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Health care gone to the dogs

The latest improvements in veterinary care for Socks or Spot can be best summed up in the word “access.”

Access to specialists, to better medicine, to better technology, to more knowledge available to more pet owners has noticeably increased in the past 10-15 years.

Dr. Rob Johnson of Bennett’s Creek Veterinary Care has been a veterinarian for 15 years and has worked in Suffolk for 10 years.

“Probably the biggest thing that has changed is increased access to specialists,” he said. “Just in this area here, there are multiple specialist surgeons, cardiologists, dermatologists, internal medicine specialists and a lot more I could list.”

It wasn’t long ago Johnson said, that to find most of those fields, a pet owner would have to seek out, travel to and pay the expenses of a huge veterinary hospital, usually a university hospital.

New medicine and new technology have made major strides, helping vets treat problems ranging from fleas to cancer.

Controlling fleas on dogs and cats used to be a huge chore. Flea bombing a house with fog meant taping cabinets, moving furniture, putting all dishes, kitchen utensils and food away, vacating the house for most of a day, then cleaning and vacuuming everything in the house once the fog was done.

Even bathing and dipping the family cat or dog was a lot of work and fairly ineffective.

“Now, we don’t have a dip available in the entire hospital,” said Johnson.

Flea and tick medicines such as Frontline, Advantix, Revolution and Advantage are the common treatments today. Not only are these medicines more convenient and less expensive and time-comsuming than the old ways of bombing or baths, “they are also so much more effective,” Johnson said.

Aspirin-like medication for pets with arthritis is another new development that, while it by no means falls under high-tech, is making major differences in pets’ lives.

It wasn’t very long ago, Johnson said, that when a dog began getting arthritis, it was a serious problem with not many good options for the owner.

Arthritis used to mean a really poor quality of life. It was common to have the best option wind up being to have a dog euthanized because he simply couldn’t get around,” Johnson said.

Now, with new drugs and treatments for arthritis and other chronic problems in older pets, “they really are lifesavers. They’re excellent in terms of quality for the animal and quantity as far as years that can be given to the animal,” he said.

Even pets with cancer have infinitely better care and chances for a cure today than they did 10 to 15 years ago. Radiology and chemotherapy treatments are available with less likelihood of negative side effects. In this case though, better care is certainly not less-expensive care, and that brings up a dilemma.

“There are treatments now that may be cost-prohibitive. People know it exists, but can’t do it and it makes it difficult at times,” Johnson said.

“I say all the time, ‘Just because something’s available doesn’t mean you have to do it or even should do it.”

Pet insurance is an idea that didn’t even exist before 20 years ago. It’s still not something most pet owners buy, but Johnson says about 10-15 percent of his clients have pet insurance. For the most part, it’s not something he recommends to pet owners.

“If you have a dog, and we see him only once or twice a year, it’s not worth it,” Johnson said.

“If it’s nice for your peace of mind, that’s fine, but it’s not for everyone and I wouldn’t even recommend it for everyone,” Johnson said.

One of the main issues new pet owners face is something veterinarians, even with new medicine and new technology, can’t do a lot about. That’s the problem of new owners who think a new pet is a great idea, but then wind up being too busy with everyday life to take good care of that pet.

Johnson suggested that people considering getting a pet consider an important question. “What’s a pet going to take from your time? If you get a big dog, it’s going to need time. It’s in a cage all day while you’re at work. When you get home, it’s going to want to play and burn off all its extra energy.”

Again though, there are now options to make such a situation better for owner and pet alike.

Pet daycare businesses are increasing, and most of them are great at giving a pet an active, healthy environment each day.

“At first I thought the idea was crazy,” Johnson said. “There was nothing like that 15 to 20 years ago. Now, though, I think they’re great, and they definitely make for a happier home life.”

In the end, a better home life is the exact reason for bringing a new pet home to begin with.