The Most Common Pet Medical Conditions and How They Compare to Humans
The pet insurance company, Nationwide, has released a report detailing the most commonly claimed pet medical conditions for its members in 2022. The data shows that skin allergies were the most common health issue affecting dogs for the 11th year in a row, while chronic kidney disease was the most common medical condition affecting cats, with allergies and ear infections also being frequent.
Here is the breakdown for dogs:
- Otitis externa
- Anal gland sacculitis
- Benign skin neoplasia
- Dental disease (tooth infection, cavity, abscess)
Here is the breakdown for cats:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Hyperthyroid disease
- Dental disease (tooth infection, cavity, abscess)
- Diabetes mellitus
- Atopic or allergic dermatitis
- Upper respiratory infection
- Otitis externa
Interestingly, there are few similarities between the most common claims to pet insurance companies for pets compared to money spent on human healthcare, but there are also some notable differences. So let's dive into some of the information gleaned from human health care.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the most common health issues in humans are:
- Not enough physical activity and poor nutrition
- Substance abuse
- HIV/Aids: viruses
- Mental health
- Environmental quality: pollution
- Immunization: reportedly, lack of immunization for the flu and pneumonia affects the elderly especially
- Access to care
According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid, the most money in health care is spent on the following conditions:
- Heart disease and stroke
- Alcohol-related issues
- Alzheimer's disease
What do we have in common with our pets?
Interestingly, we control physical activity in the household for the most part so if we are overweight and inactive, this will most likely affect our pets. Consider that the obesity rate in dogs and cats is significantly higher in dogs and cats (50-60%) compared to humans at 40%. How does this make sense when we put the food in the bowl? Certainly, our pets do not have 24-7 access to the refrigerator as we do, and stress eating is not an option for them. So other than inactivity, there is no other common denominator. The issue is that dogs and cats mostly eat processed food, laden with carbohydrates and a very concentrated source of calories with little nutritional value.
We know that obesity in humans leads to heart disease, cancer, and arthritis and contributes to poor mental health. Likewise, we see an increased incidence of arthritis in overweight pets and increased cancer linked to obesity. Thankfully, substance abuse is not a problem for our pets.
Access to quality care is an issue in both human and veterinary medicine. Many healthcare providers were traumatized by COVID-19. Nurses continue to leave the field in droves. More pets were adopted in the pandemic, which contributed to a strain on veterinary clinics already suffering from a shortage of veterinarians and support staff, further decreasing access to care.
One very notable difference in the types of complaints noted between humans and animals is the prevalence of skin allergies in pets. When was the last time you woke up with a hot spot or an ear infection? The epidemic of itchy pets is a commonly witnessed problem at veterinary clinics. So what is the cause?
Proposed causes of skin allergies in pets include genetics as some breeds of dogs are more prone, and environmental factors can also play a role, but this would not explain how pets are afflicted much more commonly than humans. Humans do not suffer as much from fleas and ticks as pets do! But honestly, what is the common denominator here? I think it's that most pets are fed an entirely processed diet.
Diet may also play a role in developing skin allergies in pets, although the link is not yet entirely clear. Some studies have suggested that certain ingredients, such as grains and processed proteins, may contribute to developing allergies in both pets and humans. Although there is no conclusive evidence to prove that dietary factors are a direct cause of skin allergies in pets, who is going to pay for this research?
We've all heard that the Mediterranean diet is considered an anti-inflammatory and that the standard American diet leads to inflammation, unhealthy skin, and digestion. So why wouldn't the same apply to our pets? Processed food has a high Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, leading to inflammation. Pet food is often high in Omega-6 but low in Omega-3. Too much Omega-6 and too little Omega-3 can lead to inflammation. A ratio of about 4-1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 is considered optimum for dogs, but many commercial dog foods contain ratios of 20-1 or more.
Another potential cause of skin allergies in pets is the overuse of antibiotics and other medications. These drugs can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the gut and skin, leading to the development of allergies and other health problems. I would also argue that we are also creating an unhealthy microbiome by feeding highly processed diets. We will learn more about the importance of the microbiome as time progresses. Could an unhealthy microbiome explain the epidemic of Inflammatory bowel disease that we see in pets. In fact, in my career, I don't think I've ever seen a normal intestinal biopsy report come back on a pet. Granted, pets that went for endoscopy would likely have abnormal results, but I have to say I can't remember the last time I say a biopsy come back without some degree of inflammation.
Another notable difference is between common issues is the high incidence of kidney disease in cats. Indeed, kidney failure is not as prevalent in humans, yet it would be hard to find a cat lover that has had cats throughout their lifetime or known someone who has experienced a senior cat suffering from renal failure. Could renal failure be more prevalent because dry food creates a risk for dehydration in cats that naturally have a low thirst drive? Certainly, lower urinary tract disease leads to bladder issues, so one would have to wonder if cats that eat mostly dry food could suffer from dehydration and, ultimately kidney disease. But another cause could also be vaccinations. Research has been done with vaccinations in cats that were produced in cultured kidney cells. Remnants of these kidney cells ends up in the vaccines and may cause autoimmune reactivity toward the vaccinated pets kidneys. The work that has been done has been deemed not strong enough to worry about it apparently but vaccinations continue to be made in this way. Still, one must wonder with the prevalence of kidney disease in cats that we should think twice about boostering cats later in life when they are likely already immune after their kittenhood vaccinations. At this stage there needs to be more evidence according to the experts, again who is going to pay for that research. Vaccines are big business. I'm not against them as they save so many lives, but too much of a good thing can be a problem. While it's important to receive kittenhood vaccinations, after that many cats are immune for life so keep that in mind.
Well I've given you a lot of things to think about. One thing I do know is that the common denominator in many diseases is both a highly processed diet and being overweight. We can all agree is not healthy for both humans and animals, and should not be the norm as it is for pets. Let's rethink how we can nourish our pets in a way that is consistent with what we already know is true.