View Full Version : Where to start?

8th August 2010, 02:07 AM
Hi everyone!
I'm wondering if anyone would have information on where I find a specialist for my Cavalier Puppy? I live in the USA... specifically Texas.
I have a 4 month old Cavalier Puppy that I acquired about 4 weeks ago. When I got him he seemed healthy as could be. He got a full check-up by the vet and was found to be "in good health". One odd thing I noticed when I brought him home and put a collar on him he began scratching intensely! I figured it was just because he had never had a collar on before. After 2 weeks I took him into the vet because he had scratched a patch off by his left shoulder AND was biting the fur off his hindquarters. After a skin scraping and exam to rule out parasites it was assumed that is was a food allergy.
I changed foods and to some degree his coat "quality" seemed to improve. He still scratches the same spot several times a day & he still chews mildly at his hindquarters and back feet. (He is still missing a small patch of fur near his shoulders and on his back legs) Now the last 2 weeks he has started "digging" in the carpet.. often... I'd say at least 10-15 times a day I find him digging randomly.
I don't know if I'm being overly worried about him or not. My vet is not very familiar with the breed and the other vet in the clinic who said "She has many years experience with Cavaliers" said she has never seen a Cavalier with SM... So I'm at a lose as to where to go now. From what I'm reading 4 months is REALLY young for a puppy to be showing signs of SM. I'm hoping these odd behaviors go away on there own but I would like to be prepared if they don't go away or get worse over the next few months.

Another question I have is about Pet Insurance. He has 2 months of free insurance right now and I was planning on continuing & upgrading his plan... BUT... it states that they do NOT cover:
*Congenital, pre-existing or inherited conditions
Would SM count as a congenital or inherited condition? I would think that it would... If so then Insurance really wouldn't help me would it? It also says they don't cover heart conditions (including murmurs ), eye conditions such as cataracts, any kind of dysplasia and many other things. (This is one of there more expensive plans). I have no experience with pet insurance... is this normal for pet insurance to not cover these things?

Sorry this is so long! I just have so many questions! Any advise would be greatly appreciated!

8th August 2010, 04:04 PM
To find vet specialists in the US, go to the ACVIM website - http://www.acvim.org - and use the "search for specialist" tool at the bottom of the home page. Where in Texas are you located? I copied and pasted what came up in Texas for neurologists (sorry but tabs didn't work so it's run together):

Name Univ/Hospital Specialty City State
Dr. Pierre S. Bichsel Animal Emergency & Referral Ctr. Neurology Carrollton TX
Dr. Julie M. Ducoté Animal Neurology & Neurosurgery of TX Neurology Carrollton TX
Dr. Daniel G Hicks Vet. Neurology & Neurosurgical Specialists Neurology College Station TX
Sam Veterinary Neurology and Neurosurgical Specialists Neurology Houston TX
Dr. Jonathan M. Levine Texas A&M University Neurology College Station TX
Dr. Randall Carl Longshore Gulf Coast Veterinary Surgery Neurology Houston TX

You click on the vet's name and his address, etc. pop up. That fourth entry is weird - must be some kind of error since vet's name is just "Sam."

Next, sorry to say but your insurance is worthless. There are good policies in the US - after intensive research, most of us use PetPlan - http://www.gopetplan.com - and you can put in your info and get a quote. Good policies DO cover inherited diseases, including SM and MVD.

Your problem now is that your boy is on record with his vet with symptoms of possible SM, so this would be a pre-existing condition from the insurance carrier's point of view. I would still change from your current insurance to a better plan so that you get coverage for other problems such as MVD. Under the General forum, Nicki (I think) posted a great comparison of insurance policies written by a vet. I'll go over there and bump that thread up to the top.


8th August 2010, 04:17 PM
Errrgggg!! I have a terrible time using the search function here, and I'm fairly computer literate. I had to go over and find where I cross posted the info that Nicki posted here, and I copied and will paste below.

Karlin - that original post from Nicki contained great info and there are continual questions about health insurance. Maybe her post could have a sticky or be put some place where we can reference it for new questions?


My cross post:

Nicki posted this link over on Cavalier Talk, and I'm cross posting as it's a very good review written by a vet of pet insurance policies. One of the valuable things in this review is that the vet points out the "gotchas" in all of the policies.

