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From the Field, Preventive Medicine

Data-Driven Pet Solutions: The Importance of Preventive Care

"By working together and leveraging the data at our fingertips, we can better help pet owners understand that preventive care can have long-term impacts on their pet’s health and happiness"

Molly McAllisterDVM, MPH

As chief medical officer at Banfield Pet Hospital, Dr. Molly McAllister is responsible for ensuring strategy, talent, organization, and culture support the practice in remaining at the forefront of quality pet care, as well as cultivating productive relationships within the veterinary profession. Dr. McAllister earned her veterinary degree from the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a master’s in public health from the University of Minnesota. She started her career in private veterinary practice before joining Royal Canin as a scientific services veterinarian, responsible for educating veterinarians about nutritional solutions to clinical disease. In 2012, she joