In this article we will give you the ultimate guide to vet care for Labradors.
Looking at how to find a good vet, what to expect at your dog’s appointments and how to make the right choices about medicines and treatment. We will also guide you through potential ways to manage the costs of veterinary care, including looking at low cost vet care and free vet care options.
How To Find A Vet For Your Labrador
Finding a good vet to take care of your labrador’s veterinary needs is very important. Word of mouth is always a good way to start and it is well worth chatting to your friends to see whom they use. You can find your nearest veterinary practice by using the search facility on the website of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This is also the place to go if you ever need to complain about your vet. All vets in the UK are highly trained and registered with RCVS the letters MRCVS shows that your vet is a member of the Royal College.
Finding a vet that you get on well with is usually not difficult and many practices have several vets to choose from. Policies for seeing patients vary, and in some practices you will be able to make an appointment, whereas in others, there will be a first come first served type of open surgery. Which you prefer will be a matter of personal choice but if you have a strong preference it is a good idea to find out what the system is before registering your dog.
Labrador Veterinary Appointments
For many dog owners, the first time they meet their vet is when they take their new puppy along for vaccinations and a check up. It is a good idea to let your vet examine your puppy within a day or two of purchase to ensure that he is in good health.
If you have an older dog in good health, you will probably only see your vet when his vaccinations are due. Either way, this is a good chance to ask any questions you may have, and to get your dog weighed, and given a general health check. Vets do not deal simply in physical problems, they can help with behavioral issues too, and will be able to refer you to a behaviorist if you have a problem they cannot deal with.
Choosing Your Veterinarian
Most vets are very dedicated and caring but of course in any profession there are a few unscrupulous individuals. If your vet is trying to encourage you to put an elderly animal through a long course of treatment with a doubtful outcome, or if you have any concerns about his diagnosis or treatment recommendations, you are perfectly within your rights to a second opinion.
A good vet can be a great source of support , friendship, and information if your Labrador is ever seriously ill. It is worth looking around to find one that you are really happy with. When your Labrador is sick, the last thing any dog owner wants to have to think about is money. Deciding between a family holiday and a pet’s life may be simple enough, but what if the costs of veterinary treatment are beyond the owner’s means entirely?
With the constant advances in veterinary science, effective treatments for many diseases once considered untreatable, are now available to dogs and other pets. But they come at a price.
The Cost Of Veterinary Care For Labradors
Modern veterinary care can be extremely expensive, and more and more people are insuring their pets against the possibility of crippling veterinary fees.
Rising Costs Of Labrador Vet Care
Unfortunately the cost of these procedures is sometimes cripplingly high. Well beyond the budget of the average dog owner.
This is often true of cancer treatments, which can be drawn out and expensive.
Veterinary Insurance is becoming increasingly relevant as new and ever more expensive procedures are made available. But good insurance policies are themselves expensive, especially for older pets or those with existing medical conditions.
People often talk about the rising cost of veterinary treatment. But in some cases I believe that veterinary treatment relatively speaking is now less expensive than it was when I was a child.
Vets seem far more competitive with their pricing nowadays. Labrador owners can shop around for bargains and they are doing so. But the question of veterinary costs and insurance is still a big one. We hear of more and more examples of dogs receiving treatment extending into thousands of pounds. And this is probably as a result of a number of factors.
- New technology
- Widespread uptake of insurance
- Social and emotional pressures
Improvements In Veterinary Technology
Veterinary medicine has not stood still. There is now treatment available for many illnesses and Labrador health problems for which dogs would once have been put to sleep. I have read many heart breaking stories by owners whose dogs have had cancer. Long courses of chemotherapy can soon rack up some hefty bills. Then we have heart surgery, hip surgery and all manner of other surgical procedures now carried out on dogs.
I recently read about a dog undergoing dialysis. In short, almost anything we can do medically for people, we can do for dogs too. This technology all comes at a price, and one of the key beneficiaries has been insurance companies.
I was reading recently about a Labrador that collapsed on Christmas Eve with Fibrocartilaginous Embolism. This is a ‘stroke’ like event in the spinal cord. The owner of the dog reported that the initial vet bill so far was over £2,700. Fortunately the dog was insured.
Many people now insure their pets against the possibility of illness. Far more than did so twenty years ago. But as more people opt for expensive treatments for their pets, the higher insurance premiums have risen. To the point where the insurance policy itself is a major expense for a family on a low income. Especially if there is more than one pet to insure.
Part of the reasons for the increase in expensive treatments is the change in social conventions and the emotional pressures this puts on dog owners. Of course there are many conditions where expensive treatment can have fantastic results and restore a labrador to full health. When a young dog is run over, it would be a tradgedy to end his life because you can’t afford the x-rays, anaesthetic, and surgeon’s time, to mend a badly broken leg.
No doubt new treatments and techniques will continue to be developed, and our love affair with dogs is unlikely to end. This is why veterinary insurance is so important.
Should I Insure My Labrador?
The main benefit of insurance is that it gives you choices. At the end of the day, the choices you take are yours to decide. But without insurance you may be faced with the prospect of choosing between you dog’s life and your holiday, or even your home. So whilst pet insurance is expensive. It can save a lot of heartbreak and recrimination.
Some people set up a savings account for the dog instead. And if you have the self-discipline not to touch it, this can be a good option in the long run. In the short term though, if your dog has an expensive illness before your savings have built up, you may find you are still facing some difficult choices.
You could find that the only insurance policy you can afford doesn’t cover the more expensive problems that might need resolving in the future. This means that some families find themselves in the desperate situation of needing treatment, that they simply cannot afford, for a much loved and uninsured Labrador.
Free Vet Care for Labradors
There are some charities who provide free vet care for dogs whose owners are unable to pay.
The People’ Dispensary for Sick Animals is the UK’s leading veterinary charity. The PDSA provide free veterinary treatment to animals belonging to people in need. Maria Dickin founded the PDSA in 1917, and today the PDSA provide over 2 million treatments to sick animals each year.
In order to qualify for their assistance with veterinary care, you need to meet certain requirements. These include living within a defined catchment area of a PDSA PetAid hospital or practice, and being in receipt of Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit. You can visit the PDSA website for advice, or to make a donation. You can join their facebook page too. If you are not elligable for PDSA assistance, you might find that The Blue Cross are able to help you.
The Blue Cross
The Blue Cross have three animal hospitals in London and one in Grimsby. They provide free veterinary treatments to animals belonging to people who cannot afford treatment. They are a charitable organisation, run entirely on public donations. Therefore there are also requirements for being elligable for their help.
If you live in the catchment area of one of their hospitals, they will look at your means-tested benefits and income status to see whether your pet qualifies. Visit the Blue Cross website to find out more or make a donation to support them. But what if you are based in the USA?
The Magic Bullet Fund
The magic bullet fund is a non profit organisation based in the USA. Its objectives are to provide funding for cancer treatment for pets belonging to those that cannot afford to pay for such treatment themselves. The Magic Bullet fund was founded by Laurie Caplan and is named after her own dog Bullet who underwent cancer treatment and survived. Laurie’s ambition is to help other dogs with this illness and to make sure that treatment is not withheld from sick dogs due to lack of money.
You can visit The Magic Bullet’s website for advice or to make a donation. You can join their facebook page too.
The Big Hearts Fund
The Big Hearts Fund was set up to support owners of dogs and cats suffering from heart disease. This charity raises money to help pet owners to attain necessary veterinary care for their animals with heart disease. Their website also contains a wealth of information to help owners of pets with heart disease care for and better understand their pet’s problems.
The Brown Dog Foundation
Whilst specific charities for certain terrible health problems like cancer and heart disease are very important, people also need help with more generalised medical care for their dog that they are unable to afford.
The Brown Dog Foundation provides funding to families who find themselves with a sick pet that would likely respond to treatment, but due to an unforseen circumstance, there is not enough money immediately available to make it happen. They have a carefully monitored approvals process, and look at each case on it’s own merits, beginning with an online survey that can be found on their website.
Do I Qualify For Free Vet Care?
All the above charities apply some form of means testing to ensure that their services reach those that really need them.
This may mean that they are unable to help those in middle income brackets that cannot actually afford veterinary treatments whilst continuing to meet their monthly outgoings. This can mean some very tough decisions for dog owners, choosing between your home and your dog’s life is an appalling situation for anyone to find themselves in. And the very best way to avoid this, is to stump up for veterinary insurance on an annual basis.
Can My Vet Help Me Save Money?
If you cannot afford veterinary treatment, or are struggling to pay your bill, do talk to your vet. They care about you and your dog and will want the opportunity to help and advise you. In cases of genuine need, they may even be able to offer a reduction of some kind in their fees.
Medicines For Labradors
Puppies and older dogs receive quite a number of regular medical treatments throughout their lives These include routine vaccinations, and treatments for internal and external parasites. And it is only natural to be concerned if your labrador puppy gets sick after being given one of these treatments.
Most people will get the medicines that there dogs need for treatment of their diseases directly from their veterinarian. If you are trying to cut costs or want to source your own veterinary medicines then it is possible to look in other places.
Buying dog medicines online
At one time most quality veterinary products could only be purchased through your vet. And some vets took advantage of this monopoly to charge high prices. Nowadays the worming products, flea treatments etc that your vet supplies are also available online from veterinary pharmacies. It is worth shopping around as prices can vary dramatically.
Do Dog Medicines Have Side Effects?
The simple answer here is yes. But before you rush to throw away all the medicines in your cupboard, or cancel your annual vaccination, let’s take a closer look.
Here’s the thing. Strictly speaking, we could say that anything that you put in your dog’s body that has an ‘effect’, will also have ‘side-effects’. They may not be obvious, but medicines almost always have an effect on areas of the body that are not the target. Which is known as a ‘side-effect’. This is because it is almost impossible to design a medicine for swallowing or injecting into your tissues, that only acts on one part of the body.
No side effects = no effects
We mammals have amazing transport systems running throughout our bodies. Anything that is swallowed by your Labrador or injected into him has the potential to reach every part of him via his vast network of blood vessels. Every organ, every limb, every cell in his body will be influenced by what he has been given. Anything which claims to have zero side effects, in all probability has zero effects too.
What scientists strive to do, is to produce substances that have maximum ‘effect’ with minimum ‘side effects’. So if a drug has been tested and approved for use on your dog, most side effects will be one of two things
- So mild as to be irrelevant
- So rare as to be of little risk to your dog
Mild Side Effects Of Dog Medicines
Many side effects are very mild. A slight rise in temperature, feeling a bit nauseous or tired, that sort of thing. If the benefit from the drug is significant, then such side effects will be worth putting up with.
Rare Side Effects Of Dog Medicines
Every dog is unique. His body is unique, not only in its form and structure but in the experiences it has been subjected to throughout the animal’s life. Because all dogs are unique, every dog will have his own unique reaction to what is put inside his body.
So whilst, on the whole, different substances with similar properties will cause similar reactions in all dogs no-one can predict with any accuracy, exactly how your dog, or any other individual dog will react to a specific drug. There will be a tiny proportion of dogs that have significant side effects in any large group that has been treated with an effective medicine. And in some rare cases this side effect will be serious.
Concerns About Dog Medicine Side Effects
One phenomenon that may influence our perception of risk, is the very human tendency to shout about serious side effects. Whilst drugs are tested thoroughly to make sure that reactions are acceptably mild or acceptably rare, there is always the tiniest chance, that your dog could be the one to have a severe reaction to a drug.
When a dog receives a drug and become ill or even dies, the owner will want to warn the world. They will want to feel that some good, somewhere, will come out of their own experience. They will almost certainly tell everyone they know, and more besides.
When a dog receives a drug and remains perfectly well, the chances are his owner will tell precisely no-one. However, whilst most dogs will benefit from being treated with modern medicines, there is no getting away from the fact that, there is a risk of side effects from any effective drug Which is why I said at the beginning of this article, worm medicines and vaccinations do cause side effects. However, for these and most other medicines in general use, side-effects are either so mild, or so rare, that for most of us, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Whether or not your dog should receive any kind of medication is still however your choice, and your decision to make. And because you are emotionally involved, it isn’t always an easy one.
The Risks Of Dog Medication
Side effects are something we all need to consider before deciding to give our dogs (or those dependent upon us), powerful medicines. But we need to be aware that ‘fear’ of side effects and failure to give these medicines could be far more likely to cause damage or even to kill, than the medicines themselves. Medicines have been developed to help relieve horrible symptoms and cure horrible diseases. Every medicine licenced for use in the UK is available because, on balance, for most dogs, the benefits far outweigh the risk.
Vaccination are a special case, because here, we are treating a healthy dog, for something he might come into contact with in the future. It is natural for people to worry about giving something to a healthy dog that might, in very rare circumstances, make him ill. To read more about the benefits and risks of vaccinations, please check out this article, and talk to your vet. He or she will be aware of any factors which may alter the risk to your particular dog.
But what if you go ahead with allowing your dog to receive a drug, and he then gets sick? Should you just assume that the drug has made him ill?
Is My Dog Suffering From A Side Effect?
This is often not as straightforward as it seems. It is very natural to assume that because two things occur in the same timeframe, one was caused by the other. Many dog owners will conclude that the symptoms displayed by their dog, have been caused by the treatment he has just received. Frequently however, this is simply not the case.
The fact that your puppy vomits as he leaves the vet’s surgery could be related to any number of things. It could be that he caught a virus several days ago and is only just getting symptoms, it could be the plastic toy he ate in the garden that morning. Assuming that the vomiting is caused by the injection he just received may be very misleading.
The only way to be sure that a drug X causes symptom Y is to give drug X to lots of different dogs and see what happens. This is what drug testing involves.
Unfortunately, a piece of anecdotal evidence from a single dog, your dog, tells us absolutely nothing whatsoever. So does that mean you should ignore the symptoms? NO, it does not.
What To Do When Your Dog Reacts Badly To A Medicine
Every prescription based drug in the UK comes with information. This information includes not only dosage etc, but also the range of recorded ‘side-effects’ for that drug. Your vet will know, or be able to look up, whether or not the drug your dog was given causes ‘vomiting’ ‘lethargy’ or any of the other symptoms your dog might be displaying. He will also know the very best thing to do to help your dog. For this reason it is vital that you contact your vet and update him on your pet’s condition.
If you want to do some research before your appointment, check out the NOAH website NOAH is the National Office of Animal Health and has information on all the common companion animal medicines available in the UK
Whatever the reason, your vet needs to know if your dog is unwell. If your dog’s reaction is a side effect from the drug it should go on the vets records, as it may influence whether or not he needs to avoid that drug in the future. If appropriate, your vet will report your dog’s reaction to the drug company to help with the general gathering of information on that drug. This is important as it may help other dogs in the future.
Can Dog Medicines Have No Side Effects?
Beware of remedies that claim to have NO side effects on anyone, ever. Don’t forget, if there are no ‘side-effects’ whatsoever, then there are probably no ‘effects’. If there are no ‘effects’ then the medicine is ineffective. Giving your dog an ineffective remedy is worse than giving no remedy at all.
Post-operative Care for Labradors
It can be pretty scary bringing your Labrador home after an operation. He may still be woozy and unsteady on his feet. He might have a ‘bucket’ on his head to stop him chewing his stitches and this might be very upsetting for him. He definitely will not be himself.
Before you collect your dog from the veterinary surgery or hospital, you might find it helpful to write a list of questions that you want to ask your vet. It can be quite emotional collecting a sick dog and often all rational thought will desert you until later.
Important Questions To Ask Your Vet After Surgery
- Can I give him his medicine with food?
- When do his stitches need to come out?
- When can he start taking exercise again?
- What do I do if I am worried about him?
It is difficult to remember what was said when you are feeling upset or worried. If there is anything you are not sure about, ask before you leave the surgery. No question is too stupid. No worry too trivial. Once you get your dog home he will probably need to sleep off the anaesthetic in his system.
Caring For Your Labrador After Anaesthetic
Because Labradors are very sociable dogs, if you leave your dog’s bed in a busy family room he may keep staggering about and trying to join in. Most Labradors will happily sleep off the last of the anaesthetic if left in a quiet and preferable darkened room. Just pop in and check on him every now or then. You know your dog best though. If he is going to be happier and more relaxed next to you, then that is fine too.
Labradors And Bucket Cones
No one want to see their dog with a plastic bucket on its head. But these devices are important because if your dog can reach and chew at his stitches, infection may set in. This can really complicate your labrador’s recovery. If you dog manages to smash his bucket by trying to fit his head through small spaces, just give the vet a ring and pick up a replacement. Buckets are fairly robust nowadays and yours should last you a week or more.
Feeding Your Labrador After Surgery
It doesn’t matter if your dog won’t eat for a few hours after surgery. Unless your vet has specified other wise, offer him a little drink every now and then (take the bowl to him), and light meals only for the first 24 hours.
Concerns After Your Dog’s Surgery
Not everyone feels confident in the role of animal nurse. If you are worried, ring your vet. If wounds start bleeding or oozing, or limbs start swelling, phone your vet. If your dog seems to be getting worse rather than better. Do ring your vet. Your vet will not mind you phoning him for reassurance or advice. He is used to it. Make sure you have all the necessary phone numbers (out of hours cover etc) ready to hand.
Alternatives to Traditional Veterinarians
Are you considering alternatives to veterinary treatment for your Labrador? It can be terribly upsetting when feel that your dog is being let down by veterinary science. The fact is, vets are human and sometimes they make mistakes. And there are still diseases we cannot cure. There will always be individual animals that do not respond well to treatments that work for the majority.
There will probably always be a few dogs that react badly to vaccinations or that have other rare reactions to drugs which most dogs do not react to at all. Veterinary Science has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, but it is not perfect. So whilst most dogs do very well under the care of their veterinary surgeon, occasionally things do go wrong.
