Choosing Pet Health Insurance

Pet health insurance can be helpful for pet parents. Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, has made considerable technological advancements, so vet bills can be higher than we plan for. You may want to ask your vet about specific insurance companies. In the meantime, here are some factors to consider. Several types of coverage are available, as described below.


Illness coverage is somewhat like human life insurance, in that the premiums increase as your pet ages: the older the pet, the higher the cost. Coverage may be limited to a specified set of illnesses. However, with certain types of coverage, you may be able to lock in a specific rate.

2-03 Lapsi Insurance costs less for a young pet, like this terrier puppy.

28-03 Sarah old The cost is more for an older pet, like this senior pug.


Vet care for accidents can be costly, making an already stressful situation even worse. Accident policies are the most common form of pet insurance, and are usually available regardless of the pet’s age.

Wellness Exams

Wellness insurance covers or subsidizes the costs of routine check-ups for your pet. Factors to consider include your financial situation, where you live, and what procedures your vet includes in wellness exams.

What to Look For When Choosing an Insurer:  Below are some criteria to consider when looking for companies with the most suitable range of services and features.

Customer Service

Filing insurance claims may be frustrating and stressful, so good customer service is very helpful. For example, what is required to file a claim? Can you email a claim? How quickly do representatives respond to claims or questions? How easy is it to navigate through the company’s website?

Coverage Guidelines

Look for a company that provides a no-nonsense guide to waiting periods, pre-existing conditions, treatment coverage, and types of insurance available.


Costs vary widely depending on your location and your pet’s needs. To determine the exact cost of a policy in advance, ask your vet to send each potential insurance provider a full copy of your pet’s medical records.

Ask how reimbursements and deductibles are structured, as these vary among providers. Ask as many questions as you need to get a full picture of how claims are handled.


Some providers try to make your experience with them as simple as possible. “Live chat” features and easy website navigation tools help make for a hassle-free experience. Other options may include cloud-based storage for pet medical records, appointment schedulers, mobile apps and online claims tracking.

Choosing Which Pet Insurance Is Right for You

To choose which plan is best for you and your furry friend, consider the above, as well as any other issues unique to your particular situation.

A helpful resource with reviews of various pet insurance plans is available at:

Note: This article is based on information provided by


If you have a dog, or if you know of an organization whose members may benefit from having an easily available, free resource for dogs’ health information, please read the following. (In the interest of full disclosure: I have not tested this site because a smart phone is required to access it.)

Promote Ask.Vet at your organization and on social media to increase adoptions and lower the chance of a returned animal. Adopters can ask any general health related questions anytime during the life of their pet:

  • Ask about potential medical conditions as a pet ages. What conditions is an older pet likely to get and what are the potential costs of managing those conditions?
  • Ask about dietary concerns: What is the best type of food to feed your pet?
  • Ask about vaccinations that will be needed during the life of your pet.
  • Ask about exercise: What is the ideal distance per week your pet should be walked? (With the Walk for a Dog app of course!)
  • Ask how best to introduce your new pet into a home with other pets.
  • Ask about flea & tick prevention


Pugs, Pugs, Pugs!

Non-pug events have taken over my life for a while, so for today, I’ll just share some pug photos that other folks have posted on the internet. You may want to check out their websites for more photos. Another website with many, many links to pug photos is

The photos I’ve chosen (below) show the variety and versatility of this breed.

The most usual colors of pugs are black and fawn; fawn is the most common.

23- Black & fawn pugs

Photo from


About 10 percent of pugs are black.

23-2 young black pug

photo from


Pugs also come in a shade of fawn called “apricot.”

23-apricot pug

Photo from


Pugs will make you laugh.

23-4 laughing pug

photo from


Like the one below, for instance.

23- pug sleeps on back

photo from


Many pugs tolerate or even like to be dressed up.

This lovely lady shows off her Halloween costume.

23-5 Pug costume

photo from


This one is dressed up as a pug!

23-6 pug dressed as pug

photo from


Pugs love to snuggle with each other, as well as with their humans.

23-7 baby pugs snuggle

photo from


Nevertheless, some pugs are quite athletic.

23-8 athletic pug

photo from


While others are not….

23-9 obese pug

photo from

Whatever they look like, pugs are easy to love!

Dog vs. Human: Who Smells Better?

