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.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
There are many reasons why people should not consider “getting rid” of a pet when a new child enters the home. Unfortunately, this happens all too often with pets that have provided years of companionship. They become disposable. The pet owner mistakenly believes that a new child and a pet are incompatible. They may be concerned that the added responsibilities will be too much for them, or that the pet might injure the child. However, the many advantages for pets in households with children far outweigh these concerns; usually, those who consider disposing of their pet are unaware of the many positive benefits that result from pets.
It now documented and scientifically proven that pets are good for our health and well-being. The simple act of petting a dog will improve a human’s internal biochemistry in several ways. Interaction with a dog or other pet increases certain hormones such as prolactin (the feel-good hormone) and oxytocin (the warm-feeling hormone). These are interesting bodily changes in our chemistry, especially given that these hormones are higher in women and even higher in women with newborn infants! Prolactin is responsible primarily for milk let-down in nursing mothers, and oxytocin is primarily responsible for the birthing stimulus. In other words, Mother Nature gives women higher levels of these hormones, so they will be more nurturing towards infants. Over the eons of interacting with animals, this same biological benefit was also being developed by safe, quiet interacting with animals for both men and women. If pets provide us with higher levels of the very same hormones, ones that cause us to be more nurturing and to generally feel better, why remove the stimulus?
Pets also decrease cortisol, the stress hormone. Blood levels of the primary hormone that can be measured when we are stressed (cortisol) actually decrease when we pet a pet. It has been a long time since I raised my four children, and I loved them dearly when they were small; but I can tell you it was stressful being a parent. Why remove the pet that actually reduces your stress and has the other proven benefits of reducing your blood pressure?
Additionally, pets increase certain neurotransmitters and other favorable chemicals that allow your nerves to work more efficiently and effectively. Pets improve Serotonin levels, decreasing depression. Think about all the post-partum depression that occurs and how having a pet may play a role in alleviating depression. It has been well documented – and I have personally seen many times – that obtaining a pet will lessen or even alleviate depression. I have witnessed people eliminate antidepressants completely by the simple act of acquiring a companion pet. Notice I said “companion pet,” because the pet needs to interact with you daily and be part of your life in order to obtain the maximum health benefits. If a household pet, such as a dog or cat is not feasible, consider an aquarium. There are even measurable benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, that have been observed with the interaction of pet fish and people.
INTRODUCTION OF CHILD AND PET
Household pets, especially older pets, should be introduced with the new child, just as you would introduce the new infant to a sibling. After all, we don’t call pets our babies and treat them like children for nothing; and – as with human siblings – there can be some jealousy of a new member of the family. Proper introduction can head that issue off and prevent a negative association with the new member.
Allow the pet to see and sniff the new family member. Praise and pet the pet as you do the introduction, and always follow up with a treat. A few episodes of positive reinforcement with praise and petting, followed up by a treat, will soon associate the new family member with rewards. This same pattern should be used for any new family member, whether four-legged or two-legged. This should work in most all cases, if not; consult a professional behaviorist for advice. There is a solution to almost all situations.
THE CUROSITY FACTOR
Most pets are simply curious about a new family member. After all, this has been their household, and anything new in the environment demands their attention. Pets, like humans, need to assimilate and understand how change affects them. They have questions, which, while they cannot be expressed in language, are important to resolve through positive reinforcement and close supervision at the introduction.
Pets, like very small children, are curious and need to know how to avoid anxiety, frustration and undesirable results. Also, pets, like children, cannot express, nor can they understanding in our language, what is going on. In other words, you can not simply tell a dog how wonderful it is that the new baby is here and expect him to understand. Once their curiosity has been satisfied and they receive positive feedback for their curiosity, things will return to normal in most households, and nearly all pets will accept, if not welcome, the new member of the family. It is important to understand that a pet’s behavior is a direct result of your actions and reinforcement through the positive feedback mechanisms of praise and reward.
