Veterinary visits on the decline, preventable diseases on the rise

Veterinarians are stepping up to emphasize the importance of regular preventive pet healthcare in the face of increasing occurrences of preventable diseases.

With preventable conditions like diabetes and dental disease on the rise, veterinarians are realizing that getting clients in the door is important now more than ever.

Decreasing veterinary visits

This year, a research team from Banfield Pet Hospital conducted a comprehensive study of the animals treated in its 770 hospitals, and found that cases of preventable pet diseases are on the rise, while visits to veterinary practices are down.

The State of Pet Health Report of 2011 looked at medical cases of 2.1 millions dogs and 450,000 cats receiving veterinary care from Banfield hospitals in 2010.

The study reflects an overall decrease in visits to veterinary hospitals since 2006. Numbers from Bayer HealthCare research suggest a similar trend, demonstrating a decrease in the number of new and active clients, as well as an overall decrease in patients per week.

According to the Bayer study, 24 percent of pet owners don’t believe routine check-ups are necessary, and 39 percent of pet owners consult Internet sources before asking their veterinarians about care for their pets.

Bayer suggested a combination of factors leading to the overall decline in visits. The recession and availability of information available on the Internet topped the environmental factors list, while client factors such as sticker shock and a lack of understanding of the importance of preventive care also played a role.

Feline resistance

The Banfield research team also shed light on the absence of cats from veterinary care facilities.

Banfield reported numbers indicating that cat visits to hospitals are much less frequent than dog visits to hospitals, with Banfield treating nearly 1.7 million more dogs than cats in 2010. The Bayer study reflected the same problem, noting that cats are significantly under-represented in the patient base.

Bayer points to the travel and arrival at the clinic as the key friction point for cat owners, suggesting that it is at that point that dissatisfaction begins to occur for the client.

Together, the studies demonstrate the growing challenge of getting cats into veterinary hospitals for wellness exams and regular veterinary care.


Both the feline and canine populations have experienced an increase in diabetes since 2006, according to Banfield’s report.

Since 2006, Banfield hospitals saw a 32 percent jump in cases of canine diabetes, and a 16 percent increase in feline diabetes. The report also showed that diabetes is more prevalent in cats than in dogs, and noted that the disease has risen by 16 percent in cats since 2006.

In 2010, Iowa, Rhode Island, Idaho, Nevada and Delaware saw the highest number of canine diabetes cases. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Nevada and New Hampshire reflected the greatest number of feline cases.

An increase in overweight or obese pets can be linked to the increase in diabetes, the report said.

"While diabetes mellitus was not listed in the top 10 diagnoses of pets seen in 2010, the diagnosis of overweight or obese, which are risk factors for diabetes mellitus, was high on the list," the report said.

In young adult, mature adult and geriatric dogs, an overweight or obese diagnosis was in the top five diagnoses, while for cats in the same age range, it was in the top three diagnoses.

During the month of October, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has encouraged pet owners to take their pets to the veterinarian for a preventive healthcare check-up. Obesity is a key health concern, the AVMA says, estimating that 40 percent of dogs and cats suffer from being overweight.

Heartworm Disease

In the South, up to 10 percent of dogs are infected by heartworm disease, making the southern states the most common region for heartworm disease. The disease is one of the top three health risks for pets in the southern United States.

Heartworm disease is preventable with annual tests and year-round preventatives.

The Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare, a newly formed collaboration of veterinary professionals, industry leaders and academics, is encouraging veterinarians to effectively communicate with pet owners about the importance of regular check-ups to avoid preventable diseases like heartworm.

The partnership notes the critical involvement of the veterinary profession in preventing diseases, and encourages veterinarians to learn how to clearly and routinely communicate the benefits of preventive care.

Though there is no safe heartworm treatment for felines, Banfield said it is still important to run heartworm tests on cats in order to rule out other medical conditions such as asthma.

Dental Disease

As the most common disease in dogs and cats, dental disease affects 78 percent of dogs and 68 percent of cats over the age of 3. Since 2006, there has been a 12.3 percent increase in the prevalence of canine dental disease, accompanied by a 10.2 percent increase in cats.

As with humans, dental disease can be associated with changes in liver, kidney and cardiac functions.

Across the board, tartar was the most common dental diagnosis in all dogs (regardless of breed or size) as well as in cats. Periodontal disease grade 1 was found in the top 10 diagnoses of dogs, while gingivitis was in the top 10 diagnoses in cats.

The Toy Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier, Maltese, Pomeranian and Shetland Sheepdog were the top five canine breeds most likely to develop periodontal disease, according to the report.

The Banfield study also looked at otitis externa (inflammation of the outer ear canal), fleas and ticks and internal parasites.

Banfield does not have hospitals in Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Vermont or Maine, and as a result did not collect data from veterinary visits in these states.