22-02 four-dog-snouts

Photo above from:

22-01 human nose                     22-03 another Human Nose

Nose on left from:

 Nose on right from:

The post from March 9, 2016 (The Pug Smells!) focused on how dogs with small, short snouts, such as pugs and their brachycephalic brethren, cannot detect scents as well as dogs with large, long snouts, such as Basset hounds and bloodhounds. You may recall that pugs’ snouts simply don’t have enough space to accommodate as many scent receptors as those of bigger dogs. (With the sense of smell, size evidently does matter.)

Nevertheless, in comparison to my own ability to detect scents, even pugs excel. Their noses easily detect odors (particularly of edible items) that I don’t even notice. In fact, scientists have learned that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute as that of humans.

A couple of scientists put this difference into perspective:

Working from the lower estimate of a dog’s sense of smell being “only” 10,000 times better than that of humans, the former director of Florida State University’s Sensory Research Institute, James Walker, explained, “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.” (cited in Dogs’ Dazzling Sense of Smell by Peter Tyson, NOVA scienceNOW, posted 10/04/12 at

Another analogy is provided by Alexandra Horowitz, an animal behaviourist who studies dog cognition at Barnard College in New York City: “We might notice if our coffee’s been sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar;”22-08 coffee-cup

Photo from

[but] “a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar diluted in a million gallons of water: two Olympic-sized pools full.”  (Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. 2009. Scribner. p. 72.)

   22-09 swimming pool - Copy     22-09 swimming pool - Copy

Photos from

The difference in smelling ability between humans and dogs is partly due to the number of scent receptors: about 5 or 6 million for a human vs. 100 million or more for a dog. But a dog has other anatomic and physiological advantages as well. These advantages are explained by Tyson (cited above) and by Horowitz (cited above, pp. 67-74.) I’ll try to summarize these advantages here:

First, unlike a human’s nose, a dog’s nose stays wet.

22-11 wet nose   Photo from

Airborne odor molecules stick to the wet nose, and they’re easily licked into the mouth. From there, they’re carried on through the rest of the dog’s olfactory apparatus.

But before the scent molecules move much past the nostrils, the dog can sniff and snort and move the scent-laden air around. He can also widen or narrow his nostrils to help direct the air flow. A dog’s nostrils, unlike those of humans, are open at the sides; they look somewhat like vents.22-12 nose vents
22-13 nose vents

(Brown dog nose from and black dog nose from Black Dog’s Black Nose on the End of His Black Snout, by Quin, Liam R.E.: Mars and Reuben (2007) at×683.html)

The anatomy of a dog’s nostrils actually helps make it possible for him to know which nostril an odor enters from! So, from the very beginning, a dog has a great clue to which direction he should go to find the source of an incoming odor.

Moreover, as the air enters a dog’s nose, it doesn’t just go straight through the throat to the lungs, as ours does. Instead, it splits along two separate pathways: Part of it goes to the lungs for breathing, and part goes to the dog’s olfactory area, which is loaded with scent receptors. (You can find Brent Craven’s excellent copyrighted diagram of the two air flow patterns at

When the odor-laden air gets to the back of a dog’s nasal passage, it encounters the vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ. This organ is especially sensitive to pheromones released by other animals, often in their urine. Pheromones are hormone-like chemical substances that convey information about the sex and sexual readiness of the dog who released them.

22-14 vomeronasal organ

Diagram from

(Obviously this diagram is not of a pug!)

A dog has still more advantages in the sense of smell. With vision and hearing, the input must be processed through intermediary organs (in the eyes and ears) before it goes to the brain. With the sense of smell, however, a dog’s nose receptors have a direct route to the specific area of the brain where olfactory data are interpreted. As Alexandra Horowitz says, “[The dog’s] nose is also the fastest route by which information can get to the brain.” (Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. 2009. Scribner. p. 72.).

And – if that weren’t enough – the olfactory section of the brain is “approximately 40 times larger in dogs than in humans, relative to total brain size.” (from The Dog’s Amazing Nose! at ).

So it’s no wonder that our pugs astound me with their ability to out-smell me every day (not that I want to be able to smell everything that they can).

17-01 Sarah & Harley pee

But what do they really smell for when they search for the perfect place to pee?


The Pug Smells!

Do you know how a pug smells? If you’re expecting a discussion of the odor of a pug, that’s very simple: It depends on what the little critter has gotten into and how long ago he had his last bath. But today’s topic is the sense of smell.

Previously, I’ve focused on some health effects of the pug’s squished snout. That short snout also affects how well the pug can smell. That’s because the ability to detect odors is determined largely by the number of scent receptors in the nasal passages, and the number of receptors is largely determined by the size and length of the nose and snout; it’s a matter of the amount of space available for the receptors.

