Sunday, March 31, 2013


Flowers are welcome any part of the year as far as I'm concerned...however, the first batches of flowers in the spring carry a special message--that life has been renewed and there is hope for another good year.


It seems like every week that goes by brings with it a few more e-mails asking about either "all natural" or "raw food" diets for pets.  Helpful Buckeye discussed these as part of the larger topic of dietary needs of dogs and cats last year, which you can find at: .

However, in light of all the questions showing up in my e-mail, it appears that more space should be devoted to helping pet owners understand what is meant by those terms, all natural and raw, as well as the pros and cons of feeding your pets such a diet.  Even if you're not particularly interested in feeding one of these diets to your pets, reading these articles will help you understand what's involved in case one of your friends brings up the subject.

Raw Dog Food: Dietary Concerns, Benefits, and
Are raw food diets for dogs an ideal meal plan or a dangerous
 fad? Experts weigh in.
By Elizabeth Lee
Raw dog food diets are controversial. But the popularity of the diets -- which emphasize raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables -- is rising.
Racing greyhounds and sled dogs have long eaten raw food diets. Extending those feeding practices to the family pet is a more recent idea, proposed in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He called his feeding suggestions the BARF diet, an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive on an evolutionary diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated: Raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. Grain-based commercial pet foods, he contended, were harmful to a dog’s health.
Many mainstream veterinarians disagree, as does the FDA. The risks of raw diets have been documented in several studies published in veterinary journals.
Potential benefits of the raw dog food diet that supporters tout include:
Shinier coats
Healthier skin
Cleaner teeth
Higher energy levels
Smaller stools
Potential risks include:
Threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat
An unbalanced diet that may damage the health of dogs if given for an extended period
Potential for whole bones to choke an animal, break teeth or cause an internal puncture.
Since Billinghurst’s book, Give Your Dog a Bone, was published, several other types of raw dog food diets have emerged, including commercially processed raw food diets that are frozen or freeze-dried and combination diets that use blends of grains, vegetables, and vitamins that are mixed with raw meat purchased by the owner at the grocery store.
Raw dog food recipes and meal suggestions are readily found online and in books. Interest from pet owners continues to grow, with the widespread recall of melamine-contaminated pet food in 2007 bringing in new followers.
Raw dog food diet: What it is
A raw dog food diet typically consists of:
Muscle meat, often still on the bone
Bones, either whole or ground
Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
Raw eggs
Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
Apples or other fruit
Some dairy, such as yogurt
“For most animals, it’s more beneficial than processed foods,” says Doug Knueven, DVM, of the Beaver Animal Clinic in Beaver, Pa.
Knueven specializes in holistic medicine and also consults for Nature’s Variety, a Lincoln, Neb.-based manufacturer of frozen raw food diets as well as cooked dry and canned foods.
Barbara Benjamin-Creel of Marietta started giving raw food to her three dogs after Scooter, a German Shepherd, was diagnosed with cancer. The diet change came too late to help Scooter, she says, but the other dogs are thriving after two years on raw dog food. The 11-year-old dogs seem more energetic, and one with chronic digestive problems tolerates the raw diet better.
“The change in the coat was pretty immediate,” Benjamin-Creel says. “Also, their breath was much better.”
Benjamin-Creel makes the food herself, giving yogurt in the morning and raw ground pork, turkey, or beef mixed with some rice in the evening. To cut costs, she stocks up on ground meat when it’s on sale. “It’s not cheap,” she says, “but I think we’ve avoided a lot of old-age issues.”
The cost of a raw dog food diet varies with the ingredients used and how it is prepared. For a 30-pound dog, a one-day supply of one variety of a frozen, commercially available raw chicken diet costs about $2.50; others may range up to $5 a day. A super-premium, commercial dry dog food costs about $1
Raw Dog Food Diet: What the research shows
Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, headed an evaluation of raw dog food diets published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association in 2001. She cautions pet owners against them, saying that many dog owners are choosing raw diets based on online myths and scare tactics about commercial pet food.
For pet owners who want to avoid commercial food, Freeman advises a cooked homemade diet designed by a nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Freeman, a nutrition professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says that many of the benefits attributed to a raw food diet for dogs, such as a shinier coat, instead are the result of the high fat composition of the typical raw diet. High-fat commercial foods that would produce the same effect are available, she notes, without the risk of an unbalanced diet. Supplements can also be used as an alternative to increasing fat in the diet.
The evaluation looked at five raw diets, three homemade and two commercially available. All had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when given long term, according to the report.
Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, has seen those problems appear in some dogs as poor coats, bad skin, or weak bones. Too little fat means a bad coat; but too much fat and not enough protein can cause mild anemia, says Wakshlag, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Wakshlag -- who accepts some research funding from Nestle Purina PetCare -- says homemade raw diets also may lack enough calcium and phosphorous, causing bone fractures and dental problems. Depending on the quality of the diet, the calcium or phosphorus may also be difficult to properly digest, even if present in adequate amounts.
Studies of raw pet food also have shown bacterial contamination. The FDA issued suggestions in 2004 for manufacturing raw pet food more safely, citing concern about the possibility of health risks to owners from handling the meat. A 2006 study of 20 commercially available raw meat diets found that 7.1% contained a type of salmonella. E. coli bacteria was found in 59.6% of raw meat diets. These bacteria can also be shed in the feces, leading to a potential source of human exposure and infection.
The study also sampled four canned and dry dog foods. It found E. coli in all of the commercially processed, cooked foods during one of the four sampling periods, and in one brand of dry food during another sampling period.
Supporters of raw dog food diets are quick to point out that commercially processed pet foods can contain harmful bacteria, as can raw meat offered for human consumption.
“The whole concern about bad bacteria is overblown,” Knueven says. “When people are feeding a raw diet they know it’s not sterile, and they’re more careful about washing their hands. Feeding a raw meat diet is no different than cooking chicken for the family ... you have to clean up the counter and your knife.”
The FDA guidance document also suggested that manufacturers address typical nutrition problems in a raw-meat diet, including making sure it contained enough calcium and phosphorous, important for bone health. Raw-meat diets high in liver also may supply too much vitamin A, which can lead to vitamin A toxicity if fed for an extended period.
