How the Cost of Veterinary Care Impacts Pets, Clients & Veterinarians

You’ve just adopted a new puppy or kitten and you take it to the vet’s office for a first appointment.  Would you expect your veterinarian to spend time talking to you about the financial burden of future veterinary care if your pet gets sick or injured over the course of its lifetime?  Many pet owners discuss routine care like vaccinations and spay/neuter when they take a new pet to the vet, but it might be surprising if their vet brings up potential future costs of treating a disease like cancer, or surgery for a broken leg.

Veterinarians often find themselves in the difficult position of taking a client’s ability to pay into account when deciding on the quality of care a sick or injured pet can receive.  A recent survey of over 1,000 small animal practice veterinarians, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association, examines this very important issue.

Dr. Barry Kipperman, a veterinarian who conducted this study with several colleagues, outlines the key findings of the survey in an article on the website dvm360.com.

  • 57% of surveyed vets reported that a client’s financial limitations impact their ability to provide the level of care they would like to give to an animal.
  • 77% of the vets who reported some degree of professional burnout said that clients’ financial limitations were a contributing factor to at least some extent.
  • While a majority of the vets reported discussing vaccinations and spay/neuter with clients, only 32% talked about costs of veterinary care prior to a pet becoming sick or injured. Only 23% reported discussing pet health insurance with clients.
  • A majority of the vets said that pet welfare and client satisfaction (as well as their own satisfaction) improved when clients were aware of pet health insurance and the costs of veterinary care.

As Dr. Kipperman points out, few people entering vet school ever think about the sad reality of denying care to a pet because of a client’s inability to pay for services.  He suggests that it is in the best interests of pets, their owners, and their vets to have conversations about potential future costs of care.  It is possible for pet owners to prepare for future expenses…if they have a good understanding of what to expect.  This increased awareness can start with a concerted effort to educate veterinary students, practicing veterinarians, and pet owners about the importance of talking about the costs of veterinary care.

 

Fraud Alert for Animal Lovers: Beware of Animal Rescue Scams

Have you ever gotten a message on social media, containing a heartbreaking image of a shelter dog or cat, urging you to donate money immediately to help save its life?  The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has issued a fraud alert, warning animal lovers to take a closer look at who is asking for donations before sending any money.

According to the LADA’s website, so-called “animal shelter scammers” could be preying on your compassion.  These people will actually visit shelters, take pictures of animals in cages, and then post them on social media, warning people that they are in danger of dying in a “high-kill shelter” unless they receive your money to help rescue them.  Sometimes they also use old pictures of shelter animals that they have taken from animal welfare websites around the country.

Besides social media, these images can also be posted on flyers and could be sent to you via email or regular mail.  Some scammers will even call you on the phone.

How can well-meaning animal lovers protect themselves from this type of animal rescue scam?  The LADA offers the following common-sense tips:

  • Verify that the organization or person asking you for money is a legitimate 501(C)3 charity. This information should be readily available if the charity is real.
  • Double check the information on the specific animal. Is it a real animal currently housed in a shelter that is in imminent danger of euthanasia?
  • If the animal is currently living in a shelter, talk to the shelter directly and ask them what is being done to help the animal. Are they authorizing anyone to solicit funds to save the animal from euthanasia?

Obviously, many legitimate animal welfare non-profits welcome your donation, but they certainly don’t want you to send your money to a 3rd party scammer using images of their animals to cheat you out of your hard-earned cash!

Interested in learning more?  The LADA has created a video about animal shelter scams which you can see here:

 

“Whisker Fatigue” Could Be the Cause of Your Cat’s Finicky Eating

Cats are famous for being picky eaters, but the reason behind this may not be the brand of cat food you bought.  Many cats also like to fish pieces of food out of their bowls and eat them off the floor…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re just playing with their food.  If your cat is exhibiting some odd eating behaviors, the culprit could be “whisker fatigue.”

Whisker fatigue is the term used by veterinary experts to describe the stress and discomfort your cat feels when his sensitive whiskers rub up against the sides of a food bowl.  A recent article about whisker fatigue in The New York Times sheds some light on this little-known issue.  Your cat’s whiskers are highly sensitive, like antennas, and pick up signals from the environment that can be as subtle as a light breeze.

What happens when your cat’s whiskers rub on her food bowl while eating?  Many experts describe it as a stressful feeling, sort of like sensory overload.  The solution is surprisingly simple.  Choose shallow food dishes instead of deep ones, and make sure your cat’s water bowl is as shallow as possible.

The article points out that you can use a flat dish you already have, or buy a bowl with shallow sides specifically designed for whisker fatigue.  One company mentioned in the article called Dr. Catsby makes a wide, shallow stainless-steel bowl with a non-skid bottom.  Stainless is also preferable to plastic or ceramic because it is less porous and inhibits the growth of bacteria (a primary cause of feline chin acne).

Just like dog bowls that are made for dogs of different sizes, and long or flat faces, your cat’s bowl should be whisker-friendly too!

