The Pandemic’s Impact on Pet Health

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Lockdowns may have heightened pet owners’ awareness of their companions’ well-being.

Kittens and puppies visited Banfield facilities at an increased rate in 2020, which raises some interesting questions. Were there simply more of them? Were they sicker than in years past? Were pet owners just paying closer attention to their young companions as they spent more time together in pandemic-related lockdowns?

Taking a deep dive into data first released a year ago, Banfield’s science team reported a 20.4% increase in visits by kittens and 14.3% by puppies in 2020. “Analyzing our data, we also saw a dramatic surge in pets coming into our hospitals with skin, stomach, and anxiety issues,” said Director of Veterinary Science Jo Ann Morrison, DVM, DACVIM. Skin allergy visits were up 58.7%, vomiting-related visits were up 11.4%, and fear/anxiety-related visits were up 25%. “While we can’t say for certain, to us this signifies owners were spending more time with their pets at home and noticing ailments more frequently.”


With data on more than three million pet visits annually, Banfield analyzed its electronic veterinary health records system for insights on some common illnesses that are preventable but still seen in many pets, including dental health issues, parvovirus, heartworm, and feline leukemia.

Oral health

Oral health issues are the most common diagnoses Banfield sees in dogs and cats, and a recently published study from Waltham Petcare Science Institute using Banfield data found extra-small dog breeds (<14.3 lbs.) were up to five times more likely to be diagnosed with periodontal disease than giant dog breeds (>55 lbs.).

“Dental disease – including dental calculus – continues to be one of the most common diseases we see in pets, affecting 85% of adult dogs and 80% of adult cats between the ages of 3 and 10 seen at Banfield in the past year,” said Morrison. It’s not a new issue. In 2016 Banfield reported 76% of dogs and 68% of cats had dental disease, which at the time was an 8% increase among dogs and 9.6% increase among cats when compared to data from the prior five years.

The 2020 findings signal an increased need and opportunity for veterinary professionals to help educate pet owners that dental disease is more than just bad breath, she said. In fact, research based on Banfield data found:

  • Cats with advanced stages of periodontal disease were 1.5 times more likely to develop chronic kidney disease.
  • Dogs with advanced periodontal disease were 2.3 times more likely to develop chronic kidney disease and 6.3 times more likely to develop endocarditis (infection of a heart valve).

 

Preventive oral care is best not only for pets’ health, but for their owners’ pocketbooks as well, reported Banfield. Removing a single diseased tooth can be three times more expensive than professional dental cleanings and 25 times more expensive than monthly at-home dental care. Routine care at home has been shown to augment professional dental cleanings. For that reason, Banfield advises owners to partner with their veterinary team to craft an at-home care plan for their pets, which can include regular brushing and the use of Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved dental chews.

Heartworm in cats

Heartworm is more prevalent than ever, affecting more than a million pets in the U.S., according to the American Heartworm Society. Cases have been diagnosed in all 50 states. Even so, in the past decade, Banfield’s data revealed a 46% drop in dogs diagnosed with heartworm, a serious and potentially fatal parasite for dogs and cats which is contracted from mosquitoes. The same can’t be said for cats, however. Banfield reports that in the past 10 years, the practice has seen a 22% increase in felines diagnosed with heartworms.

“One consideration is that cats, unfortunately, don’t see the vet as often as dogs, so they may be missing out on critical preventive care, including heartworm medication,” said Morrison. “When looking at our data, cats made up just 22% of the pets seen at Banfield in the past year, and Royal Canin has found that more than half of all cats in the U.S. don’t receive veterinary care on a regular basis.”

Currently, no medication has been approved to kill adult heartworms in cats, which means the treatment option is symptomatic and supportive, she added. When analyzing Banfield’s data, the prevalence rate for feline heartworm in 2020 was 0.25%. “Fortunately, cats tend to have smaller numbers of adult heartworms compared to dogs, but prevention of this infection is still important.” Options include monthly oral medications, monthly topical medications, and an injection available to dogs that is given every six or 12 months by the veterinarian.

Feline leukemia

Feline leukemia is a fatal disease, with research showing the median survival time for cats post diagnosis is 2.5 years. It weakens cats’ immune systems and increases their susceptibility to other diseases and infections. Depending on the cat’s daily habits and other pets in the household, the veterinarian might recommend yearly tests for feline leukemia – especially for cats that venture outside or live with other outdoor pets.

Preventing feline leukemia is important for cats’ overall health and well-being, and the good news is, an effective vaccine exists, according to Banfield. Over the past 10 years, the number of cats diagnosed with the disease decreased by 36%.

“We are hopeful that this decrease in feline leukemia cases means we are doing a better job at educating pet owners about the importance of preventive medicine, and that owners are more dedicated to ensuring their pets get the preventive care they need,” said Morrison. “Despite this decrease, we know feline leukemia is still around and can still infect cats, so there is still work to be done to help owners understand the importance of protecting their pets against preventable illnesses.”

Parvovirus among puppies

Parvovirus causes severe illness, vomiting and diarrhea in dogs – primarily puppies – and has a nearly 100% fatality rate if left untreated, according to Banfield. The disease is highly transmissible, and unprotected pets can contract it from other dogs and high-traffic areas, and it is of concern as people and their pets begin socializing more.

The parvovirus vaccine has proven to be an effective way to protect pets. When looking at the past 10 years, Banfield’s data reveals a 13% increase in dogs 14 months or younger receiving the vaccine, and a 69% decrease in dogs of the same age contracting the illness.

That said, lockdowns due to COVID-19 might have prevented some owners from ensuring their puppies received the vaccine. BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital – both members of Mars Veterinary Health, as is Banfield Pet Hospital – saw a 70% increase in the number of parvovirus cases relative to ER cases in 2020 as compared to the same time periods in the previous five years, underscoring the importance of remaining committed to prevention.

The data bank

“Providing high-quality medicine is at the heart of what we aim to do for every pet that walks through our doors, and our data allows us to support not only our hospitals but also thousands of other veterinary teams in delivering on that goal,” said Morrison.

“Banfield’s electronic health record system not only keeps track of pets’ visits and medical records, but also serves as a practice management system to incorporate client scheduling and appointment reminders, a point-of-sale system, and hospital administration capabilities. All Banfield hospitals are connected within this integrated ecosystem that drives operational workflows and connected client and associate experiences. From this, we can leverage data analytics with the goal of continually improving processes and experiences for our veterinary teams and clients as well as outcomes for pets.

“At Banfield, we are passionate about and feel a responsibility to share our insights and resources with the broader veterinary profession to help promote quality-care practices and build sustainable outcomes for pets,” she said. “The vast amount of data at our fingertips enables us to take a proactive approach to veterinary medicine aimed at early diagnosis and supporting overall pet health with a focus on five categories of life stage wellness – primary care, preventable disease, oral health, mobility and nutrition.”

 

Key findings from Banfield report

  • In the past decade, Banfield’s data found a 46% drop in dogs diagnosed with heartworm. However, in the past 10 years the practice saw a 22% increase in felines diagnosed with the parasite.
  • When looking at the past 10 years, Banfield’s data reveals a 13% increase in dogs 14 months or younger receiving the parvovirus vaccine and a 69% decrease in dogs of the same age contracting the illness – underscoring the importance and effectiveness of preventive care.
  • Oral health issues are the most common diagnoses Banfield sees in dogs and cats, with 85% of adult dogs and 80% of adult cats seen at Banfield in the past year between the ages of 3-10 showed signs of dental disease (including dental calculus).

Source: Banfield Pet Hospital

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/RUBEN RAMOS

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