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Can Your Lifestyle Choices Really Hurt Your Pet?

April 28, 2010 | 9,596 views
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dog, smokeHuman health disparities based on affluence are well noted, and now for the first time, Dr. Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD, of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, has made a similar connection for animal health.

"It's the first study anywhere to demonstrate very rigorously how closely human and animal welfare are linked," Patronek says. "The same kinds of things that lead to poor health outcomes in people are leading to poor health outcomes in animals."

Looking at 16 neighborhoods around Boston and measuring the number and condition of cats taken to shelters, Patronek concludes "cat deaths were significantly correlated with human premature deaths at the neighborhood level."

Dr. Becker's Comments:

I imagine most of us could predict the results of the Boston study -- without doing a study.

If poverty is a risk factor for premature death in people, and a percentage of those people own pets, it follows that those pets would be no better off than their owners.

Causes of Global Premature Death

In a 2009 reporti, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that out of 24 major health risks associated with premature death around the world, the following five are to blame for a quarter of the total:

  • Poor childhood nutrition
  • Unsafe sex
  • Alcohol
  • Bad sanitation and hygiene
  • High blood pressure

WHO estimates there are about 60 million premature deaths worldwide each year. Of those 60 million, over 99 percent occur in developing countries, and about 84 percent are children.

When compared to developing nations, the problem of early death in the U.S. is small. But it’s interesting to note in the same report, WHO has determined that “ … dietary risk factors for high blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity, coupled with insufficient physical activity, are responsible for an increasing proportion of the total disease burden.”

Poverty and Premature Death in the U.S.

There are many theories about how poverty influences the rate of premature death in this country. The subject is controversial and much too broad for a thorough discussion here.

Regardless of individual opinions about where the blame for the cycle of poverty lies, the causes of most early deaths in the U.S. center on lifestyle choices.

A studyii headed by Harvard University’s School of Public Health examined the factors involved in the 2.5 million deaths that occurred in the U.S. in 2005. The following table is a summary of study results:

 Causes of Death Number of Deaths 
Smoking

467,000

High blood pressure

395,000

Overweight-obesity

216,000

Physical inactivity

191,000

High dietary salt

102,000

Low dietary omega-3 fatty acids

 84,000

High dietary trans-fatty acids

 82,000

Alcohol-related

 90,000

Smoking and high blood pressure took the lives of one in five adults. Obesity and lack of exercise killed one out of ten.

What these results show is that 1.6 million deaths in this country in 2005 – well over half -- were caused by modifiable lifestyle choices and were preventable.

What Lifestyle Choices Are You Making for Your Pet?

While you and I make our own lifestyle choices, companion animals must depend on their owners to make those decisions for them.

If your dog or cat had lived from birth in a natural setting, he would do what comes naturally. He would eat a species-appropriate diet, get plenty of exercise, and avoid man-made toxic substances.

If his environment was relatively free of predators, your pet would quite likely live disease-free, physically fit and mentally healthy for as long as nature prescribed.

When you bring a companion animal into your home, your pet’s life is in your hands. From that moment forward, you make all lifestyle choices for your dog, cat, or other animal.

Following are just a few examples of how poor decisions can affect the furry or feathered members of your family:

  • If you smoke cigarettes in your home, you are deciding for your pet that she will be subjected to second-hand smoke and the possibility of nicotine poisoning.
  • If you feed your dog or cat a low quality commercial pet food, you’re deciding for him that he won’t have access to a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet that is the foundation of a long, healthy life.
  • If you don’t help your pet get an appropriate amount of healthy exercise, you’re making the choice for her that she might become obese and diabetic, or bored and plagued by behavior problems.

Overweight dogs and cats have a higher rate of disease and a shorter lifespan than physically fit pets, and behavior problems are the number one reason companion animals wind up in shelters.

Helping Your Loyal Companion Live a Long, Healthy Life

It’s really not complicated!

It just takes a bit of time, knowledge, energy and commitment to make the right lifestyle choices for the benefit of your pet.

A few ways to dramatically and quickly improve the health and well-being of the animals in your care:

  1. Provide your pet with species-appropriate nutrition.
  2. Insure your pet stays physically fit and maintains a healthy body weight.
  3. Brush those teeth!
  4. Perform regular at-home wellness exams and visit your veterinarian for routine checkups at least yearly, preferably twice a year.
  5. Do all you can to insure your pet has a balanced, functioning immune system.

References:
i RESULTS UK – News and Views
; WHOInt.

ii PLoS Medicine

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