By: Dr. Jack Stephens
As you know from my prior blogs, and the book I am writing, pets are good for us. Pets have measurable positive effect on our biochemistry that improves our health and well being.
Recently there was an Associated Press article titled “Americans Tenderly Stuffing their Pets with Drugs” and another version “Americans Increasingly Medicating their Pets,” both on the same theme. The article pointed out that $2.9 billion was spent on drugs for pets and was now larger than spending on drugs for farm animals.
Basically, the article’s premise is that we continue to indulge and spend more on our pets. It was interesting to note that pet owners quoted in the articles where not complaining, they were simply stating how they felt it was important to them to provide whatever medication their pet needed. One pet owner estimated she spent $5,000 over the past two years. “You cannot put a price on that,” she was quoted as saying. And her husband, replied, “And I don’t want to.”
Why are pet owners willing to spend so much more on their pets?
Could it be they are receiving enough value from their pet to offset the expense?
The benefits of pets are just now being fully understood by science, something pet owners have known all along. Pets relieve stress, decrease feelings of anxiety, reduce and even eliminate depression. Pets entertain us, provide us with a feeling of security, cause us to exercise more, provide valuable services such as for the deaf, the blind, the physically handicapped and in psychotherapy. They make us smile. When we smile, we feel better. Pets are a “social lubricant” for meeting, greeting and conversing with others.
Scientific measurements have shown that sitting with your pet (dogs were used for the study) and petting them, improves your biochemistry of hormones and neurotransmitters. Your stress (bad hormones) decreases and your good hormones increase by that simple act. Your immune system is believed to be positively impacted by pets, thereby helping you to fight off disease and illness.
Pets make people feel less lonely and they provide us with unconditional love, which is hard to find these days. Pets listen to us (97% of pet owner’s report they talk to their pet) and even though they cannot answer back, we always feel better after talking to them.
A better story would be “Pets make us Healthier,” thereby decreasing our own reliance on drugs and reducing human medical cost. All medications have unintended consequences, even if unnoticed. Why not allow interaction with a companion pet improve your health and decrease your reliance on some medications?
In a survey of surgery patients, those with a companion pet reported less post-surgical pain than those without a pet. Less post-operative pain would indicate that pet owners required less medication and shorter hospital stays. Heart attack victims with a companion pet had a higher survival rate than non-pet owners. It has been demonstrated that quiet pet interaction decreases our blood pressure.
I strongly believe that increased spending on pets is the result of people intuitively knowing they feel better and want to maintain and reward that relationship by providing the medication necessary to increase their pet’s longevity and health.
As to cost, the articles stated that even at $2.9 billion spent on pet drugs, it was only 1% of the cost of human drugs. The headline would lead one to think spending on pet drugs is excessive.
However, consider the benefits of pets with only one very prevalent epidemic in America, depression. There are an estimated 48 million people (16% of the population) with some form of depression in the United States. If only 25 % of these people were able to eliminate antidepressants and it saved only $200 per year, that would translate into a savings of $2.4 billion annually in decreased drug cost for those drugs alone! Add to that the fact that those people would have the extra benefit of not having the many side affects that these drugs can cause and you can see how the cost of owning a pet is money well spent.
Of course we know that the actual annual cost of medication for depression is higher, but you get my drift. Pets pay for themselves many times over, and we receive so many more benefits from pets than simply helping to relieve or prevent mild depression.
I have personally witnessed a number of people on antidepressants who have eliminated the need for the drugs completely by the singular act of obtaining a household companion pet.
A close relationship with a companion pet increases your sense of well being, improves your body chemistry, increases natural anti-depression chemicals and enhances your immune system, thereby improving your odds of fighting off disease and illness: all natural methods biologically rooted into humans. Why not indulge something that helps you so much and in so many ways? Imagine how much money we might save in our present health care system by simply prescribing a companion pet.
My motto? “Prescribe Pets Not Pills.”
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
In the United Kingdom it has been reported that 15% of dogs and 4% of cats-or 19% of U.K. pets-have pet health insurance. Yet, in the United States we are just approaching 2% of all pets being insured, which leads to the question: Do the British love their pets more than we do?
