Is Your Veterinarian’s Salary the Cause of Higher Veterinary Bills?

The cost of veterinary care has risen faster than inflation for the past two decades.  Is your veterinarian’s salary the cause of higher veterinary bills?  Probably not, according to a new study.

The American Veterinary Medical Association economics team recently completed a study examining veterinary salaries in the US over the past couple of decades to see if rising veterinary salaries account for the increase in veterinary costs.  The team found that while mean income for veterinarians rose until 2006, it is now declining.  In fact, when accounting for inflation, veterinary compensation is decreasing.  An influx of younger veterinarians, more women in the profession, and a decline in practice ownership may account for the decline in compensation.

Younger workforce

As older veterinarians retire, new graduates earning on average less than $80,000 per year take their place.  Right now, Generation X professionals are reaching their peak earnings capacity.  But they are outnumbered in the veterinary profession by Millennials, who are working at or near entry level salary.  The number of new veterinarians entering the market is expected to outpace retirements for the next decade or so.  That may continue to keep the average salary low.

More women in veterinary medicine

There are now more women entering the market as veterinarians than men.  Unfortunately, women have historically been paid less than their male counterparts, and this trend continues.  In 2011, the gap between median male and female veterinary salary was $24,000.  The AVMA reported in 2015 that on average, female veterinarians make $2406.97 less than males.  Until salaries become more equitable for women in veterinary medicine, income growth may remain slow.

Decrease in practice ownership

Owning a practice has been one way veterinarians earn more money in their careers.  However, it takes substantial time to start a practice.  For instance, more than 70% of veterinarians who graduated between 1970 and 1979 own a practice.  In contrast, only 6% of those who graduated between 2010 and 2015 own a practice.  And the trend is for veterinarians to wait longer to buy a practice.

How much is a veterinarian’s salary?

The study found that the mean salary for veterinarians in 2016 was about $112,000.  To put that into perspective, remember that new veterinary graduates come out of their 8-year college experience (including undergraduate and veterinary school) with an average of $167,000 in debt (2016).   Veterinary medicine is not a quick and easy path to riches.

What is behind rising veterinary care costs?

Harvard Business Review explored the similarities and differences between human and veterinary medicine in 2017.  Costs are rising in both of these sectors.  Rising healthcare costs for humans are attributed in part to the burden of a heavy regulatory framework and involvement of insurance companies.  These factors do not influence veterinary medicine.  The authors speculate that introduction of new technologies in both sectors spurs increased costs.  Intuitively, increasing sophistication of practice, with introduc tion of expensive new instruments and the expertise to use them, should lead to increased cost for services.

The authors note that in both human and veterinary medicine spending increases towards the end of the patient’s life.  They speculate that one reason costs rise more quickly in healthcare than in other sectors is that healthcare decisions involve emotions to a much greater extent than in other areas.  This may play into the “heroic” medicine that is increasingly practiced to intervene in desperate situations.  It is less likely to be a factor in preventive care and routine treatments for pets, in my opinion.  The authors fail to make clear that neither physicians nor veterinarians use the emotional aspect of medical decisions to increase billing, in general.  Rather, heroic care is based on a desire of both the doctor and the patient/client to prolong life.

Yes, veterinary care is expensive.  Does that mean that veterinarians are taking advantage of their clients through price gouging?  Maybe in rare cases.  But overall, veterinarians are an altruistic bunch of people who could have made a lot more money in a different profession.

 

How I Joined the Internet of Pets

A mere nine months ago my Facebook feed was a jaded and pessimistic place.  Nobody wanted to visit my home page, least of all me.  And the real world didn’t feel much better.  Outside the office I was making few social connections. I was living in a sad, political bubble.  Then, I discovered the internet of pets, and everything changed.  Or almost everything.  My home page is still a place few people visit.  But for me and my 87 followers on Instagram, the world is now undeniably a happier place.

The Political Bubble

Back in those days when I skulked in the darker corners of social media where the serious news hangs out and political partisans go to troll each other to the point of suicide, the internet of pets was no more to me than an overheard giggle from a nearby work cubicle.  “Hey, did you see that great kitten video I sent you?” a friend would ask.  I would smile and nod.  “So cute!”  But I was rolling my eyes inside.  Kitten video, Bah humbug!  Just another unwanted distraction from my search for the secret to bringing people together in a divided and hostile world.

My perspective changed entirely one day when I was out walking the dogs.  After the 5th or 6th person stopped us on the street to pet the dogs and tell me about their own pets, I realized that pets unite people in a way that hobbies, work, and families don’t.  The love of animals connects people in an apolitical and largely egalitarian way. Pets break down social barriers and build community.  Within a month I had tiptoed into the internet of pets with KC Pet Collective.

The Internet of Pets

The internet of pets is serious business.  There are thousands of pet blogs and social media accounts in the US.  The largest accounts have a million or more followers. There’s even a new term for these animal media giants: Petfluencers.  Marketing research indicates that 44% of Millennials view their pets as children.  They engage with brands and other pet parents online as much as parents of human children do.

