My Pet World: Don't choose 'Dr. Google' over a real vet

ST. LOUIS — Sad news for our pets was announced at a press conference titled, "Houston, We Have a Problem," during the 2011 American Veterinary Medical Assn. Convention July 18. The problem has been a steady decline in our pets' health.

"This decline has been going on for over a decade, despite an increased pet population," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president and chief executive of the AVMA.

For example, more flea infestations are being reported, even though such problems are preventable. Internal parasites are up 13% percent in cats and 30% percent in dogs since 2006, according to the Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Health 2011 report. Potentially, this is a public health issue because some of these parasites can also affect people.

Diabetes is up 16% in cats and 32% in dogs, according to the Banfield report. Ear infections are up 34% in cats and 9% in dogs. Dental disease has risen 10% in cats and 12% in dogs.

This is confusing because, no doubt, veterinary medicine is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was even a decade ago. If a heart murmur is a concern, veterinary cardiologists can perform an ultrasound with equipment and technology identical to that used for people. Veterinary neurologists can do brain surgery; cancer treatments can extend lives. In fact, using dogs as models, human medicine has in recent years benefited from what veterinarians have learned.

So what's gone wrong?

"People simply aren't seeing their veterinarians as often, particularly for wellness exams," said Dr. Michael Moyer, president of the American Animal Hospital Assn. (AAHA). According to the AVMA, cat visits to a veterinarian have dropped a whopping 30% since 2006; dog visits are down 21%.

Some of the data offered during the press conference was astounding. It turns out that the overwhelming majority of pet owners don't value preventative care. Before seeking advice from a vet, many now go onto the Internet and may never contact a vet at all, simply accepting the advice of "Dr. Google."

In fact, according to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study (surveying pet owners and veterinary professionals about their views on veterinary medicine and pet health) 15% of owners said that by using the Internet, they believe they have less need to rely on a vet.

"While all pets are being affected by the notable downturn in veterinary visits, cats are most vulnerable," DeHaven said. "While there are 13 percent more cats than dogs, cats are actually the minority (of patients) in most practices."

There are lots of reasons for this, beginning with the challenge of getting cats to a clinic in the first place. According to the Bayer study, nearly 40% of cat owners say just thinking about a vet visit is stressful. And nearly 60% ay their cats "hate" going to a vet.

Also, as Americans are increasingly keeping their cats indoors only, many seem to think indoor cats don't get sick. Waiting for signs of illness isn't a good idea with any pet, because — as in people — early diagnosis can be life-saving, may involve less treatment, and potentially save money.

For cats, an argument can be made that wellness exams to catch illness early are especially important. Cats are adept at masking illness. Waiting until a cat is obviously ill might mean a disease has become significant.

Overall, according to the Bayer Usage Study, nearly half of all pet owners didn't seem to believe regular wellness exams were important.

DeHaven noted that the slide in veterinary care began before the economy tanked. Still, there's little doubt that the slump has made matters worse. The Bayer study found "sticker shock," or perceived overpricing, to be a significant issue.

To address the problem, the AVMA and AAHA have teamed up with industry and other allies to create the Partnership for Preventative Healthcare.

"Our mission is to ensure that pets receive the preventative healthcare they deserve through regular visits to a veterinarian," Moyer said.

DeHaven conceded, "We need to do something. After all, the health of our pets is at risk. It's also an opportunity to demonstrate to the public that veterinarians are the best source of information, and providers of vital preventative care."

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STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is

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