I am repeatedly asked why there are not more pets insured in the United States. Having been the pioneer of pet insurance in the U.S. and sitting here as a bonded pet owner with my Chihuahua in my lap as I write this, I have firsthand experience to both pet insurance and the joy pets bring to our lives, and I can definitively state that the British do not love their pets more than Americans do, even if one uses the acceptance of pet insurance as a measurement. There are actually several theories I have as to why pet insurance is not as common in the U.S. as it is in the U.K.
Pet insurance in America has larger obstacles to overcome than in Europe, beginning with the individual regulatory requirements for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Insurance regulations and financial qualifications in America are more onerous and have set higher financial standards, even for pets.
In Britain, pet insurance is unregulated, making it easier to start and operate a pet insurance plan. In the U.S. the financial and regulatory requirements set some high hurdles for companies to jump.
Second, there is more competition in the U.K., which increases awareness of the service, provides more features, options and price ranges from which a consumer can choose.
A third difference is the maturity of the field itself. Pet insurance started initially in 1946 with Dog Breeders Insurance (DBI) in the U.K., whereas I started pet insurance in the U.S. in 1982. The reason these dates are relevant is because the current 27% compound annual growth pattern of pet insurance in recent years is similar, demonstrating a much higher acceptance of the concept than the actual numbers show.
The fourth-and I believe biggest-reason for the enrollment difference is “risk transfer,” or the fact that pet care was simply not that expensive compared to most Americans’ disposable income, until recently. This is certainly not the situation now. Previously, most veterinary expenses could be managed through discretionary income. This has changed dramatically, though, with the increasing acceptance by pet owners of more sophisticated-yet more costly-care.
More and more often, people in America refer to their pets as family members, which means that their care and well being have a higher priority than a dog or cat who is considered “just a pet.” That is a good thing.
Pet insurance is simply one method that allows pet owners to budget and always be prepared for their pet’s medical expenses. Other methods are tapping your savings, borrowing, foregoing other expenses or worse yet, credit card debt. Budgeting with affordable monthly premiums is a better method. At Pets Best Insurance we are proud of our part in helping pets always receive the care they need and protecting your pocketbook, despite the cost.
Posted by Pets Best on 2/15/2007 in Training Tips Articles
We’ve all seen them—dogs who seemed out of control with problem behaviors, dogs who seemed beyond hope. Fortunately, the truth of the matter is that no matter the age of the pet, obedience training and breaking bad habits is always an option.
When considering classes, many owners turn to local pet stores and online resources to determine what type of training will be best for them. A variety of options exist, from books and videos to individual personal trainers and group obedience classes. The key, according to dog expert John Ross, is consistency and dedication.
“Haphazard training produces unreliable results,” Ross says. “The old cliché, ‘What you put into it is what you get out,’ is particularly true with dogs.”
Author of Dog Talk, Puppy Preschool and Adopting a Dog, John Ross is a newspaper columnist, former radio-show host, and long-time dog trainer, working with literally thousands of dogs and their owners to help owners better understand how to communicate with and train their canine friends.
Dogs from six months to sixteen years can always benefit from obedience training and refresher courses, says Ross.
Puppy training expert Linda White agrees. In her videos on dog training, Linda breaks down bad behavior and tackles each subject head on. Whether it’s biting, chewing, jumping or general obedience, Linda walks owners through the process of turning their troublesome pup into a well behaved guy or gal.
“The number of dogs surrendered to shelters and euthanized is mind-boggling,” says Smart. “Even more saddening is how many of these dogs could have been saved if people had affordable training tools to deal with these behaviors.”
From that desire to help and educate, Happy Puppy Kindergarten was born. Puppy Smarts: Lessons for a Lifetime videos are available from veterinarians and also on her website at www.puppysmarts.com.
Whether it’s weekly dog obedience classes or the convenience of at-home books and videos, resources are available to help with problem behaviors and integrate even challenging pups into our homes and hearts. As the adage says, there truly are no bad dogs!
With the cold winter nights and short days, winter’s hold is still apparent, not just for us, but for our pets, too. More than just inconvenient, outdoor winters for our four-legged friends can be more than just uncomfortable: they can be downright dangerous.
