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Finding help with health care for your pet

Humane Society grant program

HSUS has launched a new grant program for local shelters that may help families care for pets in tough financial times. The program can provide up to $2,000 per shelter or nonshelter rescue/adoption group. It's called the Foreclosure Pets Fund, because so many pets have been left behind in abandoned homes.

"Animals have been left behind in foreclosed homes, and shelters are reporting that families are struggling to keep and feed pets," McFarland says. "Don't leave your animal to fend for itself."

The grants to local shelters are intended to assist programs by working with veterinarians to develop service vouchers to be distributed to people who need assistance with vaccinations, spay and neuter surgeries or other veterinary care. Another aspect of the program may involve partnering with local food banks to donate and distribute pet food and supplies.

Pet care insurance

According to Lisa Peterson, director of club communications for the American Kennel Club, or AKC, pet insurance can save you thousands of dollars when your pet has a serious illness. There are numerous pet care insurances in the market, so the best option for pet owners is to compare prices and see what each plan offers.

"Paying a little each month is better than being faced with a large medical bill," Peterson says.

At the AKC, pet insurances cost 35 cents a day for a dog for accident and injury coverage. For a few cents more a day, you can get the next level of a plan that includes illness coverage. Pet care insurance is available for cats as well.

Practice preventive health care

Pet owners who want to keep their medical bills low will practice preventive health care. Dr. Davis recommends bringing in your pet for a yearly exam so that if something is not right, the condition can be found early.

"Just as proper nutrition, a good diet and activity is important to humans to keep us healthy, it's also important for our pets," Dr. Davis says.

To keep your pets healthy, groom them daily. Check for ticks or lumps before there is a problem. Cut down on visits to a grooming salon by doing some of the grooming yourself. Clean teeth on a regular basis and scrape some of the tartar off. Also, learn to cut your pet's nails and give the animal a bath yourself.

Food issues

The AKC does not recommend changing your dog's diet or feeding your pet the least expensive food you can find. Instead, Peterson recommends cutting back on the number of treats you give your dog or cat.

As an option, forget the store-bought treats and give your dog crunchy vegetables such as baby carrots, chopped-up celery or zucchini. Cat and dog owners can also take existing treats for their pets and split them to make them stretch. Or take a small amount of the animal's food and use it as a treat.

The HSUS believes pet owners should also stop purchasing expensive toys and accessories. There are tips for inexpensive toys for cats and dogs on the organization's Web site.

Foster homes/breed rescue

Consider individual breed rescue groups across the country. For example, owners of a Maltese can legally turn their dog over to the nationally run rescue group for any reason. Each breed group locates foster homes and pays for health care until the dog can be adopted by another family.

"Medical care can be quite costly, and this area of our club operates on the donations of our members as well as others," says Sandy Bingham-Porter, president of the American Maltese Association. "Many breeders would also allow the owner to return their Maltese, no questions asked."

Other breeders will do the same.

The Cat Fanciers Association has a breeder assistance program to help breeders and catteries with assistance in the temporary loss of a home, personal family situation such as divorce, loss of a job or owner illness. There is also a Breed Rescue Program that helps purebred cats at risk in shelters across the country.

A Food Pantry program, with assistance from the pet food manufacturer Royal Canin, helps cat breeders who are unable to purchase cat food to feed their cats. This is a regional program that is being expanded to operate on a national level.

Pet credit card

There is also a credit card that can be used for your pet's medical bills. Dr. Davis recommends that cat and dog owners apply for a CareCredit card that is exclusively for healthcare services for their pet. There is no annual fee for this card.

The CareCredit card features plans with no interest for three, six, 12 or 18 months, or plans with monthly payments as low as 3 percent of the balance letting you pay within the specified time. Fixed-interest plans are also available for pet owners who need to pay over a longer period.

The Web site lists all the veterinarians that accept the card.

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