pulling up on the skin between the shoulder blades, and then release the skin, which should quickly snap back into position. In dehydrated pets the skin will take longer to release and sometimes stay tented up especially in cats.
  • Toenails.Keep nails short. Overgrown nails can lead to lameness, bone or joint problems as well as an expensive trip to the vet when one catches and rips off or gets embedded in the skin.

4. Spay and neuter for health and happiness
Some 4 million to 6 million animals are killed in the U.S. every year because there are not enough homes!