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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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is www.stevedale.tv


7 thoughts on “Our Pets Deserve Better

  1. CathyAC Brevard Florida

    My 3 dogs are on Heart Worm Preventative, Flea preventative and of course get their yearly shots. The price has gone up YEARLY for Vet visits and it is getting harder and harder to do it other than to stagger the months I take them in, so I can afford it. With so many out of work and battling foreclosures, health care for both pets and people tends to fall behind food on the table, utilities and rents mortgages paid, and often is the last thing they can do.

    I am on a limited income, and had my pup scheduled to be spayed..Total bill SHOULD have been $25..already paid in advance. The actual bill at the Humane Society for the LOW COST Spay came in at $75, with the additional testing they insisted on because even though I buy my heart guard through them they had no records stating she received it. I find that annoying since they don't give a prescription for it, you buy it over the counter there, script unnecessary. I took my service dog in for diarrhea caused by a tainted chicken treat, and it was only after I told them I could not afford 600$ in testing, that they gave me an anti-diarrheal, and an antibiotic and sent us on our way for $200.

    Part of the problem is Vets are pricing themselves out of the market when it comes to treatment. Like Dentist the insurance you may have to pay for procedures is never enough to cover what they charge. When you are struggling on a limited income, that makes it even harder. I will do whatever I can for my dogs, but I can only do what money will allow me to do when it comes to seeing the Vet.

  2. Janette

    In all honesty, I'm quite frightened of regular vet care. I had a cat die because the on call vet wouldn't answer their pager. I also had to give up a dog because the vet I was taking him to did not catch that one of his growth plates was broken, when I asked about it, they shrugged it off as nothing. He has arthritis in the leg, has had the majority of his foot amputated, and has to wear a boot. His medical costs became too much for my young family to bear. The dogs I have still get their shots, but we go to Petco or our local Humane League. Going to a regular vet like a human would a doctor, has cost me too much.

  3. sonya

    i agree on so many levels, i have a shihi tzu and love love to death and will do anything for her. but there are times i have to put off getting her shots or flea meds because the money is to steep and the vets around here will not take payments and want all the money up front before caring for the animal nor matter how critical the case may be. so for the sake of my dog i will rob a bill that needs payed. depending on how important my animal may need said item ...my dog to me is my child and comes first in my eyes .but vets make it very hard when the cost are so high and they do not work with you on payments.....

  4. Premier Dogs

    I've read a couple of studies that indicate two additional contributing factors are (1) limited finances, and (2) the vet visit being a very unpleasant experience due to stress/anxiety or behavioural issues.

  5. Lesley

    I agree that owners should focus more on preventative care but I think that owners (including myself) are having trouble with the economy. When it comes to paying bills or taking the dog to the vet, well it is a difficult choice to make. I feel that a good vet works with you and your budget, I know mine does. So I think owners shouldn't be afraid to talk to their vet, just like you would your own doctor! Ask them if there are ways to work with your budget or even set up a billing system with them for more expensive procedures. Don't be afraid to ask questions or talk about concerns you have. 🙂 That is my advice.

  6. Diane Podolsky, CPDT-KA, CTC

    Thank you for raising public and pet professional awareness of this important issue. When I screen prospective dog training clients, one of the first questions I ask is when the puppy or dog last visited the veterinarian and the result of that visit. In Westchester County, New York, where my dog training practice is located, I am relieved to report that it is very rare to find that the pet is not visiting the vet regularly.

    However, I tend to meet dogs early in their lives and it is very possible that preventive care wanes as the years move on. In fact, I do see some of this in the boarding side of my practice when fecal exams and parasite prevention are discussed in detail.

    I cannot count the number of times that my own vet helped my dog avoid problems, big and small, via early intervention over the past fourteen years. My dog, who is well cared for and lives mainly indoors, has had both asymptomatic Giardia and Lyme disease.

    As always, your use of your celebrity to educate and help pets and pet parents is much appreciated.

    Best regards,

    Diane Podolsky, CPDT-KA, CTC
    The Cultured Canine, LLC

  7. Pingback: Our Pets Deserve Better | Dog Training articles

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