Thursday, December 25, 2014

Q&A: How to Minimize the Costs of Special-Needs Pets

I recently received a question from a friend of Diabetic Cats in Need. It read in part:

I am finding it hard to keep up with all my animals and having done my taxes, discovered I am spending 20% of my income on vet bills.

I have special needs cats here, and am trying to logically determine what to do so that I can regain my life.

Do I adore them and give them everything possible? Yes. I have over-extended and realize I can’t take on the world as I did in my 30s, 40s...

This was my response, which the person making the inquiry found helpful and suggested I blog. I am a bit concerned that some will find parts of my response cold hearted:

I don't know how many pets (especially special-needs pets) you have, but if they are taking 20% of your income, it must be quite a few.

If I were in your situation, I would impose on myself a moratorium on adopting any new pets, even if a "position" opens up because of a death. I would let attrition happen until I got down to a manageable number.

I also would consider pet insurance. Insurance won't cover pre-existing conditions, but it will cover unrelated new conditions. For example, I had two diabetic cats and both died of abdominal cancers. If I had gotten insurance on them after they contracted diabetes, the insurance wouldn't have covered the diabetes or likely even something like pancreatitis (related), but it would have covered the thousands of dollars I spent on the cancer DXs and medications in the last few months of their lives. The younger a pet is, the less expensive the premiums will be. I cannot recommend a particular pet insurance company because I have no personal experience with them. You might even want to call the shelters/rescues that you adopted from to see whether they have a low-cost insurance option for adopted pets. Usually, that's only available for newly adopted pets, but maybe you will find some that will "fudge" the paperwork.

I also would consider ways to minimize the cost of annual wellness exams. If I had a large number of cats needing wellness exams, I would try to get them on the same schedule and find a mobile vet or even my own vet to come to the house for exams and labwork. Some mobile vets even have X-Ray equipment or can do dentals in their vans. I know someone who has >20 adopted and foster cats who does home-based annual exams and labwork with her local vet; the vet basically dedicates the whole day to the home visit. The vet charges office prices for the labwork, but only for two office visit charges despite the large number of cats.

Another way to minimize costs is to consider not having periodic vaccines on the pets that have had a number of routine boosters in the past. After their initial shots and two years of boosters, I had titer tests done on all my current cats for protection from the viruses covered by the FVRCP shot. They all tested as protected so they will no longer get that vaccine. Rabies is a different matter because most states require all companion animals to have current rabies vaccines. But my vet at the time (recently retired) agreed that after >thirteen years of rabies shots, and with two cats having diabetes, to waive the vaccines for medical reasons. His waiver would have meant that if my indoor-only cats had bitten someone, my state's law would have allowed an at-home quarantine rather than them being destroyed or quarantined in a state-approved facility. (That and few people who come into my house ever see the cats.) I am hoping that my current vet (she bought my former vet's practice) will allow me to have my current cats' rabies titers measured (which is not inexpensive itself) and if they titer as protected (which they will), allow them a medical exception from future rabies vaccines. For me it's not a finance thing; I just don't like them having vaccines, even non-adjuvanted ones. It's long, but this is a very good video about vaccines.

I also would do my best not to buy prescription food (too expensive and not good quality) and to look for lower-cost ways to buy medications and other care supplies. Target and other pharmacies often have generic drug programs. The last time I had to buy Prozac (an anti-anxiety med) for my Casey who compulsively licks himself bald on his butt and tail, the vet wrote a script for a dosage where I could quarter the tablets and I bought 90 of the tablets from Target for $10. That means I got a year's worth of that med for $10. I also buy Lactated Ringers Solution, administration lines, and needles online in bulk, making the per/bag cost (even with shipping) cheaper than buying from the vet. If people need flea meds, I advise that they buy from a reputable source on EBay and get the large dog size that can be doled out in smaller doses for cats.

I would establish for myself written guidelines on how far I am willing to go to diagnose and treat a pet with a potentially terminal disease. I wouldn't necessarily set monetary guidelines for myself, but I would set treatment guidelines. For example, I won't have a fine needle aspiration for intestinal lymphoma because (according to the multiple vets I have spoken to about that), the ~$500 test with pathology is rarely conclusive. I won't do MRIs. I will do CT scans but only after initial X-Rays show there is something possibly suspicious. I won't put a pet with CT scan-confirmed abdominal or thoracic organ cancers through surgery or chemo. Instead they go on hospice care and I promise them that if they get to the point of pain, I will not be giving them pain meds. I have only been through it with DCIN, but I would never overly extend the life of a pet with congestive heart failure or a saddle thrombus. The first such event would be the last such event for the pet because those are terminal conditions and bring a massive amount of pain.

I also try my best to do at-home euthanasia (even though more expensive) to make the pet as comfortable as possible. In the past I have always let the vets take the bodies to send for cremation, but now that I know where the local pet crematoriums are, I would likely take the pet myself and cut that cost in half, and not pay for the fancy box that I never use anyway. I get ceramic kitty cookie jars that I repaint to look like the cat(s) I lost in which to keep their ashes. ~Venita

I welcome others to comment on this post with ways to minimize the costs of special-needs pets.