Even veterinarians like Knueven who support raw dog food diets say that they’re not appropriate for all dogs. Because the diets are typically high in protein, they aren’t appropriate for dogs with late-stage kidney or severe liver failure.
He recommends that dogs with pancreatitis or other digestive issues start with a cooked, homemade diet and clear up problems before switching to raw. Dogs with cancer, on chemotherapy, or dogs with other immunosuppressive diseases also should not eat raw food. And puppies aren’t good candidates, either.
“The only place I’ve seen a problem with this diet is puppies,” Knueven says. “If you don’t get the calcium and phosphorous ratio right, you can have bone deformities and growth issues.”
Bear in mind as you read these articles that "research" can be a questionable commodity, in that you need to know that its source is a reputable entity.  With the Internet being what it is today, anyone can publish anything they want to and someone else will take it as gospel.  Moving on....
Pros & Cons To The Raw Pet Food Diet: Is It
Worth It?
Like all our loved ones, we want what’s best for our pets. That includes what they eat. It’s estimated that we spent $20 billion on pet food last year.  According to market research, more owners are making the switch to raw foods.  Big retailers, like Target and Petco are even stocking it on store shelves.
Many owners report better eating habits, fewer allergies, shinier coats, healthier teeth and fewer trips to the vet.
Woody’s Pet Food Deli in south Minneapolis is seeing a surge in the diet’s popularity. “We get new customers every day,” said Liz Cummiskey with Woody’s Pet Food Deli. The idea is dogs and cats eat a more natural diet. Just like wild animals hunt prey and eat it. “The bones are ground up really fine and we use the whole animal,” Cummiskey said. “It truly is a natural balance of bone to muscle meat.”
The food must meet standards for being balanced and complete for the animal, but veterinarians worry consumers might expose themselves to germs. “It has the potential health risks to the pets and to the people in the household,” said Dr. Julie Churchill with the University of Minnesota. She says bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can be found in the food, but most packages don’t warn owners.
In a recent University of Minnesota study, the department looked at 60 raw meat diets available at stores in the Twin Cities. Seven percent of them tested positive for salmonella.  “They look fine and healthy on the outside, they look like they’re doing well, but they could be putting others at risk or they themselves could get sick,” Churchill said.
The diet is also more expensive than regular dog food.  Most bags of kibble run about a dollar per pound. Places like Woody’s charge anywhere from $7 to almost $30 for five pounds of food. Target charges around $13 for six pounds. At Petco, it’ll cost you $63 for a five and a half pound bag.
As a believer, Annie Wiegers, says she guards against the risks. “We put it on a separate plate for him and then put that plate in the dishwasher,” Wiegers said.  She thinks it’s worth every penny. “We try to eat as organic and raw and healthy as we can and he’s just part of the family, so we want to do that for him, too,” Wiegers said.
Not everyone is sold.
“I am unwilling to take the risk when I know there’s no nutritional advantage,” Churchill said. Churchill wants you to think about this before making the switch — Wild animals, like wolves, who eat raw only live about six years. She also says most diet switches with dry food can give you the same results of a raw diet, so check with your vet before shopping for any new food.
by: Alison McNeilly, Colorado State University, Public Health Graduate Student
The concern for food safety is becoming greater and greater and includes the diets of our four-legged friends in the family unit. With the recent issues involving melamine and Salmonella contamination in commercial pet foods, many owners are looking to alternative diets. Some breeders recommend “raw diets,” claiming they are more nutritious than dry food and carry a wealth of benefits. These diets consist of raw food, including vegetables, grains, meat, and bones. These diets can be purchased commercially in a frozen form or created at home.
There has been limited research conducted on either the costs or benefits of such diets, so there is skepticism about their use for companion animals. There are many inherent risks of raw diets that may affect the long and short term health of the animal, the health of the owner(s), and those who come in contact with the pet or waste from the pet. These risks include lack of adequate nutrition, problems associated with ingesting bones, and the presence of bacteria. Studies have found that the nutritional value of raw diets, both commercial and homemade, are lacking. Pets fed these diets on a long term basis could experience nutrient deficiencies and detrimental health effects. One recommendation is to add fruits and vegetables to a quality commercial non-raw diet to provide a more “organic” experience for your pet. Many raw diets include the bones associated with the meat products. Bones in a pet’s diet have been reported to cause intestinal obstruction, perforation, gastroenteritis and fractured teeth. These may lead to extreme discomfort, surgery, or death.
Another serious risk posed by feeding a raw diet is that of bacterial contamination. This factor can be harmful to the pet and also to the humans who come in contact with the pet through feeding or cleaning. Raw food diets have been found to contain high levels of bacteria including Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp, Clostridium perfringens, C. difficile and Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria can cause illness and diarrhea in both the pet and humans that come in contact with the food or the feces of the animal. There is special concern for the young, elderly, or immune-suppressed. Human contact with the bacteria in these pet foods generally occurs during meal preparation. Surfaces and utensils are likely to be contaminated and much care must be taken to avoid cross contamination throughout the kitchen. Also, pet dishes must be thoroughly cleaned after each feeding. It is important to remove any uneaten portions immediately to avoid additional bacterial growth. Another source of contamination comes from the feces of the pet. It has been shown that bacteria consumed through raw pet diets may be shed in the feces by the animal for 7-11 days after consumption. This poses a risk in cleaning up after the pet and the potential for small children to come in contact with fecal matter containing bacteria.
If you are considering a raw diet for your pet, it is extremely important to follow recommended hygiene guidelines to protect yourself and your family from harmful bacteria that may be present in this type of diet. Sanitize all surfaces and utensils used to prepare the meal and remove leftovers promptly. Without research supporting increased benefits of feeding a raw food diet, are the potential increased risks really worth it? Just cook it!
...and, of course, be sure to talk it over with your veterinarian prior to make the change.
Any questions or comments should be sent to Helpful Buckeye at:  or submitted in the "Comments" section at the end of this issue.
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, March 24, 2013




We all are familiar with "Pet Peeves"...things that, for one reason or another, go against our grain and bother us.  For an interesting way of looking at this concept from a different point of view, Helpful Buckeye would like to discuss things that pet owners do when visiting their veterinarian that may or may not be bothersome to the veterinarian and his/her staff.  Granted, we're always reminded that the "customer is always right" and, therefore, can do no wrong.  However, a pet owner visiting their veterinarian is obviously there for help and advice concerning their pet...and a cordial, informative conversation will be more likely to benefit all concerned parties. 

