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The State of Pet Health: Prevention Prevention Prevention

As our Financial Aid program rolls forward and we continue to receive applications for aid on a daily basis, it has been a fascinating experience to see the types of requests we receive. I have been particularly struck by the frequency of requests for aid in treating preventable diseases, affordably preventable diseases. As with most preventable health issues in humans, it is much more affordable to prevent many animal diseases (including forms of acquired heart disease) than it is to treat those diseases. The prevalence of preventable heart disease has been the subject of Christy’s blog series on Pet Obesity (on hiatus as Christy is on maternity leave), and is further explored with some startling statistics in Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Heath 2012 Report.

Banfield Pet Hospital is the nation’s largest animal health care provider with 800 hospitals in 43 states. The 2012 Report offers an analysis of over 2 MILLION dogs and nearly 430,000 cats detailing highly preventable chronic diseases: obesity, arthritis, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and heart disease. As I don’t want to simply regurgitate the report’s findings verbatim, you can check out the report yourself, HERE. I would, however, like to point out a few startling statistics that only reinforce the need for ongoing and proactive preventative care for our pets.

Since 2007, the number of cases of overweight and obese dogs has increased 37% and the number of cases in cats has increased by 90%. Why is that significant? Well, as it does in humans, obesity is an underlying cause of many major health problems:

42% of dogs and 40% of cats with diabetes are also overweight.
40% of dogs and 37% of cats with arthritis are also overweight.
More than 40% of dogs with high blood pressure are overweight.
61% of dogs with hypopthyroidism are overweight.

What is also interesting here, is that based on a survey of more than 1,000 Banfield clients with dogs and 1,000 clients with cats, 76% of dog owners and 69% of cat owners believe their pet is at the right weight. Clearly, there is a disconnect somewhere, and I believe that lack of education on the significance of a healthy lifestyle for dogs and cats is a key factor, as well as simple knowledge of nutritional requirements for our furry friends. The states with the highest rate of obesity in dogs and cats are Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma (dogs), and Utah (cats).

In its report on heart disease, the 5-year trend in cases reported remains quite stable, and the prevalence of cardiomyopathy in cats has actually decreased by 14% since 2007. However, according to its survey, nearly 4 out of every 5 dog owners were unaware that vomiting, dental disease, and weight loss can be attributed to heart disease nor were they aware that aging leads to a greatly increased likelihood of developing a heart condition. The findings of both the survey and the report further demonstrate the need for regular veterinary check ups – at least once annually, however the report does suggest that semi-annual check-ups are ideal for maintaining good health and identifying any problems or conditions as early as possible, particularly in the case of cats, who hide symptoms until many diseases have progressed beyond a treatable state.

That was a lot of statistics and facts. It can seem overwhelming and frankly, a little dry, but as animal healthcare continues to advance, it becomes increasingly apparent that just like humans, maintaining a healthy lifestyle of proper diet and lots of exercise is the key to helping our canine and feline friends stay happy and healthy for many many years. Furthermore, as expensive as specialized veterinary care can be for heart conditions, arthritis, kidney disease, etc., preventative care is also vital for helping to ease the financial strain these acquired conditions can cause. It is so simple: a couple daily walks, limit treats, avoid giving table scraps, and a couple visits to your vet each year, can keep everyone happy & healthy for many years to come.