(ARA) - If you are a pet owner, your pet is a beloved member of your family. You buy treats and toys and sometimes even costumes to keep your pet happy and an integral part of the family. But, what about your pet's health? In the midst of all the fun, it is vital that pet owners work with their veterinarians to keep their pets healthy.
Over the past decade, as the population of dog and cat owners has increased, the number of pets that are receiving proper veterinary care has seen an alarming decline. A two-phase study of pet owners and veterinarians, which was commissioned by Bayer HealthCare LLC, Animal Health Division and conducted by Brakke Consulting in collaboration with the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, assessed this disturbing trend.
Data from the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study suggests that the decline in veterinary visits could be due to misconceptions pet owners have about their pet's health. Below is a list of pet health myths along with facts that can help pet owners understand the importance of veterinary care:
* Myth: Annual wellness exams are unnecessary and do not help my pet.
Fact: The recent Bayer study found that 95 percent of veterinarians surveyed believe that companion animals - both dogs and cats - require at least one veterinary well-visit annually. Yet many owners think that their pets only need to go to the veterinarian for vaccinations or shots. During routine check-ups, veterinarians evaluate health status using a number of tools such as ear and eye checks, listening to the pet's heart, X-rays and blood work. By using a range of medical techniques, veterinarians can catch conditions that, if undetected, can become costly-to-treat or chronic illnesses.
* Myth: All it takes is a click of the computer mouse and I can figure out what's wrong with my pet.
Fact: All too often, pet owners look to the Internet for answers regarding their sick pet. According to the Bayer study, 39 percent of pet owners look online before consulting their veterinarian if the pet gets sick or injured. With the availability of online resources - some helpful and some not - pet owners are waiting too long to bring their pets in for care, and the pets are sicker than they would have been if the pet owner brought their pet in at the first sign of concern. The Internet can't cure whatever issue your pet is having, and this delay could lead to costlier and more time intensive treatment.
* Myth: It is simply not as important to bring your cat to the vet as it is your dog, and the stress of taking the cat isn't worth it.
Fact: Cat owners know all too well the challenge of putting a cat in a carrier and transporting it to the veterinarian, and the stress cats sometimes exhibit once you actually get them there. In the battle between cats and humans to get to the vet, cats are clearly winning. The Bayer study found that more than one-third of cats had not been to the veterinarian in the last year, missing out on necessary care.
With this in mind, many veterinarians are taking steps to create more "cat-friendly" areas in their clinics. For example, some veterinarians have separate entrances for cats, or quiet rooms away from dogs for cats and their owners.
* Myth: Older pets need less care than younger pets.
Fact: There is a perception that, since older pets require fewer vaccinations, they need less veterinary care. But, older animals are more susceptible to a range of chronic and costly illnesses like diabetes, cancer and arthritis. Much like humans, as pets age, they need frequent medical care and observation to ensure continued optimum health.
* Myth: I just need to bring my pet in when it is sick; the value of an annual wellness exam is not comparable to the cost of a visit.
Fact: Think about all the doctors you see during the year. From an ophthalmologist to a dentist to your internist or family doctor. For your pet, the veterinarian provides all these services. When your pet goes for an annual wellness exam, that veterinarian needs to play the role of every doctor a human would see. So, for every veterinarian visit, Fluffy or Fido is getting a full check up with the skills of a number of doctors combined into one.
In addition to these important facts, veterinarians are working to keep up with their clients increasing use of social media. Some veterinarians are integrating new marketing strategies and tools, including using Facebook and Twitter or texting to connect with pet owners.
"When looking at these myths and facts, it is important to remember that the life span of pets is much shorter than that of humans, so skipping out on the veterinary visit for even one year, is similar to a human skipping doctor visits for seven years," said Sheldon Rubin, DVM and Oprah's former veterinarian of 15 years. "With this in mind, it is imperative that pets get the healthcare they need to live long and healthy lives, and don't go more than a year without seeing a veterinarian."