Let's look at some "Vet Peeves":

Vet Peeves
by Victoria Schade

I stopped by to visit my friends at a local vet office today and we got to chatting about patient do’s and don’ts. I asked them if they had any human client pet peeves, and wouldn’t you know it, the floodgates opened wide. My veterinarian friends and their vet techs offered up an impressive list of bothersome traits. Think you might have peeved your vet? Here’s your chance to find out. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Top Ten Vet Peeves List:

1. Letting your pet greet other pets in the waiting room without permission. The waiting area in most vet offices is typically small and filled with agitated animals. Sure, your pup is just there for a nail trim, but the dog two seats over is dealing with a serious case of diarrhea and the discomfort that comes with it. He doesn’t want a face full of puppy, and he’ll make that very clear. With his teeth.
2. Extendible leashes in the waiting room. Tight space + sick animals + 15 feet of freedom = a big mess. Flexible leashes turn an already stressful room into a potential battle zone. See number 1.
3. Laughing when your dog bites the veterinarian. Really? People actually do this? The vets assured me that it happens – often – and that the laughter is usually accompanied by the person saying “Oh, what did that big bad vet do to you, Fido?” Yeah, the vets ain’t laughing with you.
4. Praising your dog as he growls. The vet office is bound to evoke some unusual canine reactions, but growling and surliness are serious business and need to be treated as such. Telling Fido “It’s OK sweetie, it’s OK!” as he growls at the vet tech is not a sound strategy.
5. Mentioning your pet’s sensitive areas after the fact. “Fido bit you? Oh, I should have told you that he hates to have his feet examined.” Too late, and thanks for the bleeding wounds.
6. Giving your child a pet as a “gift”. We’ve covered this one too, folks. Pets aren’t presents.
7. New puppy, no money. New puppy parenthood comes with boatloads of responsibilities, and a yacht-load of bills. Vets can’t understand the sticker-shock expressed by their new puppy clients. Thorough research, that oft neglected step of getting a dog, would have left little doubt as to the high costs associated with puppyhood.
8. Forcing the vet to give you a breast exam as she examines your pet. Clingy pet parents, beware: if you can’t surrender your pet to the vet for examination, be prepared for accidental chest grazes and gropes. The exam table is there for a reason. Put your pet on it and let your vet do her job.
9. “Doctor, the treatment you suggested didn’t work …” “ …Um, no I didn’t finish the pain meds. Or the antibiotics. But why is he still sick?”
10. Not researching your breed. (Amen, my veterinarian brothers and sisters, I’m with you on this one.) You wanted a small dog so you got a Jack Russell. Any JRT owners care to comment on just how “small” the breed really is? You’re a starving college student and you got an English Bulldog because you like how they look. What happens when the breed’s far-too-common genetic defects start surfacing, and the vet bills pile up? When I meet with new clients I’ll often ask why they selected a certain breed. (The correct answer begins with “I did a ton of research and…”) When I hear “I just wanted a pretty dog,” I want to head for the hills. Did you recognize yourself on this list? It’s never too late to add a New Year resolution … why not vow to be a better patient and make your vet’s job a little easier?
Adapted from:

...See anything on that list that looks familiar???  Might you be an offender on some of them?

"Vet Peeves": What We Do Wrong at the Vet's

by Victoria Schade
I compiled what I thought was an exhaustive top 10 list of “vet peeves” (the things that we do wrong in and around the exam room at the veterinarian) back in 2008. During a recent disastrous appointment at the vet with Olive I discovered that I might be one of the peevers (more on my embarrassing experience later), so I decided to revisit the “vet peeves” concept and see what else might be missing from my original list. After some coaxing, an honest veterinary technician and veterinarian weighed in with the things that we do to make their jobs more difficult.
1. Everything that relates to restraining your animal.
Restraint is probably the most unpleasant part of a vet visit for both you and your animal, and based on the feedback I received, it can be equally unpleasant for the techs and vets doing it. When it comes to restraint it’s important that we all take a deep breath and take a step back, literally. Hovering near your dog as she’s being restrained (guilty as charged), handling your dog during restraint (guilty as charged), getting in the way of the person trying to restrain your animal, and touching the vet tech or veterinarian as she’s trying to hold on all make the process that much more difficult. As much as you want to comfort your dog during this scary time, understand that it will probably go faster if you let the professionals do their jobs.
2. Not paying attention when discussing post-treatment care.
It’s dumbfounding to me that people zone out when it comes to the most important part of a vet visit: what you have to do once you leave the office in order to make or keep your dog healthy. The vet tech told me about a person who wouldn’t stop watching the TV in the waiting room while she was relaying complicated dosing instructions. Maybe the dog was paying attention?
3. Animals that are poorly groomed or neglected.
You can try to keep secrets from your vet, but some of them are written all over your animal. The dogs with long curled over nails, or mats so tight that they have to be cut out convey that you’re denying your dog the basic care that he deserves. One poor cat came into the office with a rump impacted with enough fur and dried on fecal matter that the poor thing couldn’t even defecate.
4. People who walk in without an appointment and demand immediate care. 
Now, we’re not talking about emergency situations here. People actually show up and expect a well-run office to screech to a halt in order to accommodate their needs. Would you try this at your primary care physician’s office? Probably not. Though I didn’t chat with the front desk staff, I’m sure that this is one of their big vet peeves too.
5. Arriving late for an appointment.
This one is common sense, but it still happens often enough to warrant a mention. Diagnosing accurately takes time, and if you show up late you not only risk a rushed appointment, you also inconvenience everyone who has an appointment after you. If we’re being completely honest here, MY vet peeve is that I always show up on time but wind up waiting 15 to 20 minutes before we’re seen. I’m guessing that the two peeves are related.
6. Getting insulted if you’re asked to leave the room.
Sometimes pets react better when their person isn’t standing right beside them, so if the staff asks you to step outside, go with it. Keep in mind that they’re not going to hurt your dog (this assumption is another vet peeve), they just want to perform the procedure as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you’re worried about what’s happening to your animal when you’re not in the room it might be worthwhile to ask yourself why, and consider finding a facility that you trust completely.
I hang my head in shame, as I know that I’m now a frequent peever. After a 20-year history of perfect canine patients, I’m living with a very unruly one. Olive’s handling issues escalated in dramatic fashion when we had to do a blood draw last week, so I’m going to be working hard to avoid being one of those people my veterinarian dreads seeing. Hopefully this list will help you do the same!
Victoria Schade has been a dog trainer for over eleven years.
Adapted from:

