Why are American pets sicker than ever?

Steve Dale is the host of the nationally syndicated radio shows Steve Dale’s Pet World and The Pet Minute with Steve Dale. His column, My Pet World (in which this post originally appeared), is carried in more than 100
newspapers nationwide and his new column, The CATalyst, just debuted. Steve also serves on the board of directors for
the American Humane Association.

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Happy is a clown at heart. Find him at Stray from the Heart in New York.

Sad news for our pets was announced at a press conference entitled “Houston, We Have a Problem” during the 2011 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention. The problem has been a steady decline in our pets’ health.

“This decline has been going on for over a decade, despite an increased pet population,” said Dr. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president and CEO of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

For example, more flea infestations are being reported, even though such problems are preventable. Hookworms are up 30 percent in dogs since 2006, according to the Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2011 report. Likewise, there’s been a 13 percent increase in roundworm incidence in cats since 2006. Potentially, this is a public health issue since some of these parasites can also affect people.


Diabetes is up 16 percent in cats and 32 percent in dogs, according to
the Banfield report. Ear infections are up 34 percent in cats and 9
percent in dogs. Dental disease has risen 10 percent in cats and 12
percent in dogs.

This is confusing because there’s no doubt that veterinary medicine is
leaps and bounds ahead of where it was even a decade ago. If a heart
murmur is a concern, veterinary cardiologists can perform an ultrasound
using equipment and technology identical to that used for people.
Veterinary neurologists can do brain surgery, and cancer treatments can
extend lives. In fact, using dogs as models, human medicine has in
recent years benefited from what veterinarians have learned.

So what’s gone wrong? “People simply aren’t seeing their veterinarians
as often, particularly for wellness exams,” said Dr. Michael Moyer,
president of the American Animal Hospital Association
(AAHA). According to the AVMA, 24 percent of people with dogs and 39
percent of people with cats said they’d take their pets to the vet only
if something were wrong.

Some of the data offered during the press conference was astounding. It
turns out the overwhelming majority of pet owners don’t value
preventative care. Before seeking advice from a vet, many now go the
Internet and may never contact a vet at all, simply accepting the advice
of “Dr. Google.” In fact, according to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study
(surveying pet owners and veterinary professionals about their views on
veterinary medicine and pet health), 15 percent of owners said that by
using the Internet, they believe they have less need to rely on a
veterinarian.

“While all pets are being affected by the notable downturn in veterinary
visits, cats are most vulnerable,” DeHaven said. “There are 13 percent
more cats than dogs, but cats are actually the minority [of patients] in
most practices.”

There are lots of reasons for this, beginning with the challenge of
getting cats to a clinic in the first place. According to the Bayer
study, nearly 40 percent of cat owners say just thinking about a vet
visit is stressful. And nearly 60 percent say their cats “hate” going to
a vet. [If this is you, check out our tips for taking your cat to the vet.]

Also, as Americans are increasingly keeping their cats indoors only,
many seem to think indoor cats don’t get sick. Waiting for signs of
illness isn’t a good idea with any pet, since — as in people — early
diagnosis can be lifesaving, may involve less treatment, and
potentially save money. For cats, an argument can be made that wellness
exams to catch illness early are especially important. Cats are adept at
masking illness. Waiting until a cat is obviously ill might mean a
disease has become significant.

DeHaven noted that the slide in
veterinary care began before the economy tanked. Still, there’s little
doubt that the slump has made matters worse. The Bayer study found
“sticker shock,” or perceived overpricing, to be a significant issue.

To address the problem, the AVMA and AAHA have teamed up with industry and other allies to create the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare.
“Our mission is to ensure that pets receive the preventative healthcare
they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian,” Moyer said.

DeHaven conceded, “We need to do something. After all, the health of our
pets is at risk. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate to the public
that veterinarians are the best source of information, and providers of
vital preventative care.”

(c) 2011 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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Previous pet health blog posts:

Top five serious cat illnesses only your vet can diagnose

10 subtle signs of illness in cats

Why people don’t take their cats to the vet

Why Take Your Cat to the Vet Week matters to me

More about taking your pet to the vet:

How to Tell if a Cat or Dog May Need Veterinary Care

Choosing a Vet

Get Your Cat to Like the Vet

Get Your Cat to Like His Carrier

Get Your Cat to Like the Car

Keep Your Cat Calm During a Vet Exam

Questions to Ask Your Cat’s Vet

Banfield’s Tips for Low-Stress Vet Visits for Cats

Get the Most Out of Your Cat’s Vet Appointment

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