By: Dr. Jack Stephens
As promised, we want to keep you updated as we learn more information about the pet food recall. Below are some of the things we have learned and information specifically for our policy holders, as well. We are also working on information to help you change your pet’s diet, if you have been feeding one of the recalled products, and will continue updating you as we learn new information. For more information on the recall itself, call Menu Foods at 1-866-895-2708.
THE PROBLEM IS BIGGER THAN WE THOUGHT
-Pets Best Insurance is receiving claims for kidney damage.
-Veterinarians are treating more cases of kidney damage as now being reported in the leading veterinary network.
-Preliminary estimates of affected pets may be low and requires a national reporting network. No one yet knows the magnitude of the problem, but the potential offending agent in the pet food could cause significant kidney failure in thousands of pets who ate the food. The longer they were ingesting the offending food, the worse the damage, though the specific cause is still not known.
IMPORTANT THINGS FOR YOU TO KNOW
-Kidney damage can occur slowly. Symptoms and damage may be progressive or cause acute illness if larger doses of the offending ingredient are given or if the pet is older or in poor health.
-Symptoms will depend on a host of factors, such as amount and time span of the toxin introduced into the pet, age, health, how quickly the toxin is removed, and how quickly treatment is initiated.
-Look for lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, weight loss, listlessness, increased urination and drinking water excessively. -A simple blood test is the first and best solution to determine if your pet has any kidney damage.
-If your pet is older, the damage can become more irreversible.
-Your veterinarian can collect necessary samples and interpret your pet’s kidney function.
-To date the pet food in question is only from certain “wet” pet foods, no dry pet food is known to be involved.
We have also been receiving calls from our policyholders about coverage and want to assure customers who have questions about whether or not their medical bills will be covered.
YOUR PETS BEST POLICY
-Will cover any kidney damage that developed from exposure after your enrollment.
-Will pay 80% after the deductible, up to the per-incident limit of $2,500 or $7,000, whichever you chose at enrollment.
For those of you who signed up for the additional wellness coverage, your wellness coverage will
-Provide $ 35 for a wellness exam.
-Provide $ 60-100 for blood panel, which includes the kidney function (depends on your particular state coverage).
-Provide $ 25 for a urinalysis test.
Wellness benefits provide much more per year, however, these tests are pertinent to this issue if you have the wellness coverage and simply want to have your pet tested as a precaution.
PETS BEST WILL ALSO SUBROGATE (HELP YOU COLLECT) ANY CO-PAYMENT AND YOUR DEDUCTIBLE FROM THE PET FOOD MANUFACTURER THAT IS OVER AND ABOVE OUR 80% PAYMENT OR PER-INCIDENT LIMIT. We will be providing subrogation forms should you wish our help. Do keep any proofs of purchase, including store receipts and can or pouch labels.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Few things, other than politics, can bring up such emotion as pet food preferences. The recent recall of certain “wet” pet foods has gained national attention. The results are not in as to how many pets were negatively affected and what it was in the pet food in question that caused the problems, but I commend the pet food manufacturer for their rapid action and even recalling pet food beyond what was to be expected. This rapid and broad response demonstrates how committed the pet food manufacturers and distributors are to your pet’s health and to protecting their brands.
It has been several years ago, but I have visited pet food plants and was amazed at how clean and efficient they were. In fact I found the few I visited were even cleaner and more modern than a couple of the canned food plants for humans I visited. Food contamination whether pet or human is most regrettable and shakes our faith.
Fortunately it is not that common or prevalent. We must stay diligent to prevent this type of problem from reoccurring, and I am sure this episode will create more safeguards to protect our pets.
When I was a child, commercial pet food was not common. Now we have special diets for particular medical problems, gourmet foods and a large selection from which to choose.
I have witnessed incredible growth in the pet food industry, from few commercial selections to today where the pet food isle is the largest single product area in a grocery store. I have also witnessed the expanded life spans of pets, much of which is due to great quality commercial pet foods.
In addition, I can relate that after 25 years of reviewing pet health insurance claims, pets have fewer medical problems, such as pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas and other ailments, when on a stable diet of high quality pet foods as compared to feeding leftover people food (or people food in general). My best advice is to not panic or overreact and to be certain your cupboard does not have any of the suspected products.
I am sure more answers will be forthcoming and that they will find the cause of the offending agents. If your pet has been eating any of the products listed on the pet food manufacturer’s website, call or make an appointment with your local veterinarian and have a urinalysis and blood screening test performed on your pet.
The tests are easy, fast and can detect a host of other problems, as well as detecting kidney failure. Early detection is the key, while there is still time to prevent symptoms or disease and before the damage is irreversible. Remember, if you have a pet wellness plan, those tests are covered, and your pet should have those tests annually anyway.
When anything new develops that will help you have a healthier pet, or we learn more news on the pet food recall that might help, we will keep you informed.
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.
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.