Hold the Kibble: Fat Cats and Dogs Cost Pet Insurer $14 Million

August 17, 2007

A fat cat, or dog, may result in a fat bill.

Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, recently reviewed policyholder data to find that it reimbursed more than $14 million last year for claims with links to pet obesity. Claims related to obesity represented seven percent of all medical claims submitted to VPI in 2006.

“Pet owners may think a few extra pounds is acceptable for their pet, but no one finds extra veterinary bills very appealing,” said Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for VPI. “Obesity in pets should be taken seriously by all pet owners. It shortens pets’ lives and dramatically increases health risks.”

Veterinarians have long known that obesity is as harmful to pets as it is to humans. Nearly all body systems are required to work harder to support the extra weight, raising the risk of arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis and cruciate ligament rupture. There are other diseases also correlated with obesity, such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, hepatitis and lipomas. Besides adversely affecting pets’ quality and length of life, any one of these diseases could require costly treatment. In 2006, the average claimed cost of treatment for the aforementioned medical conditions was $832, up from $713 in 2005 and $702 in 2004.

“Pet obesity begins with excessive kindness,” said McConnell. “Food is the primary way some pet owners demonstrate love to their pet. When dog treats and table scraps become signs of affection or behavioral tools, it becomes difficult to effectively regulate a pet’s diet.”

VPI says that studies show that between 25 and 40 percent of American pets are overweight. While ideal weight varies among breeds and individual pets, smaller pets can tip the scales with only two to three pounds of extra weight. A simple way to determine if a pet is overweight is to feel its spine and chest. The backbone and ribs should be easy to distinguish and void of excess fat.

In order to lose weight, pets must reduce caloric intake while increasing physical activity. For pet owners, this means regulating or eliminating their pets’ snacks and treats and finding a fun way to remain active with their pets. Since pets have varying responses to weight loss, advice from a veterinarian is advisedl for a safe and effective weight loss regimen. A veterinarian can identify a pet’s ideal weight and customize a diet and exercise plan to promote healthy weight loss.

“Most pet owners think of pet insurance in the context of routine care and the unexpected; they fail to think of how it protects against illnesses like those associated with obesity,” said McConnell. “VPI Pet Insurance reimburses for conditions potentially related to and exacerbated by obesity and offers options for routine care coverage to encourage pet owners to bring their pet to the veterinarian for regular physical exams and preventive health care. The good news for pet caregivers is that obesity can be prevented and the excess costs avoided.”

Source: Veterinary Pet Insurance

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