Pet health stats a valuable source of information

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Pet health stats

Pet health stats (Robert Daly / Caiaimage via Getty Images / October 17, 2013)

So, what's the state of pet health? Human health trends are monitored by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but there's no comparable agency for pets. With 850 hospitals across America, Banfield the Pet Hospital's database is a gold mine in veterinary medicine, as scrupulous records are kept on everything from the most common dog and cat breeds to disease prevalence.

For the past several years, data that's been mined on various medical issues has been rereleased to the public. This past fall, the CDC announced that Lyme disease is three times more common in people than the agency had previously reported, and is on the rise. So, it's no surprise that the Banfield State of Pet Health Report 2014 indicates that the bacterium that causes Lyme has increased by 21 percent in dogs since 2009.

Interestingly, older dogs are most susceptible. Geriatric dogs (defined as over 10 years old) are about 10 times as likely to be infected with Lyme.

Lyme disease is most common among dogs (and people) in New England. Minnesota and Wisconsin are also considered high risk, and Lyme is spreading at a brisk rate across the country.

"Lyme is so common it's scary," says Dr. Sandi Lefebvre, veterinary research associate at Banfield. "This is especially true with larger dogs that are outside a lot. There are more ticks out there and the increase in Lyme parallels with that increase."

The good news is, pet owners can do something to prevent Lyme in dogs by using an appropriate preventive. It's best if the product is recommended by a veterinarian. For owners living in the areas where Lyme disease is most common, it may make perfect sense to vaccinate your dog.

While the increase in Lyme disease can be easily explained, the same doesn't hold true for several other changes published in the 2014 Banfield Report. Since 2009, the number of cats infected with the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) has increased by a whopping 48 percent. Lefebvre concedes that she has no idea why.

FIV is most commonly spread by bite wounds when two male cats spar over a hot babe or territory. Another trend is that more cats are kept indoors-only with each passing year, which would suggest a decline in FIV, says Lefebvre.

The increase in FIV cats might have something to do with more animal shelters adopting FIV-positive cats (rather than euthanizing them). FIV is a slow-acting relative of HIV in people. While FIV-positive cats do have compromised immune systems, with proactive veterinary care, they can live out a normal lifespan.

Lefebvre notes that cats most likely to be diagnosed with FIV are far less likely to be spay/neutered. And FIV occurs most commonly in states where the culture is still to allow cats to spend most of their time outdoors. The states with the most FIV are Oklahoma, Iowa and Arkansas. However, the specific explanation for the increase in FIV remains a mystery.

Another feline virus, feline leukemia, doesn't allow cats to live out a normal lifespan. While treatment can extend their lives and quality of life, ultimately a feline leukemia diagnosis is terminal. The good news is, instances of feline leukemia have declined by five percent over the past five years.

Vaccines are available for both FIV and feline leukemia, and Lefebvre says many cats aren't likely to need either vaccine. However, if cats do go outdoors and/or may interact in unknown cats, a vaccine makes sense.

Certainly vaccines do save lives. One example relates to the potentially fatal canine parvovirus, which has declined by nine percent over the past five years.

"This disease (to which puppies are most susceptible) has only declined because people are vaccinating," says Lefebvre. "If people become complacent, we'll see more canine parvovirus."

The states where canine parvovirus occurs most often are New Mexico, Texas and Nevada.

Review more data at http://www.stateofpethealth.com.

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CHECK OUT AMERICA'S FAVORITE BREEDS

Here are the six most common dog and cat breeds seen at Banfield the Pet Hospitals in 2013:

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