By Dr. Becker
Your pet may not dictate where you choose to live, but it’s still interesting to consider that some states are healthier than others for your pet. Analysts from Care.com recently combed through pet-care data in all 50 states to figure out which states are best and worst for pets, with some surprising results.1
States were ranked in four categories: illness, access to vet care, healthy environment and total pet spending. The categories were then combined to give a total score for ranking.
“The states that ranked the highest had a low prevalence of pet illnesses, higher access to veterinary care, healthier environments for pets, and higher pet-related spending (that didn't involve the vet),” Care reported.
How Were the Healthiest States Ranked?
If you’re curious about how each category was defined, Care offered the following details:
Prevalence of Illness
This included data for the following diseases along with average lifespan:
✓ Otitis externa
Access to Vet Care
This includes data on the number of veterinary offices in the state along with the number of veterinary employees per household with pet.
This score includes the state’s percent of protected land, percent of sheltered animals per household with pets, air quality, number of parks per household with pets and WalkScore, which rates how easy it is to get around by foot.
Total Pet Spend
This includes the number of pet businesses per household with pets, non-vet pet spending per household with pets and average monthly pet insurance cost.
The 10 Healthiest — and Unhealthiest — States for Pets
Are you eager to raise your pet in the healthiest U.S. locale? Then consider one of the following 10 states, which ranked tops according to Care.com’s analysis:
- New Mexico
- New Hampshire
- South Dakota
- North Dakota
As for the states with the lowest rankings, they are (starting with the worst):
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
What you’ll notice is that many of the healthiest states have vast areas of wilderness and cater to outdoor living and increased activity.
Many of the southern states that make up the worst list are also similar to those that rank unhealthiest for humans, too, in part because they’re not overly friendly areas for pedestrians (or their four-legged walking buddies).2
Meanwhile, diseases like heartworm, intestinal parasites and fleas may thrive in hot, humid Southeastern states, while access to veterinary care may be reduced, especially in lower income areas.
Dallas, Texas animal behaviorist Jessica Lockhart, Ph.D., told Realtor.com, “You will find high concentrations of veterinary practices near more affluent areas and thinner densities in areas with moderate to low socioeconomic status.”3 And people living in the latter areas may have a harder time affording veterinary care even if they have access.
How to Keep Your Pet Healthy No Matter Where You Live
The truth is that your pet can be healthy (or unhealthy) no matter where you live; it’s largely dependent on the way you care for him. One of the most important factors is to feed your pet a fresh, balanced species-appropriate diet and avoid feeding highly processed, high-carbohydrate and low-moisture foods (including most commercial kibbles, “grain-free”/high-starch dry food, and low-quality canned foods).
This type of junk food diet is the opposite of what your pet is designed to eat, and feeding such foods to your pet will lead to significant metabolic and physiologic stress. Instead, choose a fresh-food diet that is close to what your pet would eat in the wild. Add to this access to a safe, warm and dry indoor living environment, regular exercise and mental stimulation, regular wellness exams with an integrative/holistic vet and plenty of love and cuddles, and your pet will be on cloud nine.
Providing opportunities for your dog to live out his innate instincts (such as working or herding) is also important for a happy pet, along with attention to hygiene, such as providing baths, dental care and brushing. These are all factors that you can provide virtually anywhere.
What Would an Ideal Pet-Friendly Community Look Like?
That being said, if I had the opportunity to design the ideal pet-friendly community, here’s what it would include:
✓ Enough licensed veterinarians, including specialists (anesthesiologists, dermatologists, emergency and critical care, ophthalmologists, radiologists, surgeons, etc.) to adequately service the community.
✓ At least a few veterinarians who do house calls, including those willing to perform at-home euthanasia services.
✓ A good balance of veterinarians who practice holistic or integrative medicine.
These are practitioners who have advanced education and training in one or several areas of complementary medicine (acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, homeopathy, herbs, nutrition, etc.).
✓ An adequate number of well-equipped, 24-hour emergency veterinary clinics.
✓ A supply of competent certified animal behaviorists and trainers.
✓ Animal shelters and rescue organizations with the resources to provide good health care, rehabilitative support and behavior modification to pets in need of forever homes.
✓ Butchers, grocers, local farmers and other grocery resources that cater to pet owners who want to feed their four-legged family members fresh, living foods.
✓ Educated, well-informed pet supply stores that stock a variety of healthy prepared or semi-prepared foods.
✓ Well-attended community-based continuing education for pet owners in everything from puppy socialization to obedience training to agility trials to how to give a pet a massage.
✓ Plenty of well-maintained off-leash dog parks, hiking trails, river, lake or beachfronts and other natural, open settings where friendly, obedient, healthy dogs can exercise, play, socialize and just be dogs.
Indoor facilities for these activities, if the city is very cool or very hot for part of year, are also a welcome addition.
✓ Clean, safe, well-staffed, pet-centered boarding and day care facilities for pet parents who need to leave their furry family member behind for a few days or a few hours.
✓ An adequate number of competent, qualified pet sitters who are available to care for animals at home.
✓ Experienced pet groomers, a few of whom have shops-on-wheels.
✓ Hotels, motels, RV parks and campgrounds that allow pets.