Cat itching

As the chief veterinary officer of Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), I’m always thinking about ways to keep our pets healthier. And pet owners are an important part of this process. Recently, I had a revelation: If you want to prevent some of the misery that plagues so many pets, start by checking your dog or cat regularly for developing problems. It’s a simple thing to do — just give him a once-over every day as you pet him.

I arrived at that conclusion after reviewing our annual media release of the most common claims of 2013. Skin problems and ear infections continue to dominate our top 10 claims, which collectively totaled almost half a million incidents and $66 million in expenses last year.

Since some of these conditions can be improved or resolved with early treatment or successfully managed in partnership with a veterinarian, I found myself wondering how many of these claims could have been avoided with preventive wellness care and early intervention.

The Top 10 Claims of 2013

Here are the top 10 claims and their per-incident average, based on VPI’s 2013 claims data. As always, I must note that veterinary costs vary widely by region:

  1. Skin allergies ($186)
  2. Ear infection ($149)
  3. Non-cancerous skin mass ($342)
  4. Skin infection or "hot spot" ($120)
  5. Arthritis ($298)
  6. Vomiting/upset stomach ($276)
  7. Periodontitis/dental disease ($294)
  8. Diarrhea/intestinal upset ($130)
  9. Bladder or urinary tract disease ($231)
  10. Soft tissue trauma (bruise or contusion) ($219)

You can see why I think preventive medicine and early intervention can help a lot of pets. Skin allergies top the list, but new studies show that contrary to the popular belief that frequent bathing is bad for a dog’s skin and coat, regular bathing may be helpful in managing skin allergies. In addition, veterinarians can help prevent or treat some kinds of skin disease and manage others with new medications that can help relieve itching and scratching.

Preventive care is key to heading off disaster. Early intervention and management of skin allergies may help reduce the occurrence of several of these issues, specifically ear infections, skin infections and hot spots. And in the case of No. 7, preventive care can make a huge difference in slowing or stopping the progression to serious dental and periodontal disease.

In fact, if you add in feeding a good-quality diet and keeping your home pet-safe by putting away items that (when ingested) may cause vomiting and diarrhea, you can make the case that prevention and early veterinary intervention can dramatically lower the rates of many of the conditions on this list.

Wellness Care Saves Money — And Keeps Pets Healthier

As the nation’s first and largest pet health insurance company, we have paid out millions and millions in claims over the last three decades. And we’ll continue to do so, proudly. But as a veterinarian, I find myself very happy with the current trend toward preventive and wellness care. We have long practiced human medicine this way, and it makes sense to reduce illness, suffering and, yes, cost by making wellness care routine in veterinary medicine.

The place to start saving money — and improving your pet’s quality of life — is with a call to your veterinarian for a comprehensive wellness exam. Because heading illness off at the pass is just plain good medicine.

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