Since I researched PetPlan extensively before purchasing, I was aware of the "gotchas" in that plan. One is that they only cover drugs that are FDA approved for pets, so that eliminates a number of drugs used for heart disease (such as viagra for pulmonary hypertension) and possibly all of the drugs for SM since the FDA is pretty slow to approve human drugs for pets and these are used "off label." Another is that PetPlan increases your co-pay to 30% for all specialists and emergency hospitals - and specialists and hospitalization are where the biggest charges are incurred. (This is why I didn't pay a higher premium to have a co-pay of 10% since it automatically jumps to 30% for specialists and hospitalization.)

I was not aware of the big "gotcha" in the Embrace plan. This is their "continuing coverage" provision - which only pays 25% of the total policy amount for chronic illnesses after the first year in which they are diagnosed and treated. For example, if you have a $10,000 policy for your dog, and he is diagnosed with heart disease, the policy will pay out up to $10,000 for the first year of the diagnosis. But for subsequent years, the maximum payout for heart disease for that dog is only $2,500. That is a pretty major problem since heart disease expenses get much higher as the disease progresses over the years. That might also be a problem for diseases like cancer, SM and kidney disease. This provision is serious enough that I would not consider Embrace insurance as I've incurred some multi-thousand dollar bills for cancer and for hospitalizations (with diagnostics) for kidney failure in the years subsequent to diagnosis.

This review is probably the most comprehensive that I've seen on the subject of pet insurance.


8th August 2010, 05:32 PM
The intense scratching in a collar I would guess is almost certainly just a typical puppy reaction when they have never worn a collar before. Many gradually work up to leaving a collar on as pups don't generally like having one initially. I'd also recommend walking your puppy on a harness and not the collar anyway -- for a range of reasons explained in a few places on the board but 1) all that neck pulling cannot be good for any dog and is known to cause vertebral and tracheal damage in any dogs; 2) some neurologists feel with this breed it is wise not to create pressure on the neck area anyway as this is where syrinxes tend to form.

On the other things you are seeing -- allergy testing can be quite involved -- elimination diets take many weeks and you need to remember no treats that go outside the things you are eliminating (many people forget treats often have the ingredients that cause problems).

A lot of skin scrapes seem to miss rabbit mites or flea dermatitis so it might be worth testing again (I regularly hear of vets missing these problems!). Also allergies could be to almost anything, not just foods. The kind of thing you are describing does sound like allergies or pests to me. It isn't impossible for SM symptoms to show but it is pretty unlikely and I don't know that these would be common first signs... but if your pup is showing symptoms like these I would guess a clinical exam by a specialist (eg neurologist) would tend to show some other signs, without an MRI, so you could opt for that.

Digging is a pretty normal dog behaviour -- it is one that I would classify as amongst the least indication of SM as opposed to normal dog behaviour. But dogs in pain definitely will do this kind of digging. My dog that is 7 and is clear for SM digs in the couch all the time -- for what it is worth!!

It might be worth considering PSOM as well (see more info on www.smcavalier.com and other links posted in other threads on the topic. :thmbsup:.

and the other vet in the clinic who said "She has many years experience with Cavaliers" said she has never seen a Cavalier with SM...

Hmmm. Well I think it appropriate to note here that Pat who has also posted in this thread just attended the largest annual vet conference in the world and in two of the SM sessions, directed AT VETS by two of the leading neurologists in the area, a grand total of 15 and 17 people showed for each. Hundreds attended other individual sessions. One neurologist expressed concern that SM is increasingly common and going to affect practices. The level of ignorance this low attendance demonstrates really underlines how poor awareness is in the US on this condition, or the high incidence in this breed. The other vet at this practice really needs to be reading the research in the area as my own vets, for example, are now regularly referring cavaliers for MRIs that come back as having SM. I think whether you have 'ever seen SM' depends on whether the vet or the owners know enough to recognise it.

Best of luck -- let us know if you decide to see a neurologist but I think I'd be first seeing a specialist focused on allergy. Vets seem to often do a very so-so job in dealing with allergies. There are some posts with info on allergies in the health library section on the board here that might be useful for background.