Jackets and blankets purchased with your pooch in mind can help stave off the cold in some instances, but most pet experts recommend that Fido and Fluffy be allowed to sleep inside until spring’s rays start to warm the earth again. If your pet must sleep outside, inexpensive blankets can be found at any local thrift store, but be careful as blankets have a tendency to trap moisture. No one wants to sleep in a wet bed! Also, for pets left outside for more than a few minutes, be sure that they have adequate shelter with lots of clean, thick bedding and clean drinking water (not frozen) at all times.
Dog houses can be warmed with hot water bottles, special heat-radiating pads or cedar chips. Some dog houses even come with their own electric heaters, though the risks should not be taken lightly. Also, if the doghouse is wooden, be sure to raise it up off the ground several inches to prevent rotting and keep out rain, and cover the door of the dog house with a mat, piece of plastic carpet runner or carpet to provide an adequate door.
Remember, too, that dogs lose most of their heat through their paws, ears and skin, so extended exposure to cold will have an effect on them. Long-haired dogs like Elkhounds and Huskies fare better than smooth-coated dogs, Boxers and Greyhounds, for example. All breeds, however, including cats, are susceptible to de-icing products, including salt. Be sure to wash their paws with warm water when they come inside after walking on any of these substances.
Speaking of substances, be sure to monitor your car for any anti-freeze leaks and wipe them up immediately, as these can prove lethal for both cats and dogs. Also be sure to give a good tap to the hood before you start your car in the morning if you have kitties in your neighborhood who enjoy the warmth of your car motor. (Or if your own kitty sleeps in the garage at night.)
Since the groundhog saw his shadow this year, spring is coming, but isn’t here yet. Be sure to protect your pets from the cold nights that are still upon us.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
A Routine Visit Helps Identify Tumor Early
Bebe, a 10-year-old Bicon Frise, recently went in for a routine annual visit. Bebe’s owner had enrolled in Pets Best’s Best Wellness plan and was using the benefits for Bebe’s annual visits.
It was suggested to Bebe’s owner that since the wellness benefits provide for an annual blood test that blood be drawn and sent to the lab. Although it was almost an afterthought, the blood test revealed an elevated enzyme that occurs with liver damage.
Further testing, including an ultrasound, revealed that a tumor was present. A veterinary specialist in Los Angeles was able to remove the tumor, which would not have been found except for the routine annual visit and blood work.
Pets Best reimbursed Bebe’s owner 80%, or $3,440 out of $4,300, since the per-incident deductible had already been met. Additionally, Bebe’s owner was reimbursed $1,012 for the expense of her regular veterinarian. To date $4,452 has been sent to Bebe’s owner for Bebe’s squamous cell carcinoma of the liver, a very deadly tumor type that was thankfully caught in time.
Separate Incidents, Same Dog
Miss Pugsly, a 5-year-old Pug, recently developed pancreatitits, an infection of the pancreas. After a referral from Miss Pugsly’s regular veterinarian and an emergency clinic to the Teaching Hospital at Texas A&M Veterinary School, a biopsy was performed. The biopsy cost was $2,341, of which Pets Best paid 80%. Thankfully, the mass was not malignant.
About a month after developing pancreatitis, our curious Miss Pugsly decided to swallow rat poison. For this trip to the vet, Pets Best reimbursed $1,400 towards this treatment, or 80% after the deductible.
We’re hoping that 2007 is a stress-free year for Miss Pugsly and her owner!
Sam, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, developed severe diarrhea and vomiting, much to his owners’ distress. X-rays revealed a foreign body in the intestinal tract. Upon exploratory surgery to remove the foreign body, it was discovered that Sam’s intestines had ruptured, causing a severe infection in the abdominal cavity. The cost of Sam’s surgery was $4,262, of which Pets Best reimbursed $3,344, or 80% after the deductible.
Paco’s Troubles Still a Mystery
Paco, a 1-year-old Shih Tzu, developed vomiting for reasons that are still unknown to his owner. After a trip to the vet, Pets Best reimbursed Paco’s owner $1,486, or 80% after the deductible, for diagnostic testing, including a blood panel and x-rays, hospitalization and treatments.