According to Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the top 10 reasons for surgical procedures on family pets in 2009 were the following:
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While these relatively less costly surgeries are among the most common, according to Carol McConnell, DVM, vice president and chief veterinary medical officer for VPI:
"Surgical claims are typically some of the most expensive received at VPI, with the average claim routinely costing thousands of dollars. It's not only important for pet owners to realize the surgical choices open to them but to take steps to be financially prepared should their pet require surgery."
According to VPI, pet owners with health insurance coverage for their dogs and cats spent over $30 million in 2009 on the top 10 most common pet surgeries.
There’s a bit of a noticeable trend in the list of most common surgeries done on family pets.
Specifically, furry family members seem to suffer too often with mouth and skin disorders, and unfortunately, cancer in major organs as well.
Sometimes there’s simply no way for even the most committed, vigilant pet parent to prevent disease in a beloved dog or cat. Nevertheless, I’m a huge proponent of being proactive in keeping your pet as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
There are many things you as a pet owner can do to provide your dog or cat with a lifestyle that promotes health and longevity, and dramatically reduces the risk he or she will develop a serious illness.
It’s Not Just About Clean Teeth and Fresh Breath
Not only does keeping your dog’s or cat’s mouth clean help save his teeth and eliminate the need for costly dental procedures and anesthesia risks -- good dental health can also literally save his life.
The same clear link between dental disease and heart disease in people also applies to dogs, and probably to kitties as well, though no study results are available for cats.
The exact relationship isn’t well understood, but researchers suspect the problem is mouth bacteria that gets into the bloodstream. The tissue of your pet’s mouth is full of blood vessels, which can speed bacteria into her bloodstream under the right conditions.
If your pet has periodontal disease -- and unfortunately most adult dogs and cats do -- the surface of the gums is compromised. The breakdown of gum tissue allows bacteria to escape into the bloodstream, and if your pet’s immune response isn’t sufficient to kill off the microbes, they can reach her heart and infect it.
A study conducted at Purdue University cites a strong correlation between gum disease and canine endocarditis -- an infection of the heart’s valves or inner lining.
In studies conducted by Tufts College of Veterinary Medicine, second- and third-hand cigarette smoke has been definitively linked to certain types of cancer in family pets, including oral cancer (squamous cell carcinoma or SCC) and lymphoma in cats, and nose and lung cancer in dogs.
Kitties living with smokers have fur full of noxious cigarette residue. Those toxins get into your cat’s mouth each time he grooms himself, which is typically several times a day.
In a small study published in 2003 in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, researchers also discovered a link between flea collars and squamous cell carcinoma in cats. Cats wearing flea collars had five times the risk of developing SCC as cats that didn’t have the collars.
The same study also found that cats eating canned rather than dry food, and canned tuna fish in particular, also had a significantly increased risk for SCC.
Although we can’t say for certain why canned tuna cat food perpetuates SCC, I have a few conclusions of my own. First, a cat’s natural diet does not include seafood. Ancestors of today’s domestic cat came from the deserts of Africa. They did not hunt from the sea.
Because cats like fish, pet food manufacturers use a tremendous amount of seafood in their cat products. Fish must be heavily preserved during the manufacturing process. The most commonly used seafood preservative in the pet food industry is Ethoxyquin, a known carcinogenic preservative.
This toxic chemical does not show up on your cat’s canned food label because it was added to the meat prior to the pet food company purchasing the raw pet food ingredients.
Additionally, the tuna is a very large fish that accumulates toxic amounts of mercury and other contaminants in its body. It’s well known that people should watch their intake of fish loaded with heavy metals, but we tend to not extend the same courtesy to our feline family members.
How to Keep Your Pet’s Mouth out of Harm’s Way
- Step one is to feed a species appropriate, preferably raw diet. Giving your dog or cat the food her body was designed to eat sets the stage for vibrant good health – from one end of your furry friend to the other.
- Get your pet comfortable with mouth inspections. You should be able to open your dog’s or cat’s mouth, peer inside, feel around in there, and get a good idea of any changes from normal involving her teeth, gums, tongue, under the tongue or roof of the mouth. Also learn what your pet’s breath normally smells like, and stay alert for any changes in that area as well.
Do these inspections routinely – weekly or at least a few times a month. The sooner you notice any sort of change from normal in your pet’s mouth, the sooner you can get her diagnosed and begin treatment, if necessary.
- Brush your pet’s teeth, every day if you can arrange it, but at least several times a week. If you’ve never attempted a tooth brushing session or you have, but without success, view these instructional videos on how to brush your cat’s or dog’s teeth.
- Also arrange for regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian. He or she will alert you to any existing or potential problems in your pet’s mouth, and recommend professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.
- Offer your dog a fully digestible, high quality dental dog chew to help control plaque and tartar on his teeth. The effect is similar to chewing raw bones, but safer for powerful chewers or dogs that have had restorative dental work done, and can’t chew raw bones.
Caring for Your Pet’s Largest Organ – The Skin
- Watch my video on how to give your pet an at-home wellness exam and learn your dog’s or cat’s ‘normal’ – the way his body looks, feels and smells when he’s healthy. Doing regular nose-to-tail wellness checks on your pet will help you stay on top of any changes in his body condition, and will also improve the bond you share with your animal. Bring any changes or oddities to the attention of your integrative vet as soon as you notice them.
- Help your dog or cat be well-groomed. Pets with skin allergies and other skin conditions benefit greatly from regular baths.
- Make sure your pet is getting an adequate amount of healthy fats in her diet. Fatty acid deficiencies are relatively common in companion animals, especially a lack of omega-3s. A shortage of these nutrients can cause a whole host of health problems, including poor skin and coat condition.
- If your pet has allergies, work with your holistic or integrative vet to find and eliminate potential allergens (either dietary or environmental).
Helping Your Dog or Cat Avoid Cancer
- The single most important thing you can do to keep your pet healthy, comfortable and disease-free is to feed a species-appropriate diet based on recipes like those found in the cookbook I co-authored, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats.
Avoid feeding your dog or cat commercially prepared pet food containing additives, preservatives or other chemicals your pet’s body is not designed to digest or assimilate, and that might potentially be toxic.
- Protect your four-legged companion from environmental toxins in and around your home and any place your pet spends time.
- Don’t allow your pet to be over-vaccinated or over-treated with drugs like antibiotics or chemical preventives like heartworm medications or flea/tick preparations.
- If you own a breed of dog predisposed to cancer, consider asking your veterinarian for the new blood test that can detect canine cancer before a dog is symptomatic and often in time to treat the disease successfully. A similar test for kitties should be available shortly.
I wish I could assure you that if you do ‘X, Y and Z’ to care for your beloved pet, you’ll never be faced with a diagnosis of canine or feline cancer. But unfortunately, sometimes even the most wonderfully cared-for pets wind up with this horrible disease.
If you’re doing all you can to care for your pup or kitty, it’s all you can do. Relax and enjoy the time you have your favorite furry friend.