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Dear Christopher Cat

I am a senior citizen on a fixed income, and paying for veterinary care is becoming increasingly difficult. I have always provided optimal care, but it is nearly impossible now to afford routine vet services – let alone unplanned medical or surgical procedures.

With the sagging economy, many working people struggle even to pay for their own health care. What are we to do?

Christopher Responds

Our mom is saddened that there are so many people in your position. She would undoubtedly offer you a hug, but we’ll be more practical and give you some advice.

The best way to save money on pet care is to prevent disease, rather than treat it. Let’s start with some free ways to do that.

Keep your pet slim. Researchers who compared slim dogs to those of normal weight found that slim dogs lived longer, healthier lives.

The slim dogs suffered less arthritis and other chronic illnesses, and they didn’t need to start arthritis medication until three years after the heavier dogs.

Feed your pet dry food, unless there’s a medical reason to feed canned food. Dry kibble keeps the teeth cleaner than canned food, which sticks to the teeth and promotes tartar and gingivitis.

An additional way to prevent oral disease and the need for frequent dental procedures is to brush your pet’s teeth every day or two. Don’t give your dog hard plastic toys, because they can fracture the teeth of vigorous chewers, as our brother Sam learned.

Groom your pet yourself to prevent unnecessary visits to the veterinarian. Daily brushing helps prevent mats and underlying skin infections. If your pet is prone to ear infections, minimize them by cleaning ears weekly.

Every month, clip your dog’s nails so they don’t break off at the quick, necessitating a veterinary visit. Empty anal sacs in pets prone to impactions.

If you smoke, stop. Pets exposed to second-hand smoke, especially cats who ingest the toxins when we groom, have a much higher risk of cancer.

Skip some vaccinations. Vaccinate only for serious diseases your pet may be exposed to, as well as diseases that can harm people, like rabies.

Recent studies indicate that some antibodies last longer than was once thought. So talk with your veterinarian about scheduling the rabies and distemper vaccinations every three years instead of annually.

Spay or neuter your pet through a low-cost program, such as at your local animal shelter. Spay-neuter surgery lowers the risk of cancer and infection of the reproductive organs.

Finally, confide in your veterinarian. Work together to develop a cost-effective health care plan tailored to the needs of your pet.

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