Obviously, a dog like the Basset hound has a bigger and longer nose than either the Boston terrier or the Pekingese, all shown below.

21-00 basset

Basset photo above is from


21-02 Boston terrier

Boston terrier photo above is from


21-03 Pekingese

Pekingese photo above is from

Dogs with larger noses and longer snouts have more nasal space and thus, room for more scent receptors. Therefore, such dogs are better able to distinguish smells than are dogs with smaller noses and shorter snouts – such as, of course, pugs.

21-04 Bloodhound

For example, scientists have determined that bloodhounds, being large, with long noses, have about 300 million scent receptors. (Bloodhound photo above is from

21-05 Benji

On the other hand, dachshunds, being small, but with long noses, have about 125 million scent receptors. (Dachshund in photo above is our pugs’ friend Benji, who is able to detect odors that they miss.)

Based on the facts above, I’d “guesstimate” that small, flat-nosed dogs like our pug Sarah may have as few as 100 million scent receptors. Here’s Sarah again (below), with a frontal view of her squash-nosed self:

21-06 Sarah cuddle bed crop 2

Lest you grieve overly much for Sarah and her brachycephalic kin, bear in mind that in a sniffing contest between a pug and a human, the pug always wins. Humans have only 5 to 6 million scent receptors, compared to my “back of the envelope” estimate of 100 million for pugs. Sarah may not be able to track an escaped convict through the Everglades, but she always knows when my pocket contains an empty plastic bag that once held dog cookies.

And whenever a morsel of food rolls under the stove or anywhere else that her truncated snout can’t reach, our pug Sarah knows it’s there. She places herself in front of the offending appliance or furniture and “points” her unpointed nose in its direction until she can get a human (usually me) to fish out the crumb for her.

21-07 Sarah smells

For more information about the dog’s sense of smell, read the chapter titled “Sniff,” pp. 67-88 in Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. (2009). Scribner.

The Very Best Ear Cleaner

When I’m confronted with cleaning multiple pugs’ ears, I often miss one of my pre-pug dogs, a little mixed-breed named Lapsi (pronounced Lopsy). The reason for this will become clear in a moment.

Here’s Lapsi as a puppy.

20-1 Lapsi puppy

Lapsi was a short-legged fuzz ball with a slightly curly, coarse and bristly coat. By the time she was an adult, her two-inch-long, grayish-blond hairs stuck out all over her body, making her look as though she’d sprayed her hair with a fixative without first brushing it – or that she’d stuck her snout in an electric socket and then used hair spray on it. Unfortunately, I have no good photos of Lapsi, for I had only disposable cameras in the pre-digital years that she graced our family – and I was a lousy photographer.

Here’s Lapsi as an adult.

20-2 Lapsi fuzzball.

Lapsi’s most remarkable characteristic was that she was consumed with the need to clean all the resident dogs’ ears (and we had up to 5 others, including foster dogs, in addition to Lapsi). Her obsession extended to the hygiene of the other holes in her canine friends’ heads: Along with their ears, she washed everyone’s eyes and nostrils at least once daily. She did this with her extremely agile and incredibly long tongue. I once saw her trying to extend her cleaning (and her tongue) into her best dog-friend’s mouth.

The friend, Tatiana or “Tat,” was the consequence of a late-night lustful assignation between a show-quality female Basset hound and a fence-jumping male Labrador retriever. She’d inherited the face and golden-brown coat of her Lab sire, or father, along with the short, crooked legs and drooping ears of her Basset dam, or mother. Actually, she looked like a Lab whose legs had been sawed off half-way. After meals, she also bore a remarkable resemblance to a very fully-stuffed sausage, elevated on top of four short stumps.

Tatiana, or Tat, the Grande Old Dame of the House

20-3 Tat sit

Tat, the Grande Old Dame of the house, stoutly refused Lapsi’s proffered service of a mouth cleaning – evidently she did not want to surrender any food crumbs that might still be there. Otherwise, Tat appreciated her little roommate’s cleaning services.

Given the opportunity, Lapsi would happily bathe the cranial orifices of humans as well as dogs. In unguarded moments, I briefly experienced Lapsi’s cleaning technique for the ears and nostrils. I definitely did not find the procedure as pleasurable as Tat did. In fact, I sought to avoid a repeat performance – ever. I had to be quite vigilant, though, for whenever Lapsi noticed anyone’s cranial cavities within her reach, she’d whip out her elongated oral appendage, faster than the eye could follow; and she’d be busily and deeply scrubbing away before her patient knew what was happening.

