DEAR READERS: I am concerned that the ubiquity of pet insurance providers, aligned with the corporate consolidation of companion animal veterinary practices, could lead to overtreatment, unwarranted and costly diagnostics and exclusive promotion and sale of particular manufactured pet foods. Some critics call this a one-size-fits-all medical assembly line.
I was recently solicited by a public relations firm to write about pet health insurance, the communication stating: “I’d like to offer you a story idea about the true cost of pet care. We love our pets and spare little or no cost to keep them healthy, but that can rack up quite a bill. For example, a report from Healthy Paws Pet Insurance about the cost of caring for pets shows that the most common illness for dogs and cats is stomach issues, which can lead to these costs: digital X-rays: $150 to $400; endoscopy: $800 to $1,000; biopsy: up to $1,500; ultrasound: $300 to $500; CT scan: $3,000. Total: up to $6,400 -- for stomach issues!”
Yet this “most common illness for dogs and cats” can be prevented, and often effectively treated, simply by providing biologically appropriate, healthful diets rather than feeding many of the manufactured cat and dog foods on the market and often sold by veterinarians that can cause “nutrigenic” (diet-associated) diseases.
The world’s largest pet food manufacturer, candy company Mars Inc., recently acquired VCA Antech Animal Hospitals -- with 780 animal hospitals in 43 states. This is coupled with the acquisition of some 900 Banfield Pet Hospitals in 2007 and of BluePearl, the nation’s biggest chain of companion animal specialty and emergency care clinics -- with 53 locations in the U.S -- in 2015. With Banfield’s Optimal Wellness Plans, Mars may next become a player in marketing its own pet health insurance plans.
While such corporate consolidation of veterinary hospitals may have limited benefits for pet owners, an estimated 85 to 95 percent of veterinary hospitals are still owned independently, some merging to create their own collaborative private corporations to reap the benefits of economies of scale and increased profitability by pooling equipment and other capital expenses and integrating specialist referral services. It is my hope that companion animal health care will not go the way of the increasingly profit-driven and dysfunctional human health care industry, where monopolistic drug companies inflate prescription drug prices (as they do also with veterinary medicines) and where diagnostic errors and medical mistakes lead to more than 250,000 deaths each year in hospitals, according to a 2016 Johns Hopkins University study.
Visit veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com for veterinarians’ views on whether corporatization of their services means better or worse patient care and client satisfaction.
Owners of companion animals must accept responsibility for their animals’ health with annual wellness appointments with veterinarians who embrace the principles of preventive and alternative, integrative medicine, as advocated by the American Holistic Veterinary Association.
DEAR DR. FOX: My question is regarding my rescued Jindo dog, Angie, who has been in the family for 10 years now and is 12 years old. I am a very gentle and patient owner, and I let her walk me for as long as she wants. She enjoys being off the leash with her doggie friends.
When frightened by lawn mowers or an aggressive dog (she was brutally attacked by two off-leash dogs), she has twice bitten me. These are serious bites, drawing lots of blood. She has no clue. I treated the wounds myself, so I would not have problems. The vet put her on a daily dose of fluoxetine, and she has not bitten me since she has been on the medication.
Why did this little Jindo girl bite me twice? -- I.H., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR I.H.: What you experienced was a fear-biter's defensive behavior being redirected. Quite often, when two dogs who live together are barking at another dog on the other side of their fence, one of the two dogs may lunge at and mock-attack the companion, and in some instances actually bite and start a fight. This is also seen in cats who are upset by a cat outside.
Experienced animal handlers are aware of such redirected or "spill-over" aggression and take precautions when a situation could arise where redirected aggression may be triggered.
It is not rational behavior, and in that panicked state, the animal cannot be reasoned with until he or she calms down. The medication your veterinarian prescribed essentially dampens the panic reaction, which is more likely to occur in animals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and specific phobias.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)