 

GOdogs Project Investigates the Genetics of Canine Obesity

The scientists at the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories are looking for a few good—and chubby—dogs!  Their GOdogs Project is conducting cutting-edge genetic research on why certain dog breeds tend to become overweight (Labrador Retrievers, we’re talking to you!).  They also hope that this research will shed light on the genetics of human obesity.

If you own a Labrador and live near the Cambridge University Veterinary School in the UK, your dog can become an important part of this ongoing study.  The researchers also welcome input from the owners of other types of dogs.  Owners of all dog breeds can answer a questionnaire about their dog’s eating habits, and if you have a Retriever, Pug, or Bulldog, the Project is looking for DNA samples from your pup.  Click HERE to learn more about participating in the study.

The GOdogs website has lots of great information about obesity in dogs.  Did you know that between 34 and 59% of dogs can be classified as overweight?  Obesity causes significant health problems in our pets, including:

  • Joint disease
  • Heart and lung problems
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Incontinence
  • Cancer
  • Shorter lifespan

Why are so many dogs overweight?  The Project points to the modern lifestyle of pampered pets as a prime cause.  Your dog’s body stores fat as an energy reserve to draw on in times when food is scarce.  Today’s dogs aren’t running around and hunting, so a sedentary lifestyle combined with lots of food that’s high in fat and calories can lead to obesity.

The fact that some dog breeds are prone to obesity suggests that genetics play a role in this, particularly when it comes to appetite and hunger.  Previous studies on obesity in humans and other animals have shown that certain genes affect a part of the brain that controls hunger called the hypothalamus.

What about the link between genetics and obesity in dogs?  The GOdogs Project has been collecting canine eating behavior and genetic data since 2013.  In 2016 they published their first findings about a genetic cause for obesity in Labradors.  One particular gene called POMC has been found to be associated with obesity in Labradors (and flatcoated retrievers).  A quarter of UK Labs have this gene and these dogs were found to be around 4 lbs. heavier than Labs without the gene.  POMC plays a role in regulating feelings of hunger and fullness.

Whether your dog has a genetic predisposition to being overweight or not, there are practical steps you can take to manage your dog’s weight.  Check out these strategies for monitoring your dog’s weight, regulating food intake, minimizing your dog’s feelings of hunger, and making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise, all courtesy of the folks at GOdogs.

 

Thyroid Disease in Cats Linked to Chemical Found in Our Homes

One of the more perplexing feline health issues seen by veterinarians is the growing epidemic of hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormone) seen in cats in the past few decades…a condition rarely seen by vets as recently as the early 1970s.  A new article in the New York Times sheds some light on this veterinary mystery…and may cause cat owners to take a second look at the presence of a common chemical in our homes.

Hyperthyroidism in cats (also called feline wasting disease) causes serious symptoms like weight loss (combined with increased appetite), restlessness, poor coat quality, rapid heartrate, and increased thirst.  This had been a rare condition in cats, but over the past few decades, cats have been developing thyroid tumors, causing the thyroid gland to secrete large amounts of thyroid hormone into the body.

According to the article, several veterinarians began taking a closer look at feline patients with this wasting disease, starting in the late 70s and early 80s, and discovered that many of the cats had thyroid tumors and high levels of thyroid hormones.  These feline thyroid problems were rare until the late 70s.  The condition continued to grow and spread throughout the U.S. and to other countries into the 1990s.  Today, 10% of older cats will get hyperthyroidism.

An epidemiological study of cats with hyperthyroidism found some common risk factors that proved to be very important clues:  spending most of their time indoors, sleeping on carpets and our bedding materials, eating certain kinds of foods, and living in a home with a gas fireplace.  Researchers have narrowed their focus to one culprit:  a chemical substance that is commonly used as a flame retardant, called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

Starting in the 1970s, this chemical was added to everyday household materials like carpeting, furniture upholstery, and even electronics.  Tiny particles of this substance migrate from the household item into the air…and bodies of our pets.  Cats seem to be especially sensitive to the fact that the structure of PBDEs mimic thyroid hormones and affect bodily functions.

This chemical has largely been removed from the manufacture of household items, although many people still have things containing it in their homes, and it also takes a very long time to degrade.  Feline behavior like sleeping on furniture and, more importantly, grooming, makes cats especially vulnerable to ingesting PBDEs.

As veterinarians continued to look into feline hyperthyroidism and PBDEs, they also found that there are high levels of PBDEs in certain canned cat foods, particularly fish-flavored food.  Cats exposed to high levels of PBDEs in their home environment are at increased risk of developing hyperthyroidism as they age.

The article notes that cats and other pets can often be seen as the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to discovering how toxic substances in our environment can harm all living creatures, including us humans.  Pets that spend most of their time indoors, exposed to all of the toxins in the home environment, are especially good at telling us when something is wrong.  Testing reveals that virtually all humans have some PBDEs in the body.  Humans are also experiencing more cases of thyroid disease and thyroid cancer.

Want to learn more?  There is a Canary Database that actively tracks environment-related diseases in animals that may also affect humans.