This canine ear-eye-and-nose cleaner masterfully worked her tongue like a wet, high-speed drill, reminiscent of the one in my dentist’s office – and I speak from experience with both tools. When Lapsi caught me off-guard and started scouring my ear, I feared she’d bore a hole all the way through my brain. The procedure tickled so much that I was practically helpless to stop her, and my efforts to dislodge her while I was weak with laughter only encouraged her to bore faster and farther. Lapsi also cheerfully tried to wash any available nostrils, canine or human, thereby providing the patient with the added sensations of gagging and suffocating.

From puppyhood through old age, Lapsi kept our other dogs’ ears so clean that they had no ear infections throughout the years she was with us. So, while I’m pouring ear cleaner into pugs’ ears, I often reminisce about how Lapsi did a better job of cleaning ears –and how she got a lot more pleasure from doing it than I ever have.

Some of Lapsi’s “patients” are shown below.

20-4 tish, tat, laps, M&B           20-5 Penny & Lapsi       20-7 Lucy

 20-8 Scotty   20-9 Rosebud   20-6 Bozo


Pugs’ Ears

Pugs have a number of different “styles” of outer ears (ear flaps), or pinnae. Take a look at the pinnae in the photos below.

19-01 Charlie ears Photo of our Charlie


19-02 pug2  Photo from


19-03 pug3Photo from×800.jpg


19-04 pug4    Photo from–1197386145.jpg


19-05 pug5  Photo from:

Whatever way they flop, pugs’ pinnae are near the top of the head (probably because there’s no room for them anywhere else). These cute little flaps cover the openings to the ear canals, which direct sound waves down to the eardrums.

The undersides of the pinnae should be kept clean, as in the photo below.


If the inside of an ear flap is red or inflamed, the pug may have an external ear infection (otitis externa) that probably warrants a visit to the veterinarian. Regular cleanings help you spot such an infection before it gets as bad as the one below.

19-07 Otitis externa    Photo from

However, it’s not sufficient just to clean the pinnae. It’s important to pour ear cleaning solution into the ear canal (as in the photo below), squish it around, and then soak it up (I use a rolled-up piece of cotton to do this). There’s an excellent article on how to clean pugs’ ears at

19-09 cleaning ear Photo from

I clean our pugs’ ears religiously – every Sunday, in fact. Weekly ear cleanings usually are needed to prevent pugs’ ear infections, or at least to minimize the number and intensity of such infections. This schedule also forces me to examine the undersides of our pugs’ pinnae, so I’m more likely to catch an external ear infection before it gets very painful.

But why are pugs so prone to ear infections? Would you believe that it’s because of that smushed-in snout? Think again of how the pug’s snout and all its anatomical components are shoved back, toward the skull. An earlier post, Beautiful, Beguiling, Bulging Eyeballs (January 25, 2016), explained how there are not quite enough “parking spaces” available for the anatomical components that belong inside a pug’s head; that includes the ear canals. The canals of a non-pug dog are shown below.

19-08 non-pug ear canal

Diagram from

Unfortunately, with a pug, the squished snout takes up a lot of head space.Therefore, a pug’s ear canals may not be as straight as this diagram depicts. The canals may have to wend – or wind – their way along a narrow, twisted route to find paths through any leftover space in the pug’s head. Thus, a pug’s ear canals are likely to be narrower and more crooked than those of a dog with a snout that extends forward, outside the main part of the skull.

So, with those floppy flaps blocking the entrances to the ears, and with the ear canals being circuitous or narrowed, it’s unlikely that a pug’s ears can get adequate ventilation; thus, moisture accumulates easily. Such conditions are akin to broadcasting an invitation for bacteria and yeast to move in, set up housekeeping, and raise large families in the pug’s ears. Therefore, it behooves the landlord (i.e., the pug’s human) to keep the premises as clean as possible, in the hope that doing so will cause the nasty interlopers to seek living quarters elsewhere, and not settle in the pug’s ears.

Our pugs are not quite as blasé about ear cleanings and ear medications as they are about eye meds, but they do keep themselves quiet and still during these ministrations. I think that’s because they know they’ll get a special jackpot-size serving of one of their favorite dog treats afterward. (I don’t know whether this is positive reinforcement or bribery; but whatever it is, it works for me.)

19-10 Sam, Charlie, Sarah lightThese three pugs wait for their after – ear-cleaning treats.