The Animal Doctor

Most Common Health Problems in Dogs

An article recently published in “Contingencies,” the American Academy of Actuaries’ journal, about pet health insurance in the United States provided some helpful information.

In descending order, here are the 10 most common health problems in dogs, based on Petplan Pet Insurance’s top claims by frequency. Average cost of treatment is in parentheses.

-- Nonspecific GI disease (vomiting/diarrhea ($1,016)

-- Cancer -- especially prevalent among the most common dog breeds, namely Labs/retrievers ($2,321)

-- Unspecified lameness ($1,084)

-- Allergies ($740)

-- Periodontal disease ($1,017)

-- Cardiac disease ($1,351)

-- Cruciate (knee) injuries ($3,583)

-- Skin infections ($538)

-- Foreign body ingestion ($2,091)

-- Ear infections ($413)

Most of these claims could be drastically reduced by investing in the preventive “health insurance” of a healthful diet and lifestyle, meaning good nutrition and physical activity. It is no irony that both the human and pet populations suffer from similar maladies, considering that many share a sedentary, relatively solitary existence on highly processed, manufactured foods, and are exposed to the same hazardous environmental chemicals of anthropogenic origin. One common consequence is the obesity epidemic, affecting 60 percent of North America’s cats and 56 percent of its dogs.

DEAR DR. FOX: I am a longtime skeptic, but after reading your entry about “Life After Life” on your website, I did some more research online. I found several books on this subject, and am now less of a skeptic.

I have had no such “visitations” after a long life shared with many much-loved animals. I guess there is no way science can prove it. We can only believe, or not, until we have such experiences ourselves. -- N.C.L., St. Louis, Missouri

DEAR N.C.L.: I am surprised how many books there are on this topic. Readers are welcome to share such experiences with me so that I can add to the many accounts sent already and posted on my website ( and in my recent book, “Animals & Nature First.”

As a scientist, I call for objectivity as well as impartiality to go along with an open and inquiring mind. The mind can play tricks on us, especially when we are grieving. Simple conditioning also plays a part, such as hearing one’s dead cat’s meow around feeding time, or one’s departed dog’s claws on the hardwood floor. I call these “memory echoes.” But there are instances of two or more people sensing, and even seeing, an image of their deceased cat or dog at the same time.

Such corroboration is difficult to refute. It suggests that the animal’s spirit does pass into another realm, but can also manifest/communicate on occasion in various sensory modalities, which are accessible to our perception of our physical reality.

It seems that dimensions of non-physical reality can be experienced existentially where there is an enduring bridge of love. Such experiences bring great comfort to many, and affirm that there is more to life and death than we fully understand as we continue on our own life-journeys. Readers who have had such experiences, please send me your stories to share with others.


A 68-year-old man who was presented to physicians with bulbous, red lesions on his face and neck was diagnosed with glandular tularemia acquired from his outdoor cat. The cat had died two days before the lesions arose, according to a case study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Tularemia is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, and the cat may have picked up the pathogen from consumption of infected prey, later transmitting it to the man when he tried to administer medication. (Kansas City Star, Sept. 12)

This saga is a reminder to raise cats to enjoy life indoors and not let them roam free.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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