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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chapter 1 - Are pet owners... a little off?

This is an excerpt from a larger piece of work I am writing regarding veterinary medicine, and veterinary care in general in contemporary society. I don't mean to be presumptuous, but publishers feel free to contact me.

In 1994 Americans spent $17 billion (US) on their pets (1) . This climbed to just under $40 billion in 2006, equal to about 1/325th the United States’ GNP, half that of Romania, and nearly 20 times the GNP of Rwanda.
Today, there is at least one cat in 38 million homes, while a dog can be found in nearly 45 million homes. Six million American homes have a “small animal,” that is neither a fish nor a reptile. In the U.S. in 2008, an estimated $16.9 billion was spent on pet food while $10.9 billion was spent on veterinary care. The remaining $15 billion were spent on pet-related products and services, excluding food and vet care.
Pets are ever increasingly being considered a member of the family. This becomes more true when considering that the services and products that were hitherto catered solely to Homo sapiens are no longer: “Max” now has his gourmet raw food, his dog walkers who come in twice daily, a full wardrobe (lumberjacket, raincoat and matching boots, a backpack, and more) a canine sleep-away camp while his owners (2) are on vacation, acupuncture for his arthritis, chiropractic for his pinched nerve, a holistic veterinarian for his liver problem, a veterinary dentist to fix his canine that he broke chewing on the door of his massive crate (3), a veterinary oncologist to treat his skin cancer, and a pet cemetery where he can be interred and remembered by all, forever.
Today, in 2008, you might be amazed at the technology and level of care humans are providing to non-humans. One hundred years ago, a severely lame horse would be shot, ending its suffering. Today, we hear stories of teams of equine surgeons (yes, specialists in equine surgery) reassembling the leg bones of champion horses (4). The technology present is allowing veterinarians to ultrasound pregnant dolphins and camels, to replace a dog’s cataracts with artificial lenses in the exact same way yours were replaced, and to pin the broken wing of a barn owl, releasing it to the wild after its lengthy reha-bilitation. It does not stop there. A veterinarian can become specialized by completing a residency in a specialty field. Veterinary radiologists specialize in diagnostic imaging, while veterinary ophthalmologists have advanced training in diagnosing and treating diseases of the eye. Veterinary internists diagnose, manage and treat diseases such as diabetes, infectious diseases, and everything in between. Veterinarians often refer their patients to one or more of these specialists for confirmation of their diagnoses, if a diagnosis cannot be reached, or if advanced diagnostics are required. The list of veterinary specialists goes on...

Advanced veterinary care certainly has a place in today’s ever more technologically-advanced world, though one must concede that it caters almost exclusively to the upper-middle class, if not to the elite. How many on the planet can truly afford such services? Is it not ironic that our puppies and kitties are fed four-star gourmet cat food, have access to MRI within days (if that), and whose biopsy results require less than a week to be reported, while human beings are often denied these or must wait many months for diagnostic tests, results, and surgery? How would you feel if you heard that some pet owners have spent tens of thousands of dollars on advanced care for their pet? Should a dog with bone cancer be afforded this treatment, while his human counterpart without healthcare receives but palliative care for the same ailment? At this point in human civilization, does human health not trump that of pets? This is not to say that the fate of wild species and the world’s ecosystems are not of primordial importance (domestic pets have long been removed from their wild roots, yet are still strongly constrained by them through their genes).

So what makes a pet owner nuts? When does one become a crazy-cat-lady? How could dressing up your pug in a pumpkin suit be harmful for you and her? And why should you not take your Yorkshire Terriers out in a stroller? Many behaviors exhibited by pet owners that are seemingly cute and harmless can induce behavioral nightmares in our pets. Also, many of such behaviors alienate the pet owners from other human beings (pet owners and non-). Please don’t hesitate to take a step back, no matter how short a step, as you will undoubtedly be reading about situations that you could swear were written about you.
(more to come)
1 According to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, Inc. (AAPPM)
2 This term may be offensive to some: the term “guardian” is being used more and more.
3 I know some people whose bachelor apartments are smaller.
4 What would be the outcome were it not a champion?

Know anyone like her? I'll bet there's a little bit of crazy-cat-lady in all pet owners.... all (and that includes guys).


Buddies said...

I must admit, I feel a little bit uncomfortable about this craze for dressing up animals in costumes.

Catherine said...

As a pet owner, but one with limited funds, I feel unbelievably guilty when faced with choices that I just cannot afford when it comes to our cats' care. It must be a really hard call for a vet when it comes to offering solutions to someone for their pet that the vet knows or suspects is well out of their monetary capabilities.

Dee said...

Sure, it can and does go too far but animals are like kids for some of us. And we love them. I've interviewed veterinarians on the subject of how much is too much. Some just say they tell owners what can be done, leaving it up to them to decide what should be done. Others say they feel it's part of their role to make recommendations keeping in mind what they know about the animal's quality of life and the pet owner's finances.

All I can say is, I lost one dog after doing too much to keep her alive, not realizing it was hopeless because she'd ingested antifreeze. I've never really gotten over that but you just do the best you can at the time.

I also feel guilty still about another pet that might have lived longer if I had paid for a procedure I neglected to do.

Of course, both would be long gone by now!

Yes, we're nuts. But at least we love:-)!

TorontoVet said...


You banged the nail right on the head: pets are not children, no matter how much you love them.
I love my cats dearly; I make decisions, as you suggest, keeping in mind their quality of life. For example, my older cat is diabetic: I can easily give him insulin injections twice daily, I can afford to treat him, and his quality of life is now that of a healthy cat.
You kept your dog alive because your vet likely guided you that way. You are definitely not nuts for trying to save your dog.
Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

I can not stand this latest fad of dressing dogs as if they were cute children. I've yet to see a happy dog, dressed in human clothes. I think their humans are more than a bit off center.

But then I have a neighbor who was upset when Animal Regulation was called, because her pedigree dog bit an adult neighbor. She didn't understand why Animal Reg had to be called. "It's just a bite." Add the bite to the progressive aggression the dog has been exhibiting. There's a disaster waiting to happen. I think this dog owner is 'way more than a bit off center.

I guess I'd rather see dogs dressed in human clothes, than have owners thinking that dog bite is nothing important.

Pink Signs said...

We work in an inner city animal shelter and we see the other side of the coin. Instead of going to the vet ever, some of our 'clients' let their animals suffer and die in the yard with out any care. Then, when they get around to it, they bring in the sometimes decomposing body for us to dispose of. luckily, most people are intelligent regarding the medical care they provide for their animals. (PS, we like your blog and added your link to ours)