See the comments below from:
  • She Dances with Cats about being a permanent foster for a shelter/rescue and about pet insurance. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Holidays, with Tears

It is 3am on a Sunday morning and I am opening my mail for the week. The last three pieces I opened collectively have me in tears.

The first was from a woman on the west coast who is severely disabled and loves her diabetic cat deeply, and DCIN pays for her cat’s insulin and sends her test strips. This woman is deeply religious (but doesn’t proselytize) and despite her low-income situation, she tithes to her church and charities. Every couple months she sends DCIN a small check with a card that updates me on their status. I smile with the very personal messages I receive, but I always feel badly about her sending a check when I know she needs the funds for herself. However, those checks serve her mission in life so I cash them.

The second was from a woman in the desert Southwest who also is severely disabled, basically housebound. DCIN also helps her beloved diabetic cat with insulin and test strips, although her disability makes testing difficult. She sends DCIN a $5 check every month for the help. In the note with the check she told me she no longer has Internet access so I will have to call her this week, which always is a pleasant conversation for me. She is a lovely woman who doesn’t dwell on the challenges life has brought her. I made a personal donation to her cat’s account so that she won’t have to write those checks for a couple of years.

Then, finally, I opened a letter with a $500 annual donation from a woman in the Eastern south. That opened the floodgates and the tears started flowing. I knew a check was coming, but her generosity is overwhelming, especially with my emotions on my sleeve from the two letters I had just opened.

In this holiday season, I sincerely thank those who foster and adopt diabetic cats, those who hold their diabetic cats dear with joy and love even though doing so presents challenges, sometimes enormous challenges, and those who donate to help others they don’t know continue to hold their beloved diabetic cats dear.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Simon Becomes Shiraz

~by Cindy, Shiraz's Certain Human

It really doesn’t matter what happened up until that point.

Maybe he lived in a barn, where he had to fend for himself...

Maybe he was somebody’s neglected or – even worse – abused pet...

Maybe he was thrown away as a kitten, but managed to survive...

MAYbe, he was a feline warrior, back from saving the world only to find nobody cared...

MAYBE, he was an ancient deity, returned to an earthly body...


Thursday, September 12, 2013

We Don't Know You

~by Venita, DCIN's founder and director

We don't know you. No we don't.

You have written to us on Facebook or through email, asking that DCIN give you money or supplies to care for your diabetic cat.

We would like to help keep Fluffy healthy, but we don't know you. We try to find out about you and Fluffy. We search Facebook and Google to learn about you. We look to see whether you and Fluffy are on an Internet forum for diabetic cats. We ask you questions. We evaluate your answers--both content and tone.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My heart aches, but maybe that's okay

All my life I've always known that I wanted to work with animals.  I used to tell everyone that I was going to be a vet some day, but life is what is and things don't always work out how you plan.  So here I am in rescue and sometimes I think it's good that I'm not a vet, what would I do each time I had to help someone's beloved furry cross to the other side.  I feel so helpless now if I'm at the clinic and someone comes out with a leash and collar in hand and red swollen eyes.

You'd think rescue would be easier.  Through DCIN I get to help people keep their beloved kitty when they thought because of finances they had no choice but to let them go.  I also get to help bring a new love into someone's life.  If I'm lucky I get follow up emails and photos and hear wonderful stories about how well things are going.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Compassion seems to be in short supply

By Jennifer Jasensky: Director of Case Management, Diabetic Cats in Need

I love my work with DCIN but what people don't know is we are very short staffed and on balance we get about one new case a week. Some weeks it can be three, other weeks none but it averages to about four per month. Recently, those numbers are increasing and it's almost ten new clients a month at times. Add these cases to the already existing number of clients, the fundraising, the transport coordination, and the fact that we are all volunteers and have jobs and family outside of DCIN, you might be able to imagine just how overwhelmed we can be at times. Did I mention we are short staffed too?
CH kitty Lilly Grace "walking" up to her
bed because of someone else's 
compassion to build her that ramp

To address this issue we had to make some changes.  Most significantly, we had to modify how we promote cats in need of rehoming. Instead of taking the information and posting it ourselves with questions and applications coming to a case manager, we now request that people post their own kitties and from there we'll share the story. The adoption is theirs to work out.  This helps DCIN because case managers can concentrate on our extensive number of financial assistance cases and not field questions on adoptable kitties.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friendships online and offline ...

Taking time to enjoy the day
I'm not new to the internet, but in 2006 I was new to internet forums and all that would follow.  I joined the FDMB because I had two diabetic cats and I needed help learning how to test their sugars.  What I got was a lot more.  The FDMB like so many other forums is filled with passionate people who care deeply for diabetic cats and their caretakers.  That passion can lead to joy and heartache, celebrations and arguments, but through it all bonds are formed.

For me it led me to DCIN but also brought me some of my closest friends.  Some I've met in person and some I've never seen but have talked to so often and opened up so much to them that even without seeing their face I can see their love and their kindness.