Our Pets Deserve Better
Our pets deserve better. Overwhelmingly, Americans want to do the right thing for their pets -- or at least that's what they say. After all, according to all surveys, most pet owners consider their four-legged or even feathered friends as members of he family. Yet, despite our love for our pets, veterinary visits are on the decline, especially when it comes to preventive care. As a result, pets and their owners are paying a significant price. Preventive illness is on the rise, and the price is also paid in dollars and cents.
My resolution for 2013 will be to play whatever role I can in reversing this alarming trend.
Just two of many examples of preventive illness which are on the rise are flea infestation and heartworm disease, according to the Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2011 Report.
Flea infestation and heartworm are far more expensive to treat than to prevent. As flea infestations have risen, so have reports of flea allergy. Also, fleas can also spread disease to people. The treatment for heartworm -- which can be fatal -- is grueling. For cats, no treatment even exists. Obviously, if pets had a choice, they'd clearly pick prevention over crazily itching from flea allergies or suffering the effects, even succumbing, to heartworm.
According to a study conducted by Bayer Animal Health, a quarter of all pet owners don't understand the importance of preventive care for pets. The percent of households making no trip at all to a veterinarian in the course of a year went up by eight percent for dogs, and a confounding 24 percent for cats compared to five years ago, according to the 2012 American Veterinary Medical Association U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook.
One viable explanation is that many pet owners have never been educated about the value of preventive pet care, as well as what veterinarians do doing during annual exams.
For example, most pet owners don't know that the exam begins as the pet walks into a clinician's room. The veterinarian checks the pet's gait for arthritis, even neurological problems. By simply petting a dog or cat, the veterinarian is feeling for lumps, even noting coat quality, an indicator for all sorts of issues.
The answers to seemingly benign questions, like "how much does your pet drink?" offer clues to potential kidney disease or diabetes. Or is your dog barking when you leave the house? The answer may reveal separation distress, a behavioral issue which dogs are sometimes given up as a result – but pet owners often don’t volunteer this information to veterinarians. Solving a behavior problem can save a life as much as solving a heart problem.
Some pet owners believe they would know if their pet was sick. However, this is often false, especially for cats, masters at masking illness. A veterinarian may detect problems an owner can't, unless the owner has learned to run blood work in their home or knows how to listen for a heart murmur, for example, with a stethoscope. Others (as many as 15 percent, according to one survey) feel they can "Google" anything their veterinarian can do.
I don't deny that in some cases veterinarians are to blame for not communicating the value of visits, pushing clients away with excessive fees, or "nickel and diming" them. Overall, however, veterinary medicine remains a relative bargain. The cost of similar care and identical testing and drugs for pets is far less than the cost of the same for people.
Regardless of the explanations, the decline in veterinary visits is entirely contradictory to what's in the best interest of our pets.
I welcome your comments and ideas on all sides of the fence on this issue.
Email: [email protected].
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