8th August 2010, 06:16 PM
Thanks so much for the info.... I really hope it is allergies or just puppy not liking his collar. I'm going to try a harness again tonight and see if I can slowly get him adjusted to it!

I'm going to try waiting it out a few weeks and seeing if things change. Maybe the new diet has not completely settled with him. He is on a Lamb & Oatmeal puppy food right now. How long should I let him stay completely on one food before deciding to try a new food? So far on the Lamb & Oatmeal food his coat has gotten SO much softer now if the itching would just not be so bad.
I have seen how some dogs can be allergic to certain grasses. We have a lot of Bermuda grass on our property...if that was affecting him would it be so generalized to the two patches on the body? I would think that would mostly affect his face & feet since they are in contact with the grass the most!

As far as pet insurance I have been looking around. I really liked what Pet Plan USA had to offer until I found another company called Trupanion. They CLAM the following:
* No payout limit over the life of your pet, with no limits per year, claim, illness, procedure, or condition.
* They cover 90% of actual veterinary bill for costs arising from injury or illness, less the veterinary exam fee and deductible (use can chose your deductible)
* They cover all diagnostic tests, surgeries, and medications (including hereditary and congenital disorders).

Pricing is a little cheaper then Pet Plan USA for me... Has anyone heard anything bad about Trupanion? I'm wondering if I'm "missing" anything from there fine print.. LOL.

Also just wondering... Lets say my puppies itching improves. My vet had "assumed" it was a food allergy and advised me to change his diet ... What if some time in the future he gets diagnosed with SM... would the itching from a past vet visit be considered a "pre-existing condition"... even though the vet "assumed" it was allergies? Just wondering if anyone knows how insurance companies determine this stuff.... I also want to make sure I get the right insurance to cover him.


8th August 2010, 06:18 PM
Change insurance, as stated by others, yours is worthless (is that the one AKC gives you when you register? I remember that one being pretty awful). Others have recommended pet plan, you might also look at trupanion- the only thing they exclude is hip dysplasia. Don't bother with any insurance that excludes hearts, or inherited conditions. Read all the fine print before signing on with anyone.

I don't think SM would count as a pre-existing condition. Your dog was diagnosed with allergies, not SM. It would depend on interpretation by the insurance company, but I think youd be in the clear for that.

Maybe ditch the collar and try a harness instead.

8th August 2010, 06:47 PM
Read the review by the vet. Copied and pasted some of it:


"Pre-existing conditions can be based on symptoms alone, a diagnosis is not needed. For example, if your pet had a cough before you applied for pet insurance and this cough was discussed and written in the pet's medical record, there is the possibility that all future cough conditions, no matter what the cause, would be considered pre-existing - even if there was no treatment given. Make sure you ask the company if this is the case."

I think it could go either way depending on who reviewed the case. This is why I never mentioned any scratching to my vet (on the record) until my two Cavaliers were covered. For example, if I suspected yeasty ears, I said that I smelled yeast and there was gunk in their ears rather than they were scratching their ears. I also READ the entire charts of both before I had them covered just to make sure.

Note that allergy is a very common misdiagnosis of SM, and the insurance companies are well aware of that fact. (I'm not suggesting that your pup has SM - just pointing out the insurance implications.)


8th August 2010, 07:36 PM
Just came back to add: do not get the banfield (petsmart) "insurance". They will promise you the moon when you sign up, and then offer almost no value for your money.

Pet plan has the same definition of pre-existing condition as trupanion:


According to PetPlan's website, a pre-existing condition is "...any condition which first occurred or showed clinical signs before the pet's coverage started or which occurred during the policy waiting period...This would include conditions that have not yet been clearly diagnosed, are currently in remission, are seasonal or being controlled via prescription medications."

Like I said, read all the fine print. Insurance is a profitable business for all of these companies, which means most customers will pay more than they get back: caveat emptor.

8th August 2010, 08:00 PM
Yes, all of the plans have that language about pre-existing conditions. I would guess that each reviewer, even within the same company, has different level of expertise. That's why it's really good to be aware of this before you submit a claim. I had a long discussion with my vet about this topic so that any notes in my dogs' charts are carefully and clearly worded. Also, one can always appeal a claim decision so be very thoughtful about how you word any communication with the insurance company. Better informed up front has a better chance of success.

