Is Pet Insurance the Right Choice for You?

The start of a new year is the time when many us of make resolutions to take better care of our health.  But what about our pets?  Do your wellness plans for your best friend include getting pet health insurance?

Many dog and cat owners consider pet insurance, and some employers even offer it as part of their employee benefits package.  But is it the right option for you?

The decision to get insurance for your pet depends on many individual factors.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself—and any potential insurance companies—before you buy.

What is the annual cost of pet insurance?

This can depend on your particular situation, including the cost of living in your area and the breed and age of your pet.  Consumer advocates warn that the cost of your annual premium may be higher than the benefits you receive.

One study found that while the cost for coverage is around $500 a year, most pet owners saw only around $275 in paid claims.

Do you own a “high-risk” dog breed?

Cats are generally less expensive to insure than dogs, but not all dogs cost the same to insure.  Some breeds are much more expensive than others.

The experts at the website I Heart Dogs report that some large breed dogs like the St. Bernard and Irish Wolfhound are especially pricey to insure.

They recommend choosing a plan that covers inherited and chronic health conditions (such as hip and elbow dysplasia).  Make sure the plan covers all aspects of treatment for an illness or injury (like overnight care).

What’s covered and what’s not covered?

Make sure you understand what each insurance plan covers and what is excluded.  All plans vary but there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.

According to the website Wag! you should be prepared to cover a lot of preventive care yourself.  This includes things like dental cleanings, parasite prevention, vaccinations, spay/neuter, non-traditional therapies, and prescription diets.

What should be covered under a good plan?  Farmers Insurance notes that plans should cover treatment for accidents and injuries, and certain illnesses like cancer, arthritis, and diabetes.

Remember to review plans carefully for details on coverage of hereditary and pre-existing conditions.

How can you compare insurance plans?

Ready to look into getting pet health insurance but not sure where to start?  Check out this veterinarian-reviewed, comprehensive guide to pet health insurance plans from the website lendedu.com.

 

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New Study Examines the Health of Labrador Retrievers

The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States for many years.  We love this kind, gentle, and loving dog…but like any purebred dog, the Lab does have some inherited health issues that all owners should know about.

A recent study of Labs in the UK took a look at the most common health and well-being issues of this popular dog.  What are the key findings?

61.6% of all Labs in the study had at least one known health disorder.  Here are the most common:

  • Otitis externa (ear canal inflammation and infection)
  • Obesity (particularly among neutered males)
  • Degenerative joint disease (hip and elbow dysplasia)

Interestingly, some of the conditions were found to be more closely associated with coat color than others.  For example, chocolate colored Labs were more likely to have both otitis externa and a skin condition called pyotraumatic dermatitis (hot spots).

The average lifespan of all Labs is around 12 years, but chocolate Labs had shorter lifespans.  The two most common causes of death in Labs are musculoskeletal disorders and cancer.

The researchers suspect that the link between chocolate color and illness/mortality might be due to an increased number of genetic diseases contained in a more limited gene pool.

If you’re interested in a Labrador Retriever as your next pet, be sure to work only with a reputable breeder (or rescue organization) who health tests their dogs for inherited health problems.

For more information on health testing, check out the website of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals.

 

Home DNA Testing for Dogs Leads to Discovery of Genetics for Blue Eyes in Huskies

Many of us have ordered DNA testing kits for ourselves to learn about our ancestry.  But the boom in at-home testing is also spreading to our dogs.

An analysis of the home DNA tests of over 6,000 dogs (combined with photos and surveys from their owners) has led to the identification of a gene duplication on canine chromosome 18 that causes blue eyes in Siberian Huskies.

Duplication of a gene known as ALX4 (which plays a role in eye development) causes two blue eyes or one blue/one brown eye in both Huskies and non-merle Australian Shepherds.

A report on the study on the Science Daily website notes that the growing field of consumer genomics will lead to increased knowledge about our dogs, as well as ourselves.

You can read the full text of the research article HERE.

 

Test Your Dog Breed IQ with the MuttMix Project Survey

Dog lovers pride themselves on their knowledge of breeds, especially when successfully identifying the breeds that went into a particular mutt.  How would you rate your ability to name the breeds that make up a mixed breed dog?

The MuttMix Project invites all “dog detectives” to take a survey to test their mutt IQ.  Participants will be asked to register and can take a few practice tests before starting the survey.  With 30 mutts to identify, you can take a break and pick up later if your head starts spinning!

After completing the survey, you will be sent a certificate of completion and the answers to the mutt survey via email.

The MuttMix Project is part of Darwin’s Dogs, a collaborative academic project that studies canine ancestry by collecting and analyzing dog DNA.

While DNA tests can identify the breeds that go into mutts, the MuttMix Project seeks to understand how people perceive purebred and mixed breed dogs based on appearance.

Click HERE to take this fun (and challenging!) survey…and contribute to science at the same time!

 

Scientists Create a Dog Breed “Family Tree”

At first glance, a new visual representation of the canine family tree looks more like a pinwheel than a maple, but the researchers who recently mapped out a genetic history of over 160 dog breeds (published in the journal Cell Reports) have provided us with fascinating new insights into the evolution of dog breeds and how they are related to each other…and human history.

Click image to enlarge.

A study was conducted on the genetic data of 1,346 dogs representing 161 different breeds from all over the world.  The researchers discovered that while many breeds are interconnected, there are also some interesting outliers that have few connections with other breeds.  The connections between breeds can happen by chance, with human migrants who bring their dogs with them to other parts of the world, or through direct human intervention via cross-breeding.

As an example, the researchers highlight genetic variation among three breeds in the study (the Tibetan Mastiff, Saluki, and Cane Corso).  DNA collected from populations of these dogs in the US was quite different than DNA collected from the breeds in their countries of origin.  For example, American Cane Corso dogs show much more evidence of intermixing with other breeds (Mastiffs and Rottweilers) than those in their country of origin, Italy.

What are some other interesting findings of the study?

The researchers were able to confirm historical accounts of our creation of bull terrier breeds (for the purpose of dog fighting) through genetics.  All bull and terrier crosses can be mapped to the terriers of Ireland during the years 1860-1870, according to the study.

Speculation that the domestication of dogs first occurred in Central and East Asia is confirmed by genetic testing that identifies Asian spitz-type dogs as among the very earliest breeds.

Dogs traveled from Asia to the Americas 10,000 years ago with the first human migrants.  But the original New World dogs, like the distinctive Xoloitzcuintle, eventually encountered the dogs brought to the Americas by later European migrants and extensively interbred with them, especially herding breeds.

The authors point to two breed types—sighthounds and livestock guardian dogs—as examples of how breeds can develop in different geographic regions (the UK and the Mediterranean in this case) and share similar characteristics but not the same genetic material.  So a trait like speed or large size can be developed in isolation, but the resulting dog can be similar to unrelated dogs from other areas.

Interested in learning more?  You can read the full text and see more illustrations HERE.