As a blogger trying to grow an engaged online community, I began to spend more time reading and responding to animal-related posts of all kinds.  Those kitten videos my friends sent me were opened and shared with new friends.  Engagement online led to participation in real-time as I began to get out in the community to attend and cover pet-friendly events.

The Pet Bubble

Gradually, I replaced my political bubble with a pet bubble.  The more pet posts I read, the more pet posts came to my feeds.  Today, I am a proud participant in the internet of pets.  It’s a kinder net where polite discussion, shared enthusiasm, and positive energy is the norm.  Something about pets keeps the trolls away and deflects our meaner human instincts.

I don’t miss the “serious” news.  I don’t get tired of seeing animals of all sorts come across my screen throughout the day.  Every pet is different, and the photography is often stunning and surprisingly professional.  Each image of a beloved pet inspires joy.  I keep up with the headlines on my own schedule, but I let the pet posts come freely to my feeds and inbox.

As I contribute in a small way to the internet of pets through KC Pet Collective,  I hope to build a community of pet lovers and the local businesses who serve them.  To my 88 (I got one more while I was writing this) Instagram followers, I say, “Thanks for being part of the community!”  For the rest of you, I look forward to seeing your pet videos and photos online.  And if you follow me on Instagram, @kcpetcollective,  I won’t hate you.

 

 

 

Don’t Move to the Suburbs to Please Your Pet. City Dogs May Be Happier.

Millennials are buying suburban houses to please their pets. But does the change in lifestyle really benefit their dogs?  Probably not. Here’s why city dogs may be happier.

According to a recent report in Time, millennials are leaving cities to buy homes in the suburbs because of their dogs.  There’s a perceived benefit to larger homes and big yards. But the benefit may be more about convenience for the humans than happiness for the dogs.  We have kept dogs in rural, suburban, and city environments.  Here are four reasons we think our dogs are happier in the city.

1. The walkies

Walks are the number one reason city dogs may be happier.  As apartment dwellers, we spend more time walking our dogs each day than we ever did in the suburbs.  This means not only more exercise for all of us, but more time spent interacting with our dogs.  Walkies are mandatory, and the dogs allow no procrastination.   In addition to quick trips down to the dog park for sanitary purposes and play, we also make several long walks around the city each week.

Although suburban areas may boast more dedicated walking trails, neighborhoods within cities are often better connected by sidewalks and other pedestrian ways.  From our front door, we can walk for miles in almost any direction and never leave the sidewalk.  Public green spaces and dog parks are concentrated into a smaller area and are more accessible by foot in urban areas.  Unlike the suburbs, cities offer diverse sights and experiences for both pets and people.

Dogs walked in crowded urban spaces often require more training and better leash skills than their suburban counterparts.  Dogs enjoy learning and need to be challenged throughout their lives.  Daily walks provide a time for reinforcing leash training and building a stronger human/dog bond.

2. The dog-friendly spaces

There are more dog-friendly public spaces within walking distance in the city.  City dogs enjoy spending more time with their parents on the patio at local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants.  Most dog-friendly eateries offer fresh water for pets, and many provide treats for their canine patrons, too.

3. The socialization

City dogs get more socialization opportunities than suburban dogs.  Dog parks are increasingly offered as an amenity in rental communities.  We are among the growing number of renters with access to a private dog park.  As a result, our dogs interact with other dogs every day.  And because city dwellers generally have smaller homes and must be more conscious about separation-related behavior issues, city dogs are more likely to go to day care when their parents are away.

4. The tribe

Most city dogs end up with their own tribe of ardent fans.  Our dog Wesley is a crowd pleaser wherever he goes, and he thrives on the attention.  It’s safe to say that social dogs like Wesley get a lot of pleasure from interacting with a variety of people.  When handled appropriately, the increased exposure to many different people can help shy dogs become more tolerant and confident.

Does a Yard Really Make a Dog Happier?

The biggest downside for the city dweller is not having access to a yard.  Having a yard is undeniably much more convenient for dog parents.  There’s no need to rush outside with the dog in freezing weather or rain, and walks can be scheduled at the parent’s convenience, instead of through necessity.  However, the benefit of a yard to dogs is not as clear.

Having a yard means that a dog can go outside more frequently during the day.  Going outside more frequently doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog will get more beneficial exercise, especially if his owners forego regular walks.   Remember that dogs left to their own devices spend only about five minutes a day running and 68 minutes a day walking.  The majority of your dog’s day is spent sleeping or resting (about 19.4 hours), whether inside or out.

Giving a dog unsupervised access to a yard may lead to some unpleasant surprises.  The dog may dig or bark at passersby.  Even worse, the dog may get out of the yard and wander off.  Although there isn’t good data available, it seems more likely that a dog let out into the yard is more likely to escape than a city dog that is walked on a leash.

Your dog can be happy whether you choose to live in the city or in the suburbs.  It’s a mistake to think that suburban life on its own, will make your dog happier.  What is important is that you spend quality time with your dog every day.

What do you think?  Are you looking to move out of the city?  Are you living in the city and loving it?  Or are you and your dog sitting pretty in a suburban home?  Comment below to share your story.