Similar situation would be to very carefully document (maybe even get specialty opinion) an innocent flow murmur versus a murmur indicating true disease.


8th August 2010, 09:12 PM
(http://www.cavaliertalk.com/forums/member.php?6430-Soushiruiuma)Soushiruiuma -
Yeah, he is on the AKC insurance. I'm really glad I decided to research the different companies before actually paying money for it! I'm surprised on how little the AKC insurance covers!
As far as Bansfield - I avoid them all together!!!!

Tomorrow I am calling his vet to find out exactly what was put in his records about the scratching...

Does anyone know if the insurance plans require proof of vaccinations for them to be covered? My puppy is current on all vaccines but I do the combo vaccines myself. I have been doing it that way for a long time with all my animals and my vet accepts the vaccines. My vet does the rabies vaccine for me since I can't do that in Texas. I can't seem to find anything on the sites about vaccine requirements....

Thanks so much for all the info and links everyone! It has been very helpful

8th August 2010, 09:49 PM
On all insurance policies I have seen, up to date vaccines are required. On doing vaccines yourself: I would guess this depends on three things -- whether that is actually legal in Texas (it isn't legal in Ireland); whether you have actually properly documented the vaccine (eg you fill out a vax card with the bottle sticker) and this is considered an acceptable alternative, and whether the problem has in any way to do with a claim around an illness related to vaccines.

Insurance co's don't check the vaccine records to sign up a client but I can imagine they'd be likely to refuse to pay out on any possible complications or illness related to a home-done vaccine, especially if this is not considered legal and the person giving them has no formal training/qualifications. (incidentally I would not advise doing them yourself on a cavalier -- they are known to sometimes have a higher incidence of reaction to certain vaccines and if they have a reaction and aren't actually at the vets, you could lose your dog. Also the recommendation many neurologists give is NOT to give them in the neck but the thigh -- due to incidence of SM. I have any of mine with SM (2) as well as the one remaining un-MRI'd dog with SM get all injections in the thigh).

Basically if you do anything off the norm that is not formally documented you may find yourself in a tussle with an insurer refusing to pay out of they can make any connection whatsoever.

You'd be best advised I think to ring them and ask so you are sure you don't find yourself with an issue further down the line. :thmbsup: I'd get the response in writing if they state it is OK for you to home-vax.

8th August 2010, 11:04 PM
Hi Just to add my two cents to this dscussion:p I live in the US and have Trupanion for my boy Jack (now 1 year 7 months old). I got it when he was 12 weeks old (he didn't show signs of CM/SM until 6 months) For me it is literally a lifesaver. I would have been in credit card debt without it!!!
It has so far paid, in the last 6 months for 90% of the actual cost of Jack's MRI, Spinal Tab and countless medications. They also pre-approved me for the surgery (5K) when I was contemplating it this past June.
However, it does NOT pay for the cost of any office visit or ANY routine stuff (shots, checkups, spay/neuter) . I also opted for a $0 dollar deductible (they range from 0-500) and opted for the inclusion of hip dysplasia for $5 extra a month. In total it runs me ~$44 monthly. For me given Jack's condition it is very worth it. fPlus they have no limit and no disease limit/cap, it used to be 20k but was recently changed to unlimited.

Again I am not sure what it will cover being that your pup already has some documented symptoms. They specificallly state they will not cover any illness/injury that occurred or showed symptoms within 30 days of the policy being effective. Like others stated on here, it may get passed through and reimbursed depending on the reviewer. I just happened to be "lucky" that Jack had no symptoms to well after the 30 days. Also you must have documented that your dog has all the necc and up to date vaccinations.
Keep us updated, Hopefully your little pup just has some allergies and getting him to the right specialist will clear things up for him.
best, Irene

8th August 2010, 11:34 PM
I have a slly question... let's say she changes vets and doesn't give the contact info on the previous vet, how would the insurance company know that there may be a pre-existing condition?

8th August 2010, 11:56 PM
I have a slly question... let's say she changes vets and doesn't give the contact info on the previous vet, how would the insurance company know that there may be a pre-existing condition?

Not a silly question at all.........I just wasn't going to address that on a public forum!

I also need to phone PetPlan tomorrow because I don't do routine vaccs. My understanding was that they wouldn't cover if one of my guys contracted, for example, parvo - but that it wouldn't affect coverage for heart disease or unrelated conditions.