Helpful Buckeye would like to emphasize that there isn't usually an antagonistic relationship between a veterinarian and pet owner.  If a pet owner feels that such is the case, they will most likely decide to visit another veterinary hospital where they feel more comfortable.  However, many of these "Vet Peeves" don't necessarily involve antagonism, but rather a certain amount of inconsideration and inattentiveness on the part of the pet owner.  If any of these apply to you, perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate how you prepare for your next visit to the veterinarian.

Just to show that all is not lost during the visit to the veterinary hospital, consider the following snippets of conversation during a normal pet examination:

Did They Really Say That?

Dr. Ken Tudor
As with all professions, veterinary clients and customers are capable of saying some outrageously hilarious things.
I think veterinary staffs get an inordinate amount of these experiences owing to the large numbers of owners that have such limited understanding of basic animal biology. I am sure my nursing and medical doctor colleagues share many of the same hysterical moments with each other. Today I want to be less serious about pet health and nutrition and share some of my funny experiences.
No. 1
Ms. W had to euthanize her dog for acute irreversible kidney failure. Our hospital policy is to make a clay imprint of the pet’s paw and provide the imprint and a lock of fur to the owner prior to final care of the remains. In this case the owner elected to have the remains of her pet cremated. When she returned to the hospital to retrieve her pet’s ashes she asked if we could make her a second paw imprint for her sister, who was also very close to the deceased dog.
Kudos to the staff! They treated the situation very delicately, rather than hysterically, and explained the impossibility of such a request.
No. 2
At closing time, Mr. X rushed into our hospital with a limp puppy that was weak from violent vomiting and diarrhea. Mr. X was concerned, and he was convinced that he knew exactly why the dog was seriously ill. He had a previous dog that he had also purchased in Utah and it had died of Provo. The puppy did indeed have Parvovirus, and he responded well to treatment.
Mr. X has sworn never to buy another dog in Utah, especially from the city of Provo.
No. 3
Mrs. Y presented her dog to me with very bad breath and was adamant that the fecal smell was caused by constipation. She insisted that I give her dog an enema despite the fact that I could not palpate any stool in the dog’s colon. She refused an X-ray to solve the mystery, insisting that constipation could be the only reason for fecal breath. Not so delicately, I asked if she had fecal smelling breath when she was constipated. She assured me that such an assumption was absurd and that dogs were different.
The fact that the dog ate its own feces was immaterial.
No. 4
Mr. Z reported that his dog was constantly voiding small amounts of urine very frequently. X-rays revealed that the dog had over 30 stones in its bladder. When I showed the X-ray to the owner, his response was, "How did she eat all of those stones!" Explaining to the owner that the urinary system and the gastrointestinal system are not connected was an absolute exercise in futility.
Fortunately, he let us surgically remove the stones from his dog’s bladder, but he has since removed all stones and gravel from his yard to prevent a repeat of the problem. Dietary management of mineral and water content made absolutely no sense to him.
Adapted from:

Any comments or questions should be sent to Helpful Buckeye at  or submitted at the "Comments" section at the end of this issue.
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, March 17, 2013



I've heard it said that the whole world is Irish on St. Patrick's Day and, that being the case, we can all benefit from this ancient Irish toast:  "May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow and may trouble avoid you wherever you go."

In honor of the very small part of Desperado and me that is Irish, we always prepare a big pot of corned beef and cabbage today.  It makes a great meal with plenty leftover for sandwiches, etc.


Even though our economy is showing signs of some improvement, it can still be difficult for the consumer to keep up with rising costs.  In particular, Helpful Buckeye is fully aware that the cost of medical care for your pets has also been on the rise.  In many cases, pet owners will spend money taking care of their pets' medical needs before taking care of themselves.  However, even that can have its limits.  Let's take a closer look at:

