Canadian Veterans: dealing with ABI and PTSD

Soldier in combat
photo credit: C. Maxwell Horn via photopin cc

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

Travelling to a foreign country to engage in combat. Witnessing injuries, death and destruction on a regular basis. Forced to endure tough living conditions. Is it any wonder members of the Canadian armed forces who see action return home not only with physical, but with mental and emotional trauma as well?

Broken bones and musculoskeletal injuries can be healed. More challenging however, are the emotional afflictions men and women in the armed services can suffer, and surely among the most devastating is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

soldiers on the field - looking sad
photo credit: 4 Cdn Div/4 Div CA – JTFC/FOIC via photopin cc

PTSD has been much in the news over the last few years, which could give the mistaken impression that it is a new condition.

In fact, PTSD has been around for a very long time, but under different names. Among these were “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.” I remember my mother telling me about a great-uncle of a friend of hers, explaining that he had seen action in WWII and was ‘never the same again’. “He was shell-shocked and couldn’t do much after the war was over,” she used to tell me, shaking her head. While the name has become more clinical, the symptoms remain the same., PTSD is defined as:

A debilitating psychological condition triggered by a major traumatic event, such as rape, war, a terrorist act, death of a loved one, a natural disaster, or a catastrophic accident. It is marked by upsetting memories or thoughts of the ordeal,”blunting” of emotions,increased arousal, and sometimes severe personality changes”.

2 army women doing deep breathing exercises
photo credit: MilitaryHealth via photopin cc

Symptoms

Most people have been involved in a frightening situation at some point in their lives, and reactions vary from person to person. Some might feel nervous at times, while others might have a difficult time sleeping as they go over the details of the incident in their minds. Over time, symptoms usually decrease, and sufferers affected eventually return to their normal lives.

However, in the case of PTSD, the effects last a considerably longer time and can seriously disrupt a person’s life.

Doctors refer to three symptoms that define PTSD: intrusion, avoidance and hyperarousal. Intrusion is the inability to keep memories of the event that sparked it from returning. Avoidance refers to the attempt to avoid anything that may trigger those memories, and hyperarousal is the constant feeling that danger or disaster is imminent. These may also be accompanied by an inability to concentrate, extreme irritability or sometimes violent behaviour.

Those affected can experience recurring nightmares, flashbacks or recollections of the event or incident. They can feel “on edge” all the time, have difficulty in concentrating, be irritable and have problems sleeping . A common symptom among veterans is something known as nocturnal myoclonus, a sudden spasm of the whole body while sleeping or drifting off into sleep. It lasts for about a fraction of a second, but may occur several times in a single night. Often people with PTSD will sleep through such a spasm, but it can be extremely disturbing to their partner.

People suffering from PTSD may also feel disconnected from their thoughts and have a hard time expressing emotions. It can lead to depression, substance abuse and create problems in a person’s personal life. Suicide is often seen as the only way out.

Not surprisingly, those in certain occupations, such as policing, firefighting and the military have much higher rates of PTSD than those in other professions. And in some cases, trauma such as warfare can cause symptoms even beyond those commonly associated with PTSD, resulting in a state known as “complex PTSD.”

members of the military doing yoga
photo credit: MilitaryHealth via photopin cc

Brain Injury and PTSD

A study released by the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in February 2012, reported of a possible correlation between acquired brain injuries and PTSD, suggesting that people who suffer even a mild brain injury are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.

UCLA professor of psychology Michael Fanselow found that this relationship was particularly prevalent among veterans who had returned from overseas. The reasons for the connection are not yet fully clear. Nevertheless, in an experiment with rats, scientists used procedures to separate physical and emotional trauma, training the rats by using “fear conditioning” techniques two days after they had experienced a concussive brain trauma, thereby demonstrating that the brain injury and the experience of fear had occurred on two separate days. As Dr. Fanselow explained:

We found that the rats with the earlier TBI acquired more fear than control rats (without TBI). Something about the brain injury rendered them more susceptible to acquiring an inappropriately strong fear. It was as if the injury primed the brain for learning to be afraid.