Alternatives To Veterinary Treatment
It is very natural when someone feels let down by conventional medicine, for them to look for alternatives. Not all of these alternative treatments will be helpful for your dog. Sorting the good from the bad can be very challenging. So, which way is a pet owner to turn?
The Professional Pet Therapist
A sensible starting point would seem to be a consultation with a professional and reputable therapist. Such a therapist would be someone that understands their own limitations. Someone who has a professional approach to his or her work and who knows when to refer your dog to someone more experienced, or more appropriate. Such a therapist would also be someone that is aware of the law and that works within it. And the UK law is particularly strict with regard to the treatment of animals
Who Can Offer Veterinary Care To Dogs?
Many pet owners are not aware that it is illegal in the UK for anyone other than a veterinary surgeon to diagnose illness or prescribe treatment for your animal. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 specifies that only registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (membership being identified by the letters MRCVS) may practice veterinary surgery. And this is not just about operations.
Alternative Therapies For Pets
Here is what the veterinary college have to say about other alternative therapies
“All other forms of complementary therapy in the treatment of animals, including homoeopathy, must be administered by veterinary surgeons. It is illegal, in terms of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, for lay practitioners however qualified in the human field, to treat animals. At the same time it is incumbent on veterinary surgeons offering any complementary therapy to ensure that they are adequately trained in its application.”
In other words, the majority of alternative therapies that you might want to try for your dog must be administered by a vet. Anyone else is strictly prohibited from diagnosing or treating your dog.
Treatments prohibited in this way include aromatherapy, acupuncture and homeopathy. It is illegal for anyone other than a vet, no matter how qualified they are, to treat your pet. If they offer to do so they are breaking the law. And presumably, if you accept their help, so are you.
Do Real Vets Offer Homeopathy And Herbal Remedies?
Whilst there have traditionally been vets that offer alternative therapies including controversial treatment systems like homeopathy, these numbers seem to be diminishing. Changes in regulation and in attitudes towards some alternative therapies from within the scientific community have precipitated these changes. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) now states that vets may only prescribe medicines if the medicine’s efficacy has been demonstrated. Which effectively eliminates some alternative remedies.
Your chances of getting any kind of alternative treatment from a vet will depend very much on where you live and the type of therapy you are interested in.
Treating Your Own Dog
So if your vet can’t or won’t treat your dog and no one else is allowed to, can you buy alternative remedies to treat him with yourself? Legally you are entitled to provide your own minor treatment for an animal that you own. So you can for example ‘worm’ your own dog, or treat a small cut. In addition, there is also provision under the Act for anyone in an emergency to administer life saving first aid to an animal or to act to relieve suffering.)
But essentially all you are allowed to provide in the way of home remedies is simple first aid and care for minor ailments. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 you are legally responsible for ensuring that your dog receives qualified veterinary attention if he is sick. And that means getting him to a vet.
Online Help And Advice For Pet Treatment
What about online help and advice? You see plenty of this flying around internet forums, and from time to time you may even find alternative practitioners promoting the sale of their remedies and offering consultations via forums and other social media. It is worth considering that anyone promoting their own remedies on an internet forum or website is sailing very close to the wind with regard to the law. In the UK, legally, they may not diagnose a problem in anyone else’s dog, nor can they offer treatment for anyone else’s dog.
If you find a practitioner promoting themselves online you might want to consider this. If they are charging for consultations and/or asking you to fill in a questionnaire or consult with them by email before they will sell you a remedy, then they are probably breaking the law because they are attempting to make a diagnosis of your dog’s problem.
Is There An Alternative To Veterinary Treatment?
The way things stand in the United Kingdom at the moment with regards to alternative veterinary treatment, is that it is only available through your vet. You can take your children to a homeopathic practitioner but not your dog. And that is the bottom line.
The Right Vet Care For Your Labrador
The right vet to care for your Labrador will be professional, experienced and fair. She will treat your dog with kindness, give appropriate treatments and offer well reasoned advice. You might find her at the end of your road, or a 30 minute drive away. You might sometimes want second opinions on her judgements, but you should always trust her to do her best.
Your dog is precious, and it’s okay to question what you are told. Make sure you get all of the information you need on your dog’s illness and don’t be afraid to contact your vet if you ever have any questions or concerns that might impact upon their health.
More information on puppies
For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.
Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
It will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialization and early obedience.
You can buy The Happy Puppy Handbook from Amazon by following this link. If you do, The Labrador Site will receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated and won’t affect the cost to you!
References and Resources
- Brown Dog Foundation
- Magic Bullet Fund, Facebook
- The Magic Bullet Fund
- Blue Cross
- PDSA, Facebook
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website