When it comes to household spending, the pet is
 the boss

Americans pamper animals despite economy, with billions in sales every year on food, toys, medicine — even prosthetic implants.
This year, Americans will spend an estimated $55.5 billion on their pets, a little more than the gross domestic product of Bulgaria.
And Americans probably will spend even more next year, just as they have every year for the past two decades.
Little wonder, then, that these are boom times in the pet industry. In one example, Petsmart reported it sold $1.9 million worth of goods and services in the fourth quarter alone.  “It’s an industry that continued to grow during the recession,” said retail analyst Chris Boring, principal at Boulevard Strategies. “In Ohio, the number of dog licenses issued is growing faster than the birth rate.”  The reason for such unstoppable growth can be traced to the baby-boom generation and its humanization of pets, Boring said.  “They grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, and one of the most-popular TV shows for families was Lassie,” Boring said. “Every little kid begged his folks to buy a dog.”
As a result, “the baby boom generation was the first generation, really, that commonly had household pets,” Boring said. “Prior to that, most domestic animals were kept outside. Cats were kept in barns or on porches, and dogs had dog houses out back.  Now that baby boomers have become empty nesters, they’re adopting pets in record numbers. I think it’s to fill an emotional need when the last child leaves home.”
They’re not only adopting pets in record numbers, but spending more on each pet, said Dave Bolen, CEO of Pet Supplies Plus, which just opened two more stores locally — one in Grove City and one in Delaware — bringing its Columbus total to seven. The 280-store chain has been doing business locally for about 25 years.  “The people who shop our stores don’t own pets. The pets own them,” Bolen said. “It’s true. The pets run the household. If you go to our stores, you’ll note that all of the signage is the pet talking to you. Our marketing is the same thing, it’s all in the voice of the pet. The pet’s the boss.”
As might be expected, food is the highest annual expense for most pet owners, according to the American Pet Products Association. Owners on average spend $239 on food for dogs and $203 on food for cats. Overall, pet owners will spend a total of $21.3 billion on food this year.
But it’s not just quantity of food. Pet owners — or “parents,” as they’re known in the industry — are going after high quality in their food, too. “That’s a really big deal, organic food,” Bolen said. “It very much follows the trend in natural food in the human space.” In response, his company offers 33 brands of pet foods that don’t contain synthetic additives, artificial preservatives, fillers or animal byproducts.
Pet Supplies Plus is hardly alone in the move toward organic pet food.  In the Short North, “a particularly pet friendly area,” Boring said, Three Dog Bakery touts that its “all-natural dog food” is something that owners “can feel good about sharing with their furry family members.”
Pet People, another national chain which has its divisional headquarters in Columbus, also touts its “high quality, natural, wholesome, and nutritious pet foods and treats.”
The big spending doesn’t end with food. Pet owners are also spending more on human-style fashion gear, grooming and boarding. The American Pet Products Association expects pet owners to spend $5.5 billion on grooming and boarding services this year.
At the prompting of one franchise owner who noticed the rising demand for grooming, Pet Supplies Plus began offering a self-service dog wash, Bolen said. “Sometimes trying to give a larger dog a wash in the home is hard. It’s much easier to do in the dog wash.”
Among the offerings at Posh Pets Boutique in the Short North, for instance, are “the newest organic cotton crocheted toys” and “new winter styles to keep your favorite pet toasty!”
“They’re at a point where they can afford to spoil their pets — and they do,” Boring said. “People are cooking special meals for their dogs, and then there are some of these places where, you call it boarding, but it’s more like plush hotels. It’s almost like anything you can apply to humans can apply to dogs. And it is usually dogs. Cats don’t really care. I say that as a cat owner.”
The pampering even extends to psychological considerations. One product, Neuticles, “allows your pet to retain his natural look, self-esteem and aids in the trauma associated with altering.” Pet owners have bought more than half a million of the prosthetic testicular implants, which sell for about $1,000 a pair.
“I saw a cat stroller the other day for some ridiculous price,” Boring said. “My first question is, what cat would let you put it in a stroller?”
...for the dog that has everything...yes, prosthetic testicles!  If you think this article accounted for all the cost increases, think again.

Pet furnishings go upscale

When Jade Lenzo was getting ready to bring home her kitten, Bella, for the first time, she set about preparing the place for the little ragdoll cat. Lenzo already had the essentials, but top on her list was a scratching post.
"I began my search with a few thoughts in mind," she says. "It had to look good in our modern home, be well made with quality materials, be safe for cats and be reasonably priced."
What should have been a simple task brought nothing but disappointment. She found nothing in the stores she visited, Lenzo says, but cheap and tacky stuff "made out of carpet that was secured with staples." Certainly nothing that fit the sleek lines and soft curves of her decor.
Lenzo, who lives outside of Perth, Australia, turned to the Internet and eventually found exactly what she was looking for at a Fremont-based company called Five Pet Place.
The company, founded by Michael Ostrofsky, was created to appeal to clients just like Lenzo -- people who love their pets but also their decor, who don't want to see a plastic litter box in the bathroom or a garishly colored carpet-clad scratching post.
While Ostrofsky has found a niche, he is by no means alone. According to research by the American Pet Products Association, about 62 percent of households in the United States own a pet; that's roughly 377 million dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles, horses and other animals. Back in 1994, we spent $17 billion on our animal friends. In 2012, it was more than $52 billion.
Pets and the stuff we buy for them have become such a huge market that, according to the association, big-name retailers -- including Old Navy, Paul Mitchell and Harley Davidson -- are branching out to add pet products to their traditional lines.
It is now fairly easy to find fancy clothing, jeweled collars and leather-accented carriers with built-in iPad pouches. But the furniture -- the everyday items that fill conspicuous spots in our homes -- is another story. And some people aren't willing to settle any longer.
Style rules
Style was definitely on the mind of Sue Kindregan when she bought a Five Pet Place scratching post for her kitten, LouLou, an indoor-only cat. "I knew I had to find a scratching post for LouLou, but I didn't want an eyesore," she says.
The color matches her traditional furniture, and the pieces look as if they had been custom-made to match the woodwork in her house in Boston, she says. "We recently ordered the litter tray in all white, and honestly, it blends in perfectly in our master bath. And it doesn't look like a litter box."
Ostrofsky, who founded , recognized the need for fashionable pet furniture through his own experience.
At the time, he was married and moving into a brand-new home. He and his wife had two cats, but the population quickly grew to five as they kept adding strays. The couple had worked and saved for the house; when they moved, they bought all new furnishings. The cats' scratching posts and litter boxes stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. Unable to find something that would suit the coffered ceilings, crown molding and wainscoting of their Union City home, Ostrofsky worked with his father to build his own. He researched his own cats' behavior and designed models that they preferred, but it was the enthusiastic response and requests from friends and guests that tipped off Ostrofsky that he was onto something.
Dogs have their day
Five Pet Place features scratching posts, food dishes, litter boxes and beds that can best be described as elegantly appointed. Ostrofsky says that, beyond their decorative beauty, they are made to last, with materials that won't harm the cat or pollute the indoor environment.
While Five Pet Place is primarily for cats, other companies are filling the void for dogs. The Company Store, primarily known for its luxurious human bedding, is now offering fine linens, pillows and four-poster beds for your favorite canine. A company spokesman says it "wanted to extend the same comfort, quality and design we're known for to the four-legged friends of our families."
The line of cozy dog comforters and accessories is continually updated to coordinate with an assortment of bedding and decor for the entire home. So if you love the linens on your California king, Fido can have a coordinating ensemble.
Companies such as Soft Surroundings, which has launched a new line called the Retreat Collection, offer plush mattresses and wicker beds. Robin Sheldon, its founder and president, says, "We are invested in creating lush, beautiful bedding for our customers to create their own soft surroundings. With the introduction of Retreat, our home furnishings catalog, it seemed only natural to include a comfy place to relax for our four-legged best friends. The wonderful response we've received has resulted in a new collection of French-inspired pet beds, which will be introduced in the September Retreat.

