By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
"The health of America's pets is deteriorating; pets are getting sicker than they need to," says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, medical director for Banfield the Pet Hospital.
The "Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2012 Report" offers the only meaningful available data to examine and sum up overall pet health across the country. Unlike human physicians, who report every illness from Lyme disease to heart disease to a central database, there's no similar method for veterinarians to report on pet health issues.
Banfield offers the next best thing; its 800 hospitals in 43 states report all pet illnesses to their database, tracking every detail. Last year, 2,600 Banfield veterinarians saw over 2 million dogs and nearly 430,000 cats.
Some results in the Banfield Report are startling.
There are about 20 percent more pet cats than dogs in the U.S., yet cats represent less than a quarter of visits to veterinarians, the data indicates. Is this because cats rarely get sick?
"Not at all," says Klausner. "Overall, veterinary visits have been on the decline for some time. This is particularly true for cats. We need to get cats into the veterinary clinic."
The number of overweight or obese cats has increased a whopping 90 percent over the past five years, Banfield's statistics show. Dogs aren't exactly maintaining their figures as they should, either, as overweight and obese canines increased 37 percent over the past five years. Klausner doesn't mince words: "It's an epidemic," he says.
There are many explanations for the striking rise in weight gain. One is that many pet owners truly aren't aware their pets are overweight. According to the report, 76 percent of dog owners and 69 percent of cat owners don't know their pet is flabby.
According to the report, Minnesota has the highest rate of overweight dogs and cats. South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Washington State also rank high. What does this mean? Klausner admits he's not sure, especially since these states don't correlate with the ones where the most people are overweight and obese. (According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Colorado has the lowest obesity rate nationwide for people. West Virginia has the highest rate, followed by Delaware, Mississippi and Louisiana.)
No doubt, the rise in arthritis, diabetes and several other problems mentioned in the Banfield Report is related to the increase in weight gain. According to the study, since 2007 the prevalence of arthritis in dogs has increased 38 percent. The incidence of arthritis in cats has gone up 67 percent over the past five years. Also, interestingly, the states with the most overweight pets often also have the most that are arthritic and diabetic, the report indicates.
There are many advantages of regular veterinary visits, especially to catch disease early. Kidney disease is ubiquitous in older cats, but Klausner says that early diagnosis can matter. One of several interesting side notes mentioned in the Banfield Report is the fact that 30 to 40 percent of all pets with kidney disease also had periodontal disease. Are the two problems related, or are both conditions simply common in older pets? No one knows.
Since 2007, the incidence of hyperthyroid in cats has increased 19 percent, according to the report. As it turns out, the rate of hyperthyroid disease in people is also rising. No one knows if there are environmental factors involved to explain this. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Indiana University and the University of Georgia do report evidence linking the disease to exposure to environmental contaminants called polybrominated diphenyl (PBDEs), dust shed from flame retardants in household carpeting, furniture, fabrics.
There's some good news in the report. One example is that feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) has decreased 14 percent since 2007, though HCM remains the most common heart disease in cats. Oddly, heart disease in cats and dogs is most common in South Dakota.
OTHER FACTS AND FIGURES FROM THE BANFIELD REPORT
The most common small dog breeds (under 20 lbs.): Chihuahua, Scottish Terrier
The most common medium dogs (20 to 50 lbs.): Beagle and Boxer
The most common large dogs (50 to 90 lbs.): German Shepherd dog and Golden Retriever
The most common giant dogs (over 90 lbs.) Great Dane and Great Pyrenees
One of the most common dogs seen, overall: dogs described as Pit Bulls
Overall dog trends: More mixed breed dogs, fewer dogs described (by weight) as large and giant.
The most common names for cats: Tiger, Max and Kitty
The most common names for dogs: Max, Buddy and Bella
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.
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