Canadian Armed Forces in front of the Parliament Buildings
photo credit: Jamie In Bytown via photopin cc

Standard Treatments

According to Boston’s Mayo Clinic, the primary treatment of PTSD is psychotherapy but this is also frequently combined with medication. Psychotherapy can include any of the following types:

  • Cognitive therapy. This type helps patients recognize the ways of thinking (cognitive patterns) that are hindering the healing process.
  • Exposure therapy. This type helps patients safely face what is causing them such distress so they are able to cope with it more effectively.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movements that helps patients react better to traumatic memories.

New Treatment

The Canadian military has come under criticism for its seeming neglect in both the recognition and treatment of PTSD ex-soldiers are still feeling the effects of combat. Last November, three veterans took their own lives over the course of a week, bringing the total to more than 22 since the mission in Afghanistan ended.

Nevertheless, a story from CTV News in March of 2014 reported a new treatment being tested that so far, is producing positive results. Developed by the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, it involves the notion of virtual reality in which a sufferer affixes a device to his or her head which simulates the circumstances that brought about the trauma in the first place. The therapist can then talk the patient through the ordeal, thus helping them to overcome it.

The federal government is now in discussion with ICT in order to develop a Canadian version.  The ultimate goal is not just to treat afflictions such as PTSD but to also train soldiers before going into battle, helping them to experience the sense of combat before they embark on the real thing.

PTSD can be both debilitating and life-threatening, but there is hope. If you know someone you suspect is suffering from PTSD urge them to seek help.

Those afflicted may find it difficult, for stigmas surrounding mental health issues continue to persist. Yet seeking help is the first step to recovery and it is readily available through such organizations as Canadian Mental Health. Suicide is most definitely not the solution. Those who have served in the Canadian armed forces have served their country well, and deserve whatever we can give them to continue leading happy and successful lives.

PTSD AWARENESS

Resources

If you think you or someone you know has PTSD or needs other mental health supports:

‘Blast lab’ could help researchers learn more about war-related brain trauma

photo credit: The U.S. Army via photopin cc

The stats are nothing short of staggering:  23 per cent of deployed Canadian soldiers live with the effects of brain injury. In the U.S., limited research suggests that 10 to 20 per cent of combat troops experienced brain injury during their deployment.

Despite this, there is no sure-fire diagnostic test to determine whether a soldier has suffered a brain injury in the battlefield. Persistent concussion symptoms, which some scientists believe are the result of blasts from improvised explosive devices, remain a medically disputed area.

Ibolja Cernak, professor and chair in military and veterans’ clinical rehabilitation at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, says much more research needs to take place.

“We are still quite far from understanding how [war-related brain] injury happens,” she told the Edmonton Sun.

soldier with gun on dirt road
photo credit: isafmedia via photopin cc

Which is why the University of Alberta is opening a Centre for Traumatic Brain Injury and Military Research, thanks to a $481,000 donation from the Alberta and Northwest Territories branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

“What we hope to learn is exactly which mechanisms are involved, when they start to be activated,” Cernak told the Edmonton Journal. “Can we actually pre-train soldiers to be more resilient to those injury mechanisms? And finally, can we find and develop a material which would provide better protection?”

The causes of war-related brain injury are disputed. Research published in 2008 by Veterans Affairs Canada refers to the “unproven concern” that “pure blast energy from ambush weapons” can lead to brain injury. Yet, the Edmonton Journal states:

…  repetitive low-intensive blasts trigger the release of hormones and oscillate blood pressure, which can damage multiple organs. In the brain, a slow cascade can move through neural pathways on the molecular level, leading to premature aging, degeneration and effects similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1995, Cernak, who had started working as a first responder in the Kosovo conflict, began to collect blood samples from the soldiers she was treating. Using other, non-injured soldiers as a control group, she was looking for biological markers which could indicate recovery.

