Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Debunking Common Pet Health Misconceptions

By Langley Cornwell

Statistics point to an alarming trend in pet health care: even though the population of pet owners has increased, the number of dogs and cats that are getting formal veterinary care has sharply decreased. The study, commissioned by Bayer HealthCare LLC, Animal Health Division and conducted by Brakke Consulting in collaboration with the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, was comprehensive and well documented. It included two phases, answers from pet owners and consultations from veterinarians. The study indicates that the decline in veterinary visits may be due to misconceptions people have about their pet’s health. These misconceptions can stem from a combination of factors including the glut of information – some accurate and some not—available on the internet, and economic drivers enticing people to independently diagnose their pet’s health problem and explore home remedies.

While it’s not necessary to run to the vet every time your dog has hiccups, there are times when proper veterinary care is the right choice. Here are some common pet health myths and accompanying facts to help you determine the best course of action for your animal companion:

Are annual wellness exams really necessary? Nothing is ever wrong with my pet.
95 percent of veterinarian involved in the study strongly suggested that both dogs and cats need at least one veterinary wellness exam annually. Conversely, a lot of pet owners believe the only time their pet needs to go to the vet is for shots or vaccinations. Routine checkups are important because that’s when the vet examines your pet’s eyes, ears, heart and lungs. Additionally, the vet may take x-rays and do a blood workup. These examinations require specialized tools and techniques. If your pet is examined on a yearly basis, the veterinarian can catch problems or conditions before they become serious and costly.

If I just bring my pet in when he’s sick, he gets treated for that specific ailment and I save the money that annual wellness exams costs.
True, but you are still not giving the vet a chance to catch an ailment before it escalates. Moreover, your pet may be suffering from something that is asymptomatic. Think about your own healthcare. You see multiple doctors throughout the year, perhaps including a dentist, an ophthalmologist and a family doctor. Veterinarians have to be all these things to your pet during an annual wellness exam. If you only go to the vet when your animal is ill, your pet never gets a full checkup.

With all the helpful websites, why can’t I just figure out what’s wrong with my pet without going to the veterinarian?
There are many helpful websites with good animal health information out there, but there are sites with bad information and advice floating around as well. And according to the Bayer study, 39 percent of pet owners do consult the Internet before calling their vet if their pet gets injured or shows signs of illness. The problem with the abundance of online healthcare resources is that it’s hard to be completely sure if your animal is suffering from what’s described online. Another issue is that, in certain circumstances, pet owners are spending too much time on the internet looking for answers. By the time they actually bring their pet in to a veterinary clinic, the dog or cat is even sicker than he would have been if the owner would’ve brought the pet in at the first indication of a problem. This delay could lead to a longer and more expensive course of treatment.

Since my cat hates going to the vet and the stress makes us both crazy, can’t I just skip it? 
Getting a cat into a carrier and driving him to the vet is a challenge, to be sure. And many cats exhibit extreme stress once they’re at the veterinarian clinic. Unfortunately, this issue causes cats to lose out on important health care. The Bayer study illuminated that more than one third of the domestic cats in the U.S. have not been to the veterinarian in over a year, and their quality of life suffers as a result.

Once my pet gets older, we don’t have to still go to the vet annually, do we?
Older animals do not require the number of vaccinations that younger pets do, but they still need regular veterinary care. In fact, older pets are at risk of a range of chronic and expensive illnesses like arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer. Think of your pet as you would an older friend or parent; as they age, they need regular medical care to ensure continued robust health and a good quality of life.

Photo by Stephanie Wallace

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. I may be late on the annual care for my dog and my cat, but it is for none of the reasons listed in this article. Primarily it is because of the cost of the vet care. I have a vet who comes to me to take care of my two horses with their annual shots, wellness check, and blood drawn for Coggins tests and it costs me less ($180) than it costs for me to take my dog in for his annual checkup (last visit cost me close to $300 and there was nothing wrong with my dog). I love animals and my horses, dog, and cat are all rescues; but I am seriously considering giving up pet ownership because of the cost of vet care.

    1. I am shocked at all of the comments of COST on this issue and the suggestion that veterinary care should be cheap!!! Do you all think that it is free to run any type of good medical facility?? If you are going to a good vet they will offer you a estimate and they will try to keep the costs where they estimate they will be, but it is medicine and things change. I feel sorry for the people in the veterinary profession who have to deal with the ignorance of so many "cheap" people. Have you ever researched how much money a vet or there staff make? They are hardly in this to make a ton of money. People treat their pets like family except when it comes to Vet care...doesn't make any sense to me. I will spend what needs to be spent on my pets and if I couldn't do that, I wouldn't have them. Everyone here seems to think that everything should be free because we are all so used to paying a co-pay at our drs. and never seeing the final cost of everything.