In our hectic lives pets can be a welcome, non-judgmental distraction from our stresses of the day. We have many demands, and a new child, although most welcomed, does come with stress. There are more concerns regarding how they are doing, their comfort, feeding, bathing, and changing of diapers, for instance, that increase the parents’ work load. The argument that adopting the pet out will relieve a few more burdens or chores that take time away is not valid, because the pet does not take that much time away. And – as we know from the positive biochemical and hormonal changes pets provide – valuable improvements in our lives because of our pets allow us to be even better parents.
The old school of thought that keeping children, especially infants, away from pets was helpful for preventing allergies has now been scientifically shown to be wrong. Evidence supports that early exposure to pets is actually better at preventing future allergies and non-exposure causes greater allergies for many children. Having pets around infants may actually improve their chances of having fewer allergies, certainly to pet dander, anyway.
In life, we owe certain loyalties to individuals, our family, society, the community and our government for the benefits they provide us. There is no less loyalty owed to a companion pet who has been there for you and been part of your family. You owe them an allegiance for the value they have brought to your life. Changes in your family situation do not change your loyalty to your other family members. It does not change your loyalty to society or to your community, nor should it change the loyalty you have to your pet. We are the protectors of children and pets. The creator granted us dominion over animals, but with that dominion comes responsibility. All things are temporary and transient, but how you deal with life and others is not. Pets give us unconditional love and loyalty. That loyalty should be reciprocated and not abdicated when family situations change.
I realize your pet may not be a Lassie that will save your child as Lassie did for Timmy many times, but it does happen. Pets commonly protect children introduced to them when they are mature. As the children age, many animals bond to children in their homes, in a manner that is still to be quantified. In fact, many breeds of dogs were specially bred to protect the children of emperors and nobles. There are many stories of pets protecting children and families. Cats have awoken their owners when a fire was present in the home, saving their owners’ lives. A pot bellied pig, when its owner suffered an incapacitating stroke, went into the street and would not move until a person followed her to her stricken master. Dogs have pulled children out of lakes and pools.
Dogs and horses have saved children from poisonous snakes. Even birds can be early warning signals for toxic fumes. Remember the canaries in the coal mines? Coal miners placed canaries in the mine shafts to warn of deadly toxic gases, by giving their lives as an early warning. Now instruments have been designed to take the canary’s place and measure deadly gases in the air.
One never knows when disaster will strike, or what form danger could come in for your child. Why not have trusted pet companions that can sense and know things you do not and can be there when you are not to protect your child?
There are many positive benefits of companion pets for you and your child. With a few easy steps, you can be assured of a good relationship between you, your pet and your new child or family member. The benefits of keeping the pet far outweigh the attitude that when new family members come, pets must go.
By: Dr. Jack Stephens
At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Tibetan terriers are contributing to a canine DNA bank in an ongoing research program that studies the genetic basis of a neurological disease that affects both dogs and humans.
The disease is neuronalceroid lipofuscinoisis (NCL) in dogs and Batten disease in humans. A rare, inherited neurological disorder, NCL/Batten disease does not currently have a cure. According to Dr. Martin Katz, professor of ophthalmology with a dual appointment in the School of Medicine and the College of Veterinary Medicine, human NCL often goes misdiagnosed due to its rarity and symptoms that are similar to other diseases. Affected children develop symptoms that may include blindness, seizures, cognitive decline and loss of motor function.
But Dr. Katz feels the purebred Tibetan terrier may hold the key for the genetic basis of the disease. By comparing the mutated genes of affected dogs to unaffected dogs, researchers have been able to pinpoint the mutant gene and identify through a complicated mapping process where the gene is in the DNA sequence.
A simple test for the mutation can then be performed on any dog using DNA extracted from a blood sample. This test will enable breeders to screen dogs prior to breeding to prevent future generations from being affected. This process will also lead to making it possible to determine whether any humans with NCL have the same mutations in the corresponding human genes.
The shorter life span of a dog allows researchers to conduct their studies much faster than with people, and the similarity of the disease will allow for better and faster results for humans. Another benefit of studying the genes in dogs is that there is excellent record keeping by the breed registries and close observations by the dog owners, which make them ideal subjects for genetic studies.
Another way man’s best friend continues to help us.
Source: Veterinary Medical Review, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Missouri.