Cernak said she was shocked to find that one year post-injury, injured soldiers continued to report memory, motor, balance and speech problems. Even now, despite 28-years of neuropathology under her belt, Cernak says she can’t cure these symptoms.

photo credit: TORCH MAGAZINE via photopin cc
photo credit: TORCH MAGAZINE via photopin cc

The Centre’s facilities will include a nine-meter long “shock tube” which will stimulate the explosive sounds and kinetic energy that come from improvised explosive devices soldiers encounter in the battlefield. Using rodents, scientists will examine what happens to the body and brain when exposed to these conditions.

Researchers say they hope the lab will also benefit those who have suffered a brain injury as the result of a motor vehicle accident or sports injury.

Ibolja Cernak via Ibolja Cernak Linked In
Ibolja Cernak via Ibolja Cernak Linked In

“It’s so important to have a relatively complex and demanding laboratory setting because that speeds up the transfer of knowledge that can potentially benefit so many,” Cernak told the Edmonton Sun. “We are not doing science for science’s sake. We are doing science for soldiers’ sake.”

Sources: Edmonton Journal + Edmonton Sun + npr.orgUniversity of Alberta

Lest We Forget: What to do on Remembrance Day in Toronto

Soldiers in uniform with poppies
photo credit: Shreyans Bhansali via photopin cc

The recent, tragic deaths of Canadian soldiers Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant officer Patrice Vincent, both killed on Canadian soil, are stark reminders of the sacrifices, risks and contributions our military men and women make every day.

To recognize our military personnel and veterans, Brain Injury Blog TORONTO will focus on veterans and brain injury this month, starting with this guide on Remembrance Day events in Toronto. Military men and women do a lot for us. Let’s honour them and give a little back.

Saturday, Nov. 8

A Concert of Remembrance - Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation – 7:30 p.m.
Yorkminister Park Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge St. (2 blocks north of St. Clair Ave.)

Queen’s Own Rifles Day – Casaloma – 10 a..m. – 5 p.m.
1 Austin Terrace (Spadina Ave. and Davenport Rd.)
Casaloma will pay tribute to Remembrance Day with WWI and WWII re-enactments, displays and military exercises by the Queen’s Own Rifles. FREE admission to active and retired military with valid military ID, otherwise tickets are $14 for kids, $24 for adults.

Poppies on a war memorial
photo credit: Pandora’s Perspective via photopin cc

Sunday, Nov. 9

Soldiers of WWI – Remembrance and Coffee Hour Display - 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. 
28 Fairlawn Avenue (Yonge, North of Lawrence)
This Sunday, the church’s service will focus on the men and women of WWI, followed by a coffee hour with a photo display of military personnel from the period.

 Memorial Service at the Mount Dennis Royal Canadian Legion - 2 – 3:15 p.m.
1050 Weston Road (South of Eglinton)

Tuesday, Nov. 11 – REMEMBRANCE DAY 

Legislative Buildings, Queens Park – 10:45 a.m.
The Province of Ontario hosts a Remembrance Day service each year in front of the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial, which remembers the sacrifices of every man and woman in the province who served in the military during times of war and peace.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at Remembrance Day service
photo credit: Premier of Ontario Photography via photopin cc

City of Toronto events

The City of Toronto runs Remembrance Day events at its civic centres in East YorkEtobicoke, North York and Scarborough. 

You can also find city-run events at:

Fort York, – Strachan Military Cemetery on Garrison Common – 10:45 a.m.
Public gathers at: Strachan Avenue Military cemetery (Front St. and Garrison St.)
Starting at the west gates of Fort York, period uniformed military staff and standards bearers of the Imperial Daughters of the Empire (IODE) Toronto Municipal Chapter will lead a procession which will end at the Strachan Avenue Military Cemetry at 11 a.m. Fort York’s service will remember all Toronto soldiers who have fallen since the war of 1812.

Toronto City Hall – Cenotaph – 11 .a.m.
60 Queen St. East (at Bay St.)

