By Dr. Becker
A recent survey of 1,200 dog and cat owners revealed that vet visits in 2011 were down significantly from 2007.
Pet owners who completed the survey said their pets saw the vet nearly 20 percent less than they did in 2007 – if they went at all.
In 2007, 88 percent of people surveyed reported visiting the vet in 2007, compared with only 77 percent last year.
According to one report, spending by cat owners was down across the board.
The report showed a 28 percent decrease in heartworm preventive purchases, a 20 percent decline in flea and tick products, and a 23 percent drop in professional dental services for kitties.
Interestingly, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) released its 2011 survey which showed an all-time high of almost $51 billion spent on pets.
According to APPA, pet supplies and OTC medications grew nearly 8 percent over 2010.
Growth was attributed to increased use of OTC drugs by pet owners as an alternative to veterinary care.
What's Behind the Decrease in Vet Visits?
I suspect another reason (aside from today's tough economic climate), is because many traditionally trained DVMs practice 'reactive' veterinary medicine.
This means they don't have much to offer pets unless and until they're good and sick.
So pet parents wait until their dog or cat is truly ill before making a vet appointment.
This is terribly unfortunate.
I think if more vets focused on pet wellness rather than pet illness, dog and cat owners would see the value in regular wellness checkups.
Why Healthy Pets Should See the Vet
Unfortunately, preventive medical care in the mainstream veterinary community has evolved to mean not much more than yearly vaccines and chemicals to discourage pests and parasites like fleas, ticks and heartworm.
There is rarely discussion between vets and pet owners about nutrition (because vet students receive almost no education in the subject), exercise and other physical therapies, or the importance of a strong, resilient and balanced immune system
For some reason the methods used to maintain a pet's vibrant good health – everything from species-appropriate nutrition to maintenance chiropractic care to homeopathic remedies and herbal supplements – fall into the category of 'alternative medicine.'
Isn't it strange that natural modalities used not to cure illness (although they do that, too), but to maintain health are thought of as 'alternative,' yet chemical drugs and invasive surgery are considered mainstream health care?
DVMs like me who practice proactive veterinary medicine want to see pets when they are healthy so we can help keep them that way.
Animals don't get sick overnight. Your pet progresses from health to illness (or from illness back to good health) in stages. These stages, which I call the grey zone, are where efforts to halt or reverse disease are most beneficial. The goal is to stop the slide toward ill health before full-blown disease develops.
An example: most proactive vets recommend annual vector borne disease testing instead of waiting until lyme disease has set in, causing incurable auto-immune polyarthritis.
Not only is the outcome usually much better, but this approach also prevents your precious pet from suffering unnecessarily, often without your knowledge.
Most pet owners who are able to seek proactive veterinary care are amazed and relieved to discover that many disease processes can be stopped and even reversed with small lifestyle changes, often in conjunction with appropriate natural healing therapies.
It's also usually much less expensive in the long run to keep your pet healthy than to wait until something goes wrong and attempt to have it fixed.
I Recommend Twice-Yearly Wellness Exams
I recommend twice yearly wellness examinations to my Natural Pet clients.
A thorough nose-to-tail professional checkup every six months is the best way for you and your vet to detect and stay on top of any changes in your pet's health. This is especially true for older pets.
Many diseases seem to come on quickly and progress rapidly. The reality is there are almost always subtle changes taking place long before there is evidence of a full-blown illness.
It's those subtle changes I look for in routine wellness exams, so we can take action right away and pull out all the stops to prevent a developing illness from destroying your precious pet's health.
Proactive vets are typically obsessive about clinical pathology -- tracking bloodwork changes over time. For example, if your cat's kidney enzymes (BUN and creatinine) are climbing within the "normal" reference ranges, a proactive holistic vet will take note of this. Long before your cat is diagnosed reactively with chronic kidney failure, a proactive vet will suggest lifestyle changes that prevent the disease from coming to fruition.
Using the same proactive approach, I also recommend you perform regular at-home wellness exams on your pet between vet visits.
Choosing a Vet
I encourage you to try to find a holistic/integrative vet who will partner with you to keep your pet healthy.
Holistic-oriented veterinarians are licensed DVMs with additional education and experience in alternative methods of healing such as homeopathy, natural supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, etc.
They are more likely to titer than vaccinate, and to use single vaccinations rather than shots containing vaccines for several different pathogens.
Many holistic vets are also well informed about species-appropriate nutrition and can provide guidance in the best way to nourish your pet.
If you can partner with a vet whose practice philosophy appeals to you, together you can build an affordable wellness strategy to provide your pet with vibrant health and a long life.