A coalition of organized veterinary medicine and pet industry representatives formed Partners for Healthy Pets in 2011 to increase the health of pets by simply encouraging regular checkups. According to this consumer advertising campaign, preventive care is as important to your pet’s well being as your love.Formation of the coalition came in response to a continuing crisis in veterinary medicine. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dog visits to the vet have slipped 21 percent since 2001, and visits for cats have gone into free fall, dropping 30 percent. Simultaneously, emergency visits have increased, indicating that people are waiting until their pets are really sick to seek care.
“It’s really very simple. If we can get people to see veterinarians once or twice a year, pets would be healthier, and living longer, and overall pet owners could actually save money,” says Dr. Michael Cavanaugh, CEO of the American Animal Hospital Association.
Lynn Peterson, in Madison, WI, says she never thought all that much about preventive care until taking her cat, Doc, to the vet for a routine visit six years ago. The veterinarian observed that one of Doc’s eyes was slightly discolored, and just “didn’t look right.”
A veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of Wisconsin College of Veterinary Medicine later diagnosed melanoma. The eye and ocular nerve were removed. Due to the early diagnosis, Doc – who likely would have died without early diagnosis – quickly rebounded without the need for any further treatment.
It’s clear that pets are paying a price for the inability to make their own appointments and drive to veterinary clinics for checkups.
The list of preventable illnesses on the rise is long. According to the Banfield State of Pet Health 2011 Report, since 2006 there’s been a 12 percent increase in dental disease among dogs and a 10 percent rise in cats.
According to the Banfield State of Pet Health 2012 report, about 70 percent of owners with overweight or obese dogs or cats have no idea their pet’s weight isn’t ideal until a veterinarian says so. And the impact is significant. Overweight or obese pets can face a variety of health and quality of life issues.
“It’s not that we don’t love our pets,” notes Dr. Karen Felsted, of Felsted Veterinary Consulting, Dallas, TX. Various surveys overwhelmingly confirm that most pets are considered members of the family. Increasingly, terms like “fur babies” are used. And according to the American Pet Products Association, 42 percent of dogs share a bed with a human family member.
So, if we care so much for our pets, why don’t be take better care of them?
Felsted says that according to the 2011 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study there are several explanations for the decline in vet visits:
1. The recent recession and slow recovery.
2. Dr. Google. In an effort to save time and money, nearly 40 percent of pet owners now seek advice from Internet sites rather than veterinarians. Of course, websites can’t reach out to monitor a pet’s heartbeat or do blood work.
3. Lack of understanding about the value of preventive care. About 30 percent of pet owners don’t understand that their pets are more likely to get sick without preventive care.
4. Cost. Just over half of all clients say the price of a veterinary visit is higher than expected, and say veterinarians “push” for unnecessary vaccines or procedures.
Also, about 80 percent of cat owners think their cats are so self-sufficient that regular exams are unnecessary, according to Bayer Health Care Feline Findings, 2013. According to the report, nearly 40 percent of cat owners get stressed just thinking about going to a veterinarian. And no wonder. When the cat carrier appears, most cats disappear.
“It’s such a struggle to get the cat in to see us. I understand,” says Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, Chico, CA-based past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). “I’m not sure that we’ve done our jobs to make our offices as cat-friendly as possible,” she says. In response, the AAFP began to certify Cat Friendly Practices in 2011. The idea has caught on, with well over 500 veterinary clinics now certified as Cat Friendly.
Dr. Ron De DeHaven, AVMA CEO, notes that historically veterinarians used vaccine boosters to encourage veterinary visits. The physical exam — which is the real value — was underplayed or not even mentioned. So, today, with fewer required vaccines, and so many flea and tick products available over-the-counter and online, pet owners often see no need to visit a vet.
“What may not be happening are veterinarians describing the value of what goes on in an exam,” Felsted says.
Bottom line, with today’s technology, veterinarians can do more than ever before to extend the life and quality of life of our pets, but they can’t treat disease in animals that are not seen.