Kew Gardens – Cenotaph – 11 a.m.
2075 Queen St. East (at Lee St.)

Online Resources:

Fairlawn United Church has an online display of men and women of WWI from their church’s community here. They also challenge anyone who has pictures of people of WWI to find out more about that person. (Don’t be intimidated, they also provide useful links on how to do the research.)

Veterans Affairs Canada has a timeline of Canada’s roles in war and peacekeeping missions since WWI. The site also allows you to send an e-card for peace to known email addresses, and has a social media Remembrance Day guide. They are encouraging 11 minutes of social media silence on Nov. 11 at 11:01 a.m. 

Sources: City of TorontoVeterans Affairs

Community Meeting Round-Up: Variety Village Fitness Club

Picture of Sherri Risto Wood
SHERRI RISTO (WOOD); PHOTO: MERI PERRA

At our October community meeting, BIST members had the opportunity to find out how Variety Village can help keep us in shape. Sherri Risto (Wood), Variety Village’s coordinator of rehabilitation to community and education, talked about Variety Village’s amazing  facilities which are open to all abilities and for all ages.

Where is it?

Variety Village is located at 3701 Danforth Ave, just east of Birchmount. To get there by TTC, take the 12A bus from Kennedy Station, which goes straight to their front door.

What’s there?

Facilities at Variety Village include:

The Fieldhouse

PHOTO: VARIETY VILLAGE
PHOTO: VARIETY VILLAGE
  • A 200 meter track, made with MondoTrack foam, with lanes for walking, running and wheelchairs.
  • Parallel bars
  • Wood-floored basketball courts
  • A cardio and weight room with fully accessible equipment

The Aquatic Centre

PHOTO: VARIETY VILLAGE
PHOTO: VARIETY VILLAGE
  • A warm pool, kept at 84ºC with bridge blocks separating the deep and shallow ends
  • A deep end that’s 4.27 meters, with accessible entrances such as a chair lift, built-in stairs and a ramp
  • Pool walking programs, which are easier to do than being on land but offer the benefits of the water’s resistance, which helps develop muscle
  • A hot pool to relax in, kept at 90ºC

Programs

Some of Variety Village’s programs are fee for service, and others are included with the cost of membership. They include:

  • TaiChi
  • Aquafit
  • Chair Fitness and Seated Zumba
  • T.I.M.E (Together in Movement and Exercise) – an exercise program designed for people with balance and mobility challenges, including brain injury survivors
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
PHOTO: VARIETY VILLAGE
PHOTO: VARIETY VILLAGE

How much does it cost?

Membership at Variety Village depends on factors such as age (they have adult, youth, child and senior memberships) and income. Folks on social assistance such as ODSP can get a subsidized rate of $210 a year (or $17.50 a month.) Find out about their other membership rates here.

Variety Village
3701 Danforth Avenue (east of Birchmount)
Scarborough, Ontario
416-699-7167

BIST’s next community meeting will be on Monday, Nov. 24 from 6-8 p.m. (topic TBA) at the Northern District Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd 

Everything you ever wanted to know about service dogs – wagging tails and all

black lab service dog

BY: RICHARD HASKELL

service dog in subway
photo credit: roboppy via photopin cc

I was accompanying a colleague to a concert a year or so ago, when she happened to spot a friend of her’s in the crowd.

“Oh, there’s Joan,” she said to me, indicating a woman taking her seat not far from us. Indeed, Joan was not difficult to miss, for she too, had a companion with her. But despite joining Joan for the concert, the companion had little interest in it, nor would she have had to dress up for the occasion. Have you guessed who Joan’s companion was? She was Talullah, a gorgeous black Labrador retriever service dog, who goes everywhere with her visually impaired handler.

Many of us know that service dogs may be admired but not pet or approached in a way we’d approach most other animals. Their function, after all, is to guide and be the eyes, ears or brain of their owners.

