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Veterinary Talk by Dr. Jim Humphries

A strange meal could cost you plenty!

After 37 years in veterinary practice, I can say Iíve seen everything ñ- almost. Of course, every day Iím surprised. But having run a very large emergency hospital for pets in Texas, I was never truly surprised at the strange things I saw inside the stomach of a dog, whether that be from an X-ray, or actually opening the stomach to see firsthand.Rocks, balls, pantyhose, every manner of fishhook, dog toy and pieces of TV remotes; and, yes, once even a screwdriver was seen on an X-ray of the dogís esophagus!While these make for some really cool X-rays to show everyone, these cases can sometimes turn deadly and expensive very fast.Pet insurance companies are now tracking all types of data in pet medical care so they know better what to charge for policies and what is reasonable to pay out for claims. They know that the farther an object moves down the intestinal track, the more difficult and expensive it is to treat.There is no doubt that some objects, probably most we never even know of, can pass uneventfully, but the longer pet owners wait, the more dangerous ó and costly óforeign body ingestion can become. In fact, removing foreign objects from a petís GI track is the second most common insurance claim from dog owners and the third most common among cat owners.Because we are all concerned about cost, I thought youíd find this interesting. The cheapest and easiest removals tend to be for objects lodged in an animalís mouth, with an average veterinary bill of $370. For objects that reach the small intestine, invasive surgery is often needed and that can leave a pet owner with an average bill of $1,640. Complications such as infections can send costs skyrocketing to $2,000 to $10,000, with an average of $4,210.The worst and most expensive cases like this are known as ìstring foreign bodies,î as they wrap all through a moving tube and cut into many vital organs.Iíve written about pet insurance before, and Iíll remind you again here. If you can get basic coverage worked into your family budget, you will never have to make a life and death call about your pet based on a veterinary bill that you are facing in an emergency or even a grave diagnosis like cancer.My own dog, ìTaylor,î was diagnosed with bone cancer last July. I was able to get her expert treatment at CSUís Cancer Center quickly. Sheís been through two major surgeries and now wears a prosthetic leg, and we hope to beat the cancer odds. The bills so far are approaching $30,000, and my insurance company has paid 90 percent of that, with no questions asked. The check usually arrives before I have to pay the specialists!So, whether it is a dumb, dangerous thing they have eaten, or the deadly cancer diagnosis, veterinary medicine can often offer more expertise than we can pay for. Monitor your pets symptoms closely, develop a great relationship with your veterinarian (one who really cares about both medicine and communicating with you), and check out pet health insurance to keep your beloved furry family members around as long as possible.Dr. Jim Humphries is a veterinarian and also serves as a visiting Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes.

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