Style not cheap

The salute to home decor does not come cheap, which may be the one sticking point for companies. But owners are accustomed to paying dearly for almost anything for their pets. Those who market the pedigree products point out that, yes, the items are costly, but they likely will last much longer than the more cheaply made versions.
Cost wasn't an issue for Lenzo, who benefits from the strength of the Australian dollar over the American. Ostrofsky's prices were reasonable to her, she says, and the quality made them well worth it.
It's the style that gets customers through the door, Ostrofsky says, but if it doesn't function properly, they won't be back. There's also another factor that influences shopping for high-end pet furniture. How does the pet like it?
Lenzo says she is proud to have Bella's cat furnishings in plain view, and she gets lots of compliments from friends and family.
"But most importantly," she says, "Bella loves them."
High Costs of Pet Medicines
You know the drill... you drive to the vet, you come in and your dog weighs in by the front desk, the vet tech checks vital signs in the exam room and then your vet gives your dog a thorough exam. This is usually followed by any necessary vaccinations. Finally, you get your prescriptions and medications and you're out the door.
As you're walking your dog to the car, you glance down at the receipt and you're thinking….
When did pet meds get so expensive?
I know how you feel. The cost of medications has skyrocketed.
Many people question some of the excessive profits that pharmaceutical companies make (I think they have a point). However, there are some good reasons why pet medications are so expensive.
Today I want to share a few of things that drive up the cost of pet medications plus I will share a tip that will save you money and avoid paying full price on pet meds.
First, there's the cost of research and development. Many pet meds have the same active ingredients as their corresponding human drugs; but in much smaller amounts. But even using familiar ingredients, it can take years to develop that particular medication and bring a safe and effective drug to market. In fact, for dogs, it can take five years or more.
For example, a topical medication which controls heartworm and fleas and costs about $200 for an annual supply at your vet's office took nearly 10 years in the discovery process, and millions of dollars before becoming available for pet use.
Second, pet meds are run through the same rigorous testing, patient studies and safety procedures as people drugs. The case studies alone can take years to get the proper number of participants to be statistically relevant. They also must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they're available for prescription and pet use.
So what's the answer?
Skimp on pet medications? Skip doses? Absolutely not! As pet parents – it is our responsibility to do the best we can for our precious dogs.
So…even though the medications can be expensive, they really are an important part of your dog's care. By providing vaccines and preventative medications – we have the power to prevent our pets from being bitten by ticks, being infested with fleas and having worms invade their lungs and hearts (causing heartworm disease).
New Comparison Shopping Site for Pet Owners
A dog owner with an entrepreneurial bent has started a Web site aimed at making it easier for pet lovers to find the right products at the right price.  is a new price comparison site that aims to provide pet product information from multiple online retailers in a clear, easily understandable format, said David Keh, the site’s founder.
Mr. Keh, a former hedge fund analyst, said he created DugDug out of his own frustration as a new pet owner. (He owns a standard poodle.) When searching for supplies online, he said, most comparison sites returned information that wasn’t presented in a helpful way. For instance, when searching for medications, searching by the product name most often produced lists that weren’t sorted based on the pet’s weight or by the number of doses supplied, making it difficult to compare prices. “You get nonsensical results,” he said. “It was a huge frustration.”
So Mr. Keh’s site attempts to sort products in a more meaningful way. A search on DugDug, for instance, for Advantix, a killer of canine fleas and ticks, returns a menu of options, based on the pet’s weight. When you click on the proper weight (11-20 pounds, say), an appropriate list of vendors and prices appears.
DugDug also includes any coupons next to each item. That way, users can receive the discount when buying the item, rather than having to scour the Web for potentially available coupon codes, he said. (If users want, they can also use an optional browser tool, called Rover, that automatically notifies them of coupons as they visit different Web sites.)
DugDug doesn’t conduct any sales itself. Rather, once you find the best price, you select the vendor and are taken to that Web site to complete the sale. DugDug receives a fee from some sites if you click through and make a purchase. But the site lists the vendors with the best prices, Mr. Keh said, whether or not the site has a commission deal with DugDug.
(If you are buying a pet medication that requires a prescription, you must eventually provide one from your veterinarian — or, often, the site you buy from will contact your veterinarian to verify it, or to request one on your behalf. In general, though, you need to see a veterinarian in person at some point, to obtain the prescription. Mr. Keh says DugDug screens prescription sites displayed on its searches to weed out disreputable carriers that may be offering counterfeit drugs.)
Mr. Keh said he might be new to pets, but has always been entrepreneurial. While an undergraduate at Stanford, he ran a business from his dorm room changing the backlighting on cellphones, earning as much as $150 each.
DugDug focuses on dogs, but will be gradually rolling out other pet categories like cats, birds, fish, reptiles and small pets (including ferrets, guinea pigs, gerbils etc.) over the next several weeks.
Other plans for the Web site include comparison shopping tools for pet insurance, an area Mr. Keh said he saw as lacking in transparency. “We’ll give information on prices and differences in coverage,” he said.
If more web sites like this one become available, some pet owners might be better able to afford medications for their pets.  Now, let's take a look at how quickly health care expenses can add up at the veterinary hospital:
Americans spend millions to keep pets healthy
by Patti Kirkpatrick
PHOENIX -- We love our pets and show that love by spending a lot of money. Americans will spend a jaw-dropping $53 billion on their pets this year.
A big chunk of that goes to health care, which is right up there with medical care for people.
Stephanie Helbig and her husband spent thousands at VETMED in north Phoenix to diagnose and treat their 9-year-old beagle, Lucy, after she fell sick with a life-threatening illness.
"I think I'm like most people. My dog is like my child," smiled Stephanie .