During intermission, my colleague and I went over to greet Joan, who turned out to be a lovely lady with a huge smile. I said to her, “I love your dog, but I know that we aren’t supposed to demonstrate any degree of familiarity with a working animal, so I’ll refrain from petting her.” Joan replied: “Oh, Talullah loves people, she wouldn’t mind a bit.” In an instant, my hand was being covered in doggy kisses!

It’s probably impossible to estimate how many dogs there are in service in Canada, but the Lions Foundation of Canada – one of the foremost training facilities in the country – claims that more than 2000 teams have graduated from their organization. Service dogs differ from working or therapy dogs in that their function is to help and guide a specific handler who might have anything from a visual or hearing impairment to a brain injury, mental illness, seizures or autism. There are no breed requirements for service dogs, the only criteria are that they are of good temperament and psychological make-up, are in good health and, most importantly, can be trained easily. For obvious reasons, larger breeds such as German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have long been preferred due to their size, strength and endurance.

black lab service dog
photo credit: State Farm via photopin cc

 A Mini History

Dorothy Eustis with service dog
Dorothy Eustis and Morris Frank; photo credit: National Women’s History Museum 

Details are hazy as to the origins of service dogs, but it seems they began in post World War I Germany where German Shepherds were trained to provide assistance to those blinded in the conflict. This particular breed was felt to possess a degree of loyalty towards its owner and with it, a strong protective sense. Around the same time, an American woman by the name of Dorothy Eustis heard about the program. She had been training German Shepherds as working dogs and soon began to train them as guides for the blind. Writing about her endeavours in the Saturday Evening Post, Eustis attracted the attention of Morris Frank, a visually impaired man from Nashville who wrote to her asking her to train a dog for him. She did so, and Mr. Frank became the first person to make use of a guide dog. As part of the arrangement, Frank started to train dogs as well, and his efforts blossomed into a foundation dubbed The Seeing Eye.

Training Service Dogs 

The first service dog organization in Canada was the MIRA Foundation, a community-based institution founded in Quebec by Eric St-Pierre in 1981. Each year, MIRA places roughly 150 service dogs with individuals across Canada and around the world. In 1991, MIRA created a guide dog program for visually impaired children, and to date is the only school in the world to provide guide dogs to those under age the age of 15.

At MIRA, the training process begins when puppies are just seven-weeks-old. Once selected, they are placed with a foster family who help them socialize and prepare for guide and service dog training in many different environments. The training family ensures the dog is involved in all its daily routines so that they grow accustomed to navigating places such as shopping malls, public transit and street traffic.

service dogs in training, sitting on steps
photo credit: Beverly & Pack via photopin cc

Once the year–long training period has ended, dogs return to MIRA to continue training with potential handlers. Dogs are matched according to the personality and lifestyle of the new owner.

Joan, a retired librarian, acquired Tallullah (or Mrs. T) from the Oregon-based Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Joan chose GDB because she says its training program uses positive reinforcement and there is ongoing staff support once the handler training is complete. At the outset, Joan spent considerable time with Talullah, so that they could get to know each other. In the end, the lovable Mrs. T seemed a perfect match.

Man walking service dog
photo credit: smerikal via photopin cc

Joan wrote about their life together after her retirement:

Since April 2010, Tallulah and I have had many adventures and travelled to Paris, Vienna, Prague, Leipzig, London, Oxford, and Dublin.  She has a European Passport and logs passport stamps just as I do.  We returned at the end of the summer to Oxford and stayed at the same place we stayed at two years ago.  She remembered and recognized the places we had visited.  With a tilt of her head, she would ask, “Would you like to go here?”

Tallulah has given me a measure of freedom that I did not have before.  She is the closest thing to seeing!  I can walk with freedom, take the subway (she finds me a seat), walk on to a plane with her, attend concerts, and go shopping (she finds my favourite departments and sales staff).  I did all of these things before, but Tallulah makes it easy!