 

 

 

Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers: What You Need to Know

The incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers is on the rise.  Could diet be the problem?  Some veterinarians are beginning to think so.  Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing research.

What is Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy  (DCM) is a condition caused by a weakening of the heart muscle that leads to poor contraction strength.  Ultimately, both the left and the right chambers of the heart become dilated, with thin walls.  The disease is most often progressive and fatal.

Some breeds have a genetic predisposition to DCM.  Affected breeds include the Doberman Pinscher, Boxer Dogs, American Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Portuguese Water Dogs, mastiffs, and Great Danes.  Other breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernards, Springer Spaniels, English Sheepdogs, Afghan hounds, Scottish Deerhounds, terriers, and English Cocker Spaniels also have a relatively high incidence of the disease.

But genetics isn’t the whole story in some cases.  In the 1990’s, veterinary cardiologists began to connect dietary taurine deficiency with DCM in some breeds.  They found that the disease was linked to diet in some Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, and Golden Retrievers.

What is taurine?

Taurine is an amino acid.  Unlike many amino acids, it is not used by the body to build protein.  Instead, itaurine helps regulate the volume of cells, and  it is a component of bile salts. It is necessary for many body functions.  Many animal tissues contain high levels of taurine.  Dogs can make taurine, and it is not considered an essential amino acid for the canine diet.

Dr. Josh Stern, a veterinary cardiologist who studies DCM at the UC Davis College of Veterinary Medicine thinks that some dogs may have something in their genes that causes them to make less taurine.  In these dogs, diets that are lower in taurine could lead to disease. He is studying blood samples from dogs with and without DCM for clues.

What diets have been associated with Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers?

Athough there are no published studies that link any diets to DCM, Dr. Stern and others have observed an association between some diets and the disease.  These diets include high fiber, lamb and rice meal, and very low protein diets (Morris Animal Foundation, Golden Retriever lifetime study).  Recently, investigators have also linked some grain-free diets, especially those high in legumes such as peas or soy,  to development of DCM.   They speculate that there may be something in legumes that hinders the absorption of taurine.

What should parents of Golden Retrievers do?

Regular veterinary visits and health examinations are essential for any dog.  Make sure you talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s diet.  Your vet may recommend a blood test for dietary taurine levels.  If your dog has signs of dilated cardiomyopathy, your vet may recommend a taurine supplement.  Continue to feed your dog a balanced diet with plenty of protein.

It is important to catch the disease early.  Taurine supplementation will not always be effective in treating the disease.  However, the earlier treatment begins, the better the chances for improvement.

Photo credit: Yvonne Kubo

The Problem with Poo

Spring is in the air, but what is that other thing I smell?

Animal poo accumulates in the winter

During the winter months, when the ground is frozen and it’s cold outside, people can get a little lazy about cleaning up after their pets.  After all, there aren’t any flies around, and the poo doesn’t really smell in the cold.  What’s the harm in leaving it on the ground a while longer?

The first, and most obvious, problem with winter poo build-up is that what freezes must thaw. All those piles of poo turn into poo land mines when the weather gets warmer.  And the smell comes back, too.  It’s unsanitary for everyone.

But there are other problems with letting animal feces sit in the environment, even in the winter.

Animal poo can contain infectious agents

You might thing that leaving poo around in the winter is not a problem because it’s too cold for infectious disease agents in fecal matter to live.  Think again.  In 2007, a team of researches studied 100 air samples from four midwestern cities.  They found that the bacterial community in the air in the winter most closely resembles that found in canine feces.  The samples were taken at 12 feet above the ground (Bowers, 2011).  Even in the winter, bacteria from fecal matter on the ground aerosolize.  While the scientists didn’t examine the health effects of these bacteria in their study, bacteria in the air have been associated with asthma and seasonal allergies in other research.

Dog feces can contain parasites, viruses, and bacteria that are infectious to humans.  But the diseases transmitted through dog feces are even more likely to be infectious to other dogs.  Last year, there was an outbreak of campylobacteriosis in puppies.  This disease is transmitted through feces. When the spring rains start to break down the fecal matter, disease agents are spread to a larger area.

Animal poo ends up in the water

Studies have shown that 20%-30% of the bacteria in urban watersheds can be traced to dog feces.  That’s not surprising:  pet dogs in the US produce around 11 million pounds of waste each year.  When it rains, pet waste that is lying on the ground gets washed into streams and rivers.  Pet waste in urban areas isn’t the only problem.  Poo that is sitting alongside forest trails and poo that is sitting in a back yard will both end up in a watershed somewhere.  When pet waste is left outside in the winter, there are few to no insects around to help it decompose.  So more of the poo is likely to enter the watershed.

A 2015 survey of 1000 people in North Caroline showed that only about 60% of dog owners pick up after their pet.  Fourty percent of owners aren’t picking up.  Don’t be like those people.  Now’s the time to get out there and clean up. Our friends over at Four Leg Stretch have ranked the best poop bags and more to help you out.

 

Bowers et al, Sources of bacteria in outdoor air across cities in the Midwestern United States, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2011