Stephanie brought her beagle to VETMED to be treated after a blood test revealed a complex condition: immune-mediated neutropenia and hemolytic anemia. Lucy is almost cured, but it cost her and her husband nearly $20,000.
"It was never a question of whether we would spend the money or not," Stephanie said.
VETMED is where other veterinarians across the Southwest send their sickest patients for the most advanced diagnosis and treatment -- including many of the machines and procedures common in human health care.
Dr. Arch Robertson founded the clinic in 1995, specializing only in ultrasound technology. Today it's a bustling, new, high-tech facility that fills an 8,000-square-foot building with plans to add another 5,000. 
Robertson marvels at how far his practice has come.
"We can do things so much quicker, so much less invasively, with less cost, frankly, and less morbidity," Robertson said.
He proudly showed off the CT scan, an imaging machine used for diagnosis. Linus, a beagle with sinus problems, got a scan to determine if the cause was a tumor or something else. Cost: $1,000-$1,100.
"So we do the CTs and then we have a board-certified radiologist -- not on site -- but we send through telemedicine -- who reads the films," Robertson said. "So we have one of the top experts in the country reading our CTs."
Veterinary medicine is advancing right along with human medicine. At VETMED pet patients also have access to:
 - Cardiac catheterization, a machine that creates video images of the heart.
  - Lithotripsy, a non-invasive procedure that zaps bladder or kidney stones.
  - Digital radiography, creating high tech x-rays that are and cheaper than film.
  - Surgery, including neuro and orthopaedic
  - Computerized, automated pharmacy system.
  - In-house lab
  - Critical Care, including 24-hour care.
Dr. Nichole Hooper is VETMED's specialist in critical care and on the day we visited was examining a 3-year-old labradoodle named Diego with beautiful, but very sad, eyes.
"Diego likes to get into the laundry and he's eaten at least two pairs of socks that we know of," Hooper said.
Dr. Robertson's quick ultrasound with Diego confirmed a dire diagnosis.  "He needs surgery right away," he said.
His owners gave the go-ahead and the labradoodle underwent successful surgery that day, socks removed, and back home, doing well.
"We know that the human-animal bond, you know just petting a dog and having that relationship, and having them happy when you come home from work, you know, that just makes people feel good," Robertson said.
By now, any sane pet owner is scratching their head and wondering how they can manage the cost of health care for their pets in the future.  Here are some good ideas:
Caring for Pets Without Breaking the Bank
by John Kiernan
In this edition of our “Ask the Experts” series, we identify the factors that drive the cost of pet care, examine saving tips, and identify the most efficient ways to help your favorite animal charities.
Some 72.9 million households in the United States own pets.  That represents roughly 62% of us, and we collectively spend more than $50 billion annually on our furry, scaled, and feathered friends.  The obvious question that stems from that is how do we bring down costs without sacrificing our pets’ well being in any way, shape, or form?
You see, we need to identify savings opportunities across the breadth of our lives in order to reverse our dangerous debt habits and stave off future financial meltdowns.  U.S. consumers currently owe roughly $846 billion to credit card companies alone – more than $113 billion of which has been incurred since the Great Recession ended.  We’re also more than $1 trillion in the hole to student loan companies, and thousands of homes across the country are “underwater” – even in the driest of areas.
Trying to make all of the necessary spending cuts at one time could get impossibly overwhelming, so it makes sense to take a step-by-step approach.  This is the pet step, and we turned to the following experts in search of answers:
•Peter Maguire – Veterinarian and professor with Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
•Joseph Bartges – Veterinarian and professor of medicine & nutrition at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
•Brian Collins – Veterinarian and lecturer at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Peter Maguire – Colorado State University
We touched base with Dr. Maguire via e-mail and asked that he share his insights on a range of issues, from the value of pet insurance to trends in veterinary medicine.  He started by saying that while most savings strategies are obvious, leaving your pets with friends when traveling and/or getting someone you know to walk your dog while you’re at work really can help your bottom line.
We then moved to more in-depth medical issues.
•What types of financial assistance is available to pet owners?
“A.  There are groups who are in business to loan money to qualified pet owners (application is necessary) to help pay vet bills.  Even local banks are sometimes able to offer pet specific loans.  Ask any vet office and they will typically have information on what is available to pet owners.
B.  Some vet offices will extend credit or offer payment plans, but that is less and less common.  Vet businesses who have done that routinely find themselves carrying way too much debt.  I know some vet practices who have found themselves carrying monthly debt of unpaid bills in excess of $50K.  You can’t sustain a business that way.  The cost of overhead in a vet practice trying to provide quality health care is extremely high.
C.  More and more I think people will find foundations established in part to help subsidize vet health bills–some vet practices may have funds established from donations for this purpose.  There also exist non-profit rescue groups who will help subsidize vet medical costs for animals that are homeless but adoptable if their health needs can be met.”
•Should people buy pet insurance?
“I think the true value of pet insurance is debatable.  I have heard opinions pro and con.  As a vet specialist my experience has been that many people who have pet insurance have been disappointed when they find out that their claims have been denied…I have seen this time and again.  I think it very important that people who are considering pet insurance become intimately familiar with the policies they are considering buying. … I personally think it would be a better idea for people to establish a kind of Health Savings Account for their pets.  When you get a new pet, or in anticipation of getting a new pet, start putting away a bit of money each month in a specific account designated for unanticipated vet medical bills/costs.” 
Finally, Dr. Maguire offered some tips for pet owners living on a tight budget:
1.Realize the realistic costs associated with responsibly owning a pet before you pick up that new puppy.
2.Budget a part of your savings each month into a fund set aside for unexpected vet med costs.
3.Thoroughly research your pet insurance options before purchasing a policy….or you might be disappointed.