As we’ve all seen, service dogs are sturdy, friendly and fiercely loyal to their human companions. Yes, they may look eager for a pat or a hug, but they’re there to do a job and fulfill a role. And contrary to popular opinion, they aren’t only for the severely impaired or for those at the end of a life-threatening illness.

Many people, including brain injury survivors, find the use of a service dog invaluable, helping to make their lives easier with the aim at achieving the ultimate goal of self -sufficiency. During their 100 year history, service dogs have been the eyes, ears, nose, legs and brains of their handlers, providing invaluable, and in some cases, life-saving assistance. Long may they continue to help those who need it, they’re most definitely more than just a friendly bark or a wagging tail!

Think you’d like a service dog? Stay tuned for our up-coming post on ‘How to get a service dog in Ontario’

How to have a pet on a budget: useful resources

Ok, so we know that pets cost money. But there are ways you can cut down on expenses and provide your animal companion with everything he or she needs. Here’s our list of resources that can help.

dog is superman costume
photo credit: prawnpie via photopin cc

Pet Food Banks

If times are tight, you can go to a pet food bank for free pet food. Unfortunately there are only two pet food banks in Toronto – and both are downtown. Though at times, your local food bank may have pet food as well.

The Toronto Humane Society operates both pet food banks:

The Toronto Humane Society (Mon – Fri, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sat-Sun, 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.) 11 River Street, Toronto (at Queen)

St. James Town Community Corner (2nd Thursday of the month, 12 p.m.-3 p.m.) 200 Wellesley Street East (at Parliament)

Veterinary Care

The Toronto Humane Society operates a low-cost, high volume spay and neuter clinic. The clinic prioritizes cats due to the high numbers of stray felines in town, though dog care is occasionally available. Also, people on financial assistance such as ODSP, Ontario Works, or CPP get a discounted rate.

The Farley Foundation provides financial assistance up to $1,000 a year to cover veterinary fees for people in Ontario who are on various forms of social assistance, such as ODSP. Medical procedures must be non-elective (necessary) and not part of an animal’s routine care (for example, the Farley Foundation does not provide assistance for food.)

Animal Rescue Groups

Animal rescue groups are volunteer-run organizations dedicated to keeping homeless animals off the streets, and out of shelters (where they will likely be caged, and if not adopted in a certain time period, possibly euthanized). Rescue groups tend to have no-kill policies, and animals are ‘fostered’ in volunteers’ homes until they are adopted.

Dog Rescue Groups

Canada’s Guide to Dogs has an online listing of canine rescue groups here - organizations include breed rescues (such as pugs) to your general, run-of-the-mill, awesome muts.

Dog in store looking at camera
photo credit: jumping lab via photopin cc

Cat Rescue Groups

Toronto Cat Rescue - The Toronto Cat Rescue says they usually have around 300 cats waiting for adoption at any given time. While the cost of adopting a cat is $175, if you adopt a cat older than 8-years-old, it’s pay-what-you-choose. Cost includes spay or neuter, vaccination and six weeks of pet insurance.

Annex Cat Rescue – The Annex Cat Rescue started as a group of dedicated cat vollies in  Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood almost two decades ago, but has since spread throughout the city. They say their adoption fee is ‘modest’ and includes vaccination, microchip, de-worming and four weeks of pet insurance. Right now, you can adopt a special needs cat for $80.

Forgotten Ones Cat Rescue – Forgotten Ones Cat Rescue charges $175 for cat adoption and $225 for kittens. Adoption fee includes: pet insurance for 30 days, vaccinations, physical exam, flea treatment, ear mite exam and treatment, feline leukemia and FIV test, spay or neuter and de-worming.

Cat Busters - Cat busters holds regular adoption sessions at Pet Valu stores in Toronto. Adoption fee includes six weeks of pet insurance, de-flea treatment, de-worming, or ear mite treatment, spay or neuter, and vaccinations as deemed necessary.