  2. I have to agree with the above comment. The vet's are too expensive and with the number of animals that I have, I couldn't possibly take them all for a wellness exam. But I will say that my vets are the very best and always give me a discount just because they know how many rescues that I have here. That is also true with me and my horse vet. He is cheaper than the dog vet and he comes out to my place.
    Great info though and it is a great idea to take the animals for a yearly checkup. They can find things before they get too bad.

  3. We all get annual checkups and once we are 7 years old or so, we get routine blood panels done to serve as baselines for the future. If a problem develops earlier than that, then we have that panel for reference. Phantom doesn't get as many of the shots every year that the rest of us do, but he always gets his rabies shot and any influenza-related ones. But the above commenters are right, vet costs are very high. Pet insurance isn't always that great of an idea depending on the age and health of the dog. Mom says it is best to have a pet savings account where money is regularly deposited to help out with those big bills.

    Nice article.

    Woos - Phantom, Thunder, Ciara, and Lightning

  4. We do take our cats in for yearly wellness exams. Expensive? Yes. But we want to make sure to catch anything as early as possible. Thank you for such good information, Langley.

  5. COST is the issue! And the idiotic tendency of vets to suggest expensive procedures that will have no meaningful impact on treatment/outcome. (As in, NO, Thank You, i will not be paying for an ultrasound to find out if my cat has polycystic kidneys...) After this sort of thing happened a few times, I found my level of trust/eagerness to run off to the vet dropped significantly.

    1. I think this is the culprit: It is hard to find a vet you trust.
      Last summer I took my dog in for what I suspected were skin allergies, as I didn't see any fleas or tics. Dr ran a flea comb down the middle of my chow/sheppards back, said, "Yes, it is dander due to allergies", and prescribed steroids. My dog had a very rough time on those drugs, and at the end of six weeks, the itching immediately started up again. It turned out that he had a major infestation of fleas and the Dr never bothered to look near his tail. I didn't either, as I had never had a dog with fleas. Needless to say, the flea problem cost about $500, and the need to find yet, another vet.

  6. well cost is definitely a factor here too. a routine neuter of my Grate Dane was given an estimate of no more than $150, this vet knew that my family was in between jobs and trying to make sure no puppies were the result. I took 3 months to save up, vet knew this, and came in with $150 only to find out that they gave him his annual shots (2 at $75 each), the nails and teeth were extra, and the blood panel was not in the estimate. total cost $375! My family had to spend the month on food donations to pay for the procedure!

    So besides astronomical costs there is no trust. that dog came home with a resistant strain of fleas that still plague the house 3 years later (tried all the major brands, house bombs, natural stuff, they just don't die-now it is weekly trips to the dog wash and gallons of dawn dish soap as it actually kills the fleas). my annual shots are done at $15 each now at the pet store clinic-where the vet is more polite and the back room is clean and flea free. they get a better physical exam at shot time then they do at the vets.

  7. It is true that Veterinary costs have gone ballistic. I personally stopped going to a Vet I had used for 20 years for this reason. Their price quadrupled as they went high tech and added lots of young Vets to the practice. The Vet that had begun this practice, now retired, told us that they don't care if their old clients leave; there are lots of new ones that will pay the high dollars. Many of the larger Vets in my town had a meeting where they agreed to set prices.....this too is info from the Vet I just spoke of. I'm afraid the spirit of fairness and caring has given way to greed in the field of Veterinary medicine. But if you do your homework, there are still Vets around that are "old fashion" in their caring and their prices. Find one.

  8. I think you hit the nail on the head with the reason why we've seen a dramatic decrease in veterinary care - the internet. I think this, coupled with the recession, has led to people wanting to diagnose their pet illnesses themselves and look for ways to get cheap remedies.

  9. with my 18 year old blind and deaf cockapoo, i am very comfortable about a wellness check, half way thru the year. My dog just returned to his vet last week for a total cost of $37.00. The vet cleaned and plucked the hair out of his ears and cut his nails, also a thorough going over. Of course no shots were given at this price. I have always found if I dicuss the expense with the vet. they will usually let you make some kind of payment plan if you are a regular customer. As far as ordering on the internet, I found that the products are not of the same quality.

  10. My pets are like my children. I would jump through hoops for them. No matter the cost. I've seen the car that my doctor drives; It is not a nice car... My veterinary hospital is not in it for the money but in it for the animals well being. I hope you don't misjudge the doctors of your animals as greedy. Think of the care they have to give your pet. It is not an easy job and it is not a well paid job.

  11. I believe that the costs have risen while the income has gone down. I don't believe that ANY of the people above mean that the Veterinarians should not be paid for their services, but that there are many people in this economy that have lost jobs and had to take less paying jobs just to keep bills paid. We all love our animals, but we can barely make the rest of the bills these days!


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