4.Look to your community of pet owners to share walking and boarding costs….do it yourself community sharing.
5.MOST IMPORTANT:  EDUCATE yourself when faced with big medical decisions and big medical bills.  Don’t just rely on what you are told….seek second opinions, seek alternative options, seek a more thorough understanding of the medical conditions facing your pet.  The more you educate yourself as a pet owner, the better you will be prepared to deal with the important and costly medical decisions on behalf of the pet you love.
Joseph Bartges – University of Tennessee
•What tips would you offer to well-intentioned pet owners living on a tight budget?
“There are several things a pet owner can do when living on a tight budget.  Probably the first question to ask is ‘can I afford a pet?’  I don’t mean for this to sound callous, and pets are an important part of our family and important companions; however, it is worse to have a pet and to not be able to provide adequate care than it is to not own a pet.
When searching for a pet, decide on what type of pet fits the circumstance – a cat, a dog, a bird, etc.  The associated costs for care are different depending on the type of chosen pet.  Also, choose wisely as to what breed of pet – especially with dogs.  It costs a lot more to take care of a Great Dane than a Chihuahua – especially with feeding, living space, activity, etc.  Pure breeds are more likely to have medical problems than mixed breeds.  Acquire your pet from the local humane society rather than buying from a breeder.
[You should also] shop around – but in particular find a veterinarian and practice that you like and that work with you. … Oftentimes, you ‘get what you pay for.’  For example, you may be able to buy a food that is cheaper than a name brand; however, if the cheaper food is less digestible and less nutritious, then the pet will need to eat more and you could not only spend more money on the cheaper food but it would be less beneficial for your pet.
[Finally], prevent the prevent-able.  If you live in an area where heartworm disease is prevalent, then the cost of preventing heartworm infection is much less than treating an active infection.  This is true with many other infectious diseases as well.  Factor the pet into your budget and have a “pet fund” where you can put away small amounts of money to build up the account in case of an emergency.”
•Too often it seems that consumers have to choose between paying exorbitant veterinary costs and putting down their pets as a result of treatable ailments. What kinds of financial assistance are available to pet owners? Is it a good idea for folks to buy pet insurance? Are steps being taken in the veterinary world to make pet care more affordable?
“I don’t think ‘exorbitant’ is the right word.  For example, cancer therapy may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in human medicine but only cost hundreds to thousands of dollars in veterinary medicine.  The perception that veterinary costs are exorbitant is probably based on the fact, at least in part, that insurance pays for human medical costs; therefore, people don’t really see (or don’t care to actually find out) the cost of their care.  The ‘cost’ to them is their deductible.  It’s only when we have ‘out of pocket’ expenses that the cost actually hits home.  Veterinary medicine does not have this system, even with pet insurance.  It appears to me that many pet insurance policies are still pretty limited [compared] to what is done in human medicine.  Having a pet as part of the family carries a cost.  Veterinarians want to do the best that we can for our patients; however, there is a cost of doing business that cannot be ignored.  If veterinarians under-charged or did not charge, then they would be out of business.  Some things that pet owners can do are to investigate pet insurance to see if it is worth the investment and to save money in a ‘pet account’ to help with unexpected larger veterinary bills.  Many veterinary practices and university practices use Care Credit, which allows owners, if approved, to pay larger bills.”
Brian Collins – Cornell University
•What can people do to reduce the cost of pet care?
“I would say that probably one of the best things that people can do to help make pet care less expensive is to make sure that the pet gets preventative care, which is what veterinarians try to do as much as possible as far as having animals stay current on vaccinations [and] making sure they take whatever kind of preventative products are recommended for whatever geographic area they happen to live in – whether that’s fleas, ticks, heartworm, things like that.  Trying to keep up with those types of things will reduce costs just because it’s cheaper to prevent than to treat patients.  It may seem fairly basic, but trying to keep your pet at a healthy weight, feeding them nutritious food, exercising your pet – these might not be the kinds of things you’re looking for, but they’re what I try to focus on.”
•Does more expensive necessarily mean better when it comes to pet food?
“You don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive dog food on the market.  In a lot of cases, veterinarians don’t sell those types of foods, so it’s more of a recommendation I’d made for when you go to the pet store or wherever you buy your pet supplies.  There may be some other foods that you could buy that your pet would be just as healthy on but wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. … On the other hand, I do feel that since pet feed is the majority of what the pet’s going to be eating, you want to make sure it is good quality.”
Ultimately, we can boil down all of these great expert insights into a few key takeaways (great for all you skimmers out there!):
•More expensive isn’t necessarily better, but you also get what you pay for – Pet owners can certainly identify areas where they can cut costs, but you have to be really careful not to sacrifice the well-being of your pet in doing so.
•Pet care isn’t really as outrageously expensive as you might think – Part of what makes veterinary procedures seem so expensive is the fact that people tend to pay out of pocket, whereas we have insurance to cover most of our own health care costs.
•Pet insurance isn’t great – Not only does animal insurance tend to be pricey, but the policies are also often difficult to understand and ultimately leave many folks with minimal coverage.
•You can set up a savings account for your pet – One interesting technique broached by multiple experts is to establish an emergency fund for your pet.  If you contribute, say, $50 or $100 per month, you’ll be less likely to get blindsided by an unexpected veterinary bill.  This also underscores the importance of living within your means in other areas of your life.  If you aren’t already overleveraged, pet care will seem more affordable.
If you haven't already read Helpful Buckeye's descriptions of pet health insurance, you might benefit from a review of those options:

Remember to send any comments or suggestions to Helpful Buckeye at:  or submit the comment at the appropriate section at the end of this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~