Pet Parade: Spoiling pets can hike vet bills

By AL SWANSON  |  Dec. 4, 2011 at 5:30 AM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Putting a fat pet on a diet can do more than save the pet's life -- it can save big money.

A recent study in Britain indicated spoiling a pet with those tasty extra tidbits and unhealthy treats eventually costs dog and cat owners thousands in extra bills for veterinary care. The annual total in Great Britain was estimated at $337.45 million, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The study of 2,000 pet owners conducted for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Britain found 91 percent of respondents gave pets leftovers as a special treat -- human food often larded with sugar and salt.

The result can be animals suffering weight problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, kidney disease, heart disease and cancer.

"It comes from the fact that they are beloved," Louise Murray, a vet and president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York, told the Chicago Tribune. "We see them as part of the family, and we feed them. (The obesity) comes from a good place because we love them. But we need to get it under control because it can cause health problems."

The PETA study found the 10 most potentially harmful treats commonly fed to pets are fruit, leftovers, milk, fat trimmings, bones, raw meat, chocolate, sugary foods, alcohol and salt.

Just like us, dogs and cats love salt and sugar and the study found most owners rewarded pets with food that can damage their health. Nearly 40 percent said they didn't know chocolate can be toxic to animals and nearly a third said they gave their pets milk, which can cause stomach upsets and diarrhea.

PETA, which promotes a vegan diet for dogs, said British pets were the unhealthiest in Europe and the average pet needed medical treatment at least twice in its life because of something it ate. The average unplanned vet visit cost $348.

"We now have some of the unhealthiest animal companions in Europe as a result of poor diets and a lack of exercise," PETA's Mimi Bekhechi, told the Telegraph. "Loving and responsible guardians must understand that just as obesity in humans increases the risk of acquiring various diseases, the same is true for our animal companions."

A study conducted for the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention earlier this year found more than half of U.S. dogs and cats are overweight with 20 percent of those considered obese -- defined as being more than 30 percent over normal weight.

University of Illinois veterinary professor Thomas Graves likened the situation to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

"We're seeing the same thing in dogs and cats," he told the Tribune. "Probably 40 percent of them are overweight and 20 percent of them obese. And the vast majority of pet owners fail to recognize that their pets have a weight problem."

Murray says cats, unlike dogs, are pure carnivores and gain weight when they eat too many carbohydrates. She recommends canned or moist foods in pouches for kitty.

Update: Recent visits to the vet found my 9-year-old Fox Terrier fine and fit and my 3-year-old Welsh Terrier, nicknamed "the piglet," the same weight as her last visit despite smaller daily rations in 2011. Most pet foods are really good for proper nutrition, and we feed them a premium kibble, so it must be the treats.

Pet snack warning

After seeing an increase in complaints, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week warned consumers that chicken jerky products imported from China can make their dogs sick.

Complaints ranged from lethargy to death after animals consumed Chinese-made chicken jerky, tenders, strips or treats, but no recall has been issued so far. The most common symptoms were decreased activity and appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased thirst or urination. Most of the dogs recovered.

The FDA recommended dog owners monitor their pet's diets and use dog treats only as intended.

"We want to make sure pets are using chicken jerky treats as appropriate -- as treats instead of as a meal replacement. If used as a supplement with a well-balanced diet, the risk of illness is minimal," Andy Izquirerdo, director of public affairs at PetSmart, told The News of Cumberland County (New Jersey).

He said the national pet store chain had not removed chicken jerky products from shelves.

"If one of the children gives the dog two treats, and the mother doesn't know the dog has been treated, that's another couple of treats, then the father gives some, and that's where over-treating comes in," Izquierdo said. "Pet parents should follow guidelines on the package; they're usually done by weight, so a smaller-breed dog would take less treats than a larger dog."

The FDA also issued cautionary warnings for chicken jerky products in 2007 and 2008, and is continuing testing to find the cause of the recent increase in canine illnesses.

Fines for Elephants

The company that produces the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has been fined $270,000 for allegedly mistreating elephants.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture cited alleged animal treatment violations at the circus from June 2007 to August 2011, the department said in a release. "This settlement sends a direct message to the public and to those who exhibit animals that USDA will take all necessary steps to protect animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Making no admission of wrongdoing, Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent of the "Greatest Show on Earth," agreed to pay the record penalty without a hearing and said it would begin new training procedures for all handlers, trainers, attendants and veterinarians who work with circus animals.

"We look forward to working with the USDA in a cooperative and transparent manner that meets our shared goal of ensuring that our animals are healthy and receive the highest quality care," chief executive officer Kenneth Feld said in a statement.

In October, a federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against Feld filed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Protection Institute charging the circus with systematic abuse of elephants for using bullhooks to guide and control the animals.

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