People With AIDS (PWA)

PWA provides a variety of services to assist people living with HIV/AIDs in caring for their pets such as:

  • Referrals to vets in Toronto who provide free or reduced cost veterinary services
  • The option to use $300 which PWA provides annually to its members on items their pet needs
  • Free pet food and supplies available at PWA’s Essentials Market
cat with half black and half brown face
photo credit: Tjflex2 via photopin cc

 For more information, see our post on How to have a pet on a budget here and be sure to tell us about the awesome animal(s) in your life via our Pet Photo Contest here

How to have a pet on a budget

RE-PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE TORONTO HUMANE SOCIETY NEWSLETTER

BY: MAKYLA DELEO

The costs associated with owning a pet can vary widely – based on the species, breed, age, and even the area in which you live. But, costs are inevitable and should be included in your budget before you make the decision to add a new member to the family.

Cat playing in green tube
photo credit: Mr.TinDC via photopin cc

 

A recent report by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association puts the overall cost of owning a dog for 13 years at about $29,000, and close to $24,000 to own a cat for 15 years. This breaks down to between $150 – $180 per month for the average pet owner. A little less expensive are bunnies and other smaller species, but you are still looking at about $450 a year for just the basics.

While the above costs include pet insurance payments, they do not include emergency medical expenses which can easily enter into the thousands if your pet is injured or severely ill. They also do not include many of the one-time expenses that owners encounter such as purchasing a crate or getting the animal spayed or neutered.

So how can you save money on your pet expenses?

Start by choosing a pet from your local rescue organization. These animals should already have been spayed or neutered, received their initial vaccines and deworming, as well as had a microchip implanted – all included in the adoption fee.

If you are interested in getting a dog, remember that size does make a difference in costs. Larger animals eat more, and medical bills may also be higher. In terms of energy level, a lower energy dog may be able to make it through the work day without the need for a dog walker or doggy daycare services.

Pay attention to their coat. Fluffy dogs and cats look fantastic when their fur is in tip-top shape, but keeping them well-coiffed may mean spending a fortune at the groomers.

dog whose body is in a big bag of dog food
photo credit: RichardTurnerPhotography via photopin cc

Clip coupons and shop wisely. Pet foods often go on sale, and many stores offer frequent buyer cards for your favorite pet food brand. If cash is extremely tight reach out to your local food bank to see if they offer pet foods. The Toronto Humane Society operates two pet food banks – one at our 11 River Street location and one in St. James Town.

Bargain hunt. Look for gently used toys and crates at garage sales or online ads, but make sure you sanitize any purchases thoroughly before sharing with your pet.

Get creative. There are tons of ideas on the web for making homemade toys for our pets. It’s less costly than buying a ready-made toy and better yet, you made it with love.

dog chewing toy
photo credit: sachman75 via photopin cc

Barter services. Need a dog walker or kitty sitter while you are away but don’t have the cash on hand? Try to barter with a friend or family member with something you are good at – such as housecleaning, baking, or handyman jobs – and exchange it for pet care services.

Shop around for your veterinary clinic. Prices can vary widely, even between clinics that are located close to each other. While your confidence in the staff is very important, remember that a higher cost does not always equal a better service.

Purchase pet health insurance. This will add a bit on to your monthly budget, but will be a lifeline in an emergency situation, and could mean the difference between keeping or losing your companion.

cat looking at a mouse
photo credit: cloud_nine via photopin cc

Access low-cost services where available. The Toronto Humane Society offers low-cost vaccination and spay/neuter services, with special prices for individuals receiving a government subsidy. Keeping your pet up to date on their vaccines and ensuring they have been spayed or neutered will reduce the likelihood of them falling ill due to a preventable disease.

Brush their teeth. A major veterinary expense is dental care. Do your best to reduce or eliminate the need for a dental cleaning by keeping your pet’s mouth in shape at home.

Not everyone has the means to own a pet, and you should never take on the responsibility for an animal if you are not able to provide for its care, but using these tips might make pet ownership in reach for you and your family.

Be sure to check out our resources page for more information on how to have a pet on a budget and remember to brag about the animal(s) in your life on our Facebook page