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What You Should Know About Pet Health Insurance

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Committing to the care of a pet over its lifetime has substantial emotional rewards. Unfortunately, it can also carry the occasional financial penalty. Depending on the diagnosis, some individuals can spend upwards of $30,000 out of pocket on medical care for a four-legged loved one. In fact, Fortune reports that pet owners in the U.S. are expected to shell out a total of $15.9 billion this year on veterinary care, according to the American Pet Product Association.

Despite rising veterinary costs, less than 1 percent of the nation’s 174 million dogs and cats are covered by some kind of pet health insurance. If you’re on the fence about signing up, here are a few things you should know.

Health insurance for pets generally mirrors the same policies as bipedal human coverage. There’s typically a deductible, co-pays, and a monthly premium that can be as little as $25, with the cost increasing for more comprehensive plans. (The higher the premium, the more the insurance is likely to pay out, with some options covering up to 100 percent of incurred expenses.)

For a relatively healthy animal, it’s likely that the premiums will outpace any needed veterinary care. But if your pet should be struck with any number of complicated issues—cancer, heart trouble, accidents, or long-term monitoring—the bills can quickly add up into the thousands. Even a moderate policy would help offset some of those costs.

Naturally, insurance companies aren’t in the habit of being generous, which is why reading the fine print is crucial. Some policies won’t cover certain breeds due to chronic health issues or pre-existing conditions like hip dysplasia; others may insist on the insured paying the veterinarian and then waiting for reimbursement.

If you can afford a surprise bill, you may have trouble justifying the expense. But if a lump sum would be hard to come by, you might be best off having some form of coverage. In either case, preventative medicine is a must: Routine health care like brushing a pet’s teeth or making sure they’re spayed or neutered can help offset future complications. (Tooth plaque can lead to lung issues; spaying can reduce the incidence of tumors.) It’s also a good idea to watch your pet’s weight. The thinner they are, the fatter your wallet is likely to be.

[h/t Fortune]

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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