Your pooch paying the price for recession?

LOS ANGELES Kathy Partak says her dog, Riley, is the heart of her family.

"Riley's just always there to greet you with a smile, tail wag," said Kathy, who also knows her dog really needs to get to the vet. "Riley has an incessant itch, and so he just scratches and scratches. He basically needs to get his ears irrigated."

But with no job and lots of bills, Riley's care joins the list of things that will have to wait. A recent survey shows nearly half of pet owners questioned are waiting until there are obvious, visible issues before visiting their vet. But pet trend experts say there are other options.

"They can go to a veterinary school and seek treatment. They can also go to a local animal shelter that has a veterinary practice," said Charlotte Reed, a pet trend expert. "In those cases vet care tends to be a little bit lower cost than the average veterinarian."

Routine care becomes critical, especially as the animal ages. In fact, more than 90 percent of vets are concerned about the future health of pets if preventative care declines. That said, there are things you can be doing at home to help your best friend stay fit.

"You want to make sure that your pet has a healthy diet, your pet's getting exercise," said Reed. "You also might want to do things like brush your pet's teeth on a regular basis."

If your pet is injured or harmed, Reed says you should definitely head to the vet. If the concern is less serious, ask your pet's doctor about the possibility of cutting prices.

"Ask him if there's a payment plan you can work out, or some type of adjustment he can make," said Reed.

If your pet is suffering from a problem it has had before, see if your doctor will do a consultation over the phone. Also, don't be afraid to handle some of the grooming on your own.

"Look to see if there's any smells, discharge, any lumps and bumps and then they would know if their animal needs to seek a veterinarian immediately," said Reed.

Often it's the routine care from the vet which prevents expensive problems in the future. That weighs heavily on Kathy, along with guilt of not being able to do more.

"You want to care for your pets," said Kathy.

Many veterinarians can help connect you with programs for interest-free credit, if you qualify and can handle more debt.

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