I want to clarify that.


9th August 2010, 05:33 AM
Karlin - Don't worry, I'm not breaking any laws. It is legal to vaccinate your own pets here in Texas with everything but the rabies. You can buy the combo vaccines locally for $5.99 vs paying the vet $25 . I have 6 animals to vaccinate so its a lot more cost effective for me... My animals still see the vet for check ups, ailments and there rabies shot as needed. My vet knows I vaccinate my animals and accepts it. She also advises me about which brands seem better at the time for our location. I keep records of all vaccines given with the labels off the bottles. My vet also has all the info on file (just incase I misplace it.) Thanks for the warning about not vaccinating them in the back of the neck! I'll make sure he never gets a vaccine in the neck again!
Also just wondering since you are in Ireland... My Pups Grandparents were imported out of Ireland.... (I know now that is probably a bad thing). But is there any way to trace dogs from Ireland back to there breeder or kennel? I was just hoping to find some info on his Grandparents that might help me relax a little about my health concerns with him.
(I know someone is gonna say ask his breeder about health issues and testing but ever since she got the money for him I have not been able to get a straight answer... like even though SHE calms she is the breeder & owner her name is not the one who signed off his AKC papers as breeder.... and even though SHE owns the parents she doesn't seem to have any pictures of them she can email me.)
Just wondering....

Holly – I was wondering the same thing but didn't want to bring it up on the forum!

9th August 2010, 07:11 PM
I really wish I had a better insurance. VPI paid for nothing. My friend had PetPlan and they are paying part of MRI and surgery. Talk about credit card debt, when my claim was denied I had a heart attack. I know next time to go with another Pet Insurance.

9th August 2010, 07:48 PM
Anne, you may want to go ahead and drop VPI and change to a better plan. At this point, you won't be covered for SM, but with a better plan you will be covered for MVD and for other problems which may come up in the future. VPI won't cover MVD either.


9th August 2010, 10:24 PM
Thanks Pat,

Since Ella does not currently show any symptoms of MVD, that is a good idea to go ahead and switch. I know VPI does not cover that but at least I will have another insurance company that will. I am going to look into PetPlan. Thanks

10th August 2010, 04:32 AM
Just wanted to let everyone know I talked to Trupanion today.
I lady I spoke with assured me that since it is legal here vaccinating my pup myself would not change anything on his health coverage as long as he is vaccinated.
She said that they usually do the "pre-existing" on a case by case basis but when in "doubt" they use the general rule of thumb of 18 months.
She also said that they really go on YOUR vets opinion as to if it was "pre-existing"
So that makes me feel a little better. Going to be enrolling Flash tonight! Hopefully we wont need it but I know I'll sleep better knowing we have it!

10th August 2010, 06:22 PM
I have a slly question... let's say she changes vets and doesn't give the contact info on the previous vet, how would the insurance company know that there may be a pre-existing condition?

Well, put it this way -- if an insurance company does find there was an earlier set of records -- which is pretty easy to track if there is a chip and vax records, for example -- a person could then be taken to court for insurance fraud and in most countries and US states, a successful prosecution has both civil and criminal penalties and involves fines and potentially a prison sentence. Most insurance companies will pursue fraud cases with the full power they have, and for maximum damages. The conviction then goes on your record and will come up on credit and employment checks. Set against that, paying for some heart or SM meds or even full surgery would pale into insignificance -- paying for a lawyer to defend an action would far surpass the costs of SM surgery for a start. It would be pretty easy for an insurance company to check if there were a previous enrollment of the dog on a different plan. Or by checking local vets, if they have questions about paying out on a large claim for a dog whose vet records seem only to begin at an older age.

Often, insurance won't pay if there is reason to suspect a condition might have been pre-existing (at least within say the previous year and just not picked up, if it is a genetic/hereditary issue). All this is why it is really important to take out insurance from the start, if people feel they want it; and to carefully investigate plans and get one ONLY that covers hereditary conditions. Unfortunately though, insurance companies can change the terms of their agreement from year to year so you have to really stay on top of what they're doing. I also believe that SM is probably going to end up excluded as a condition in this breed eventually, given how costly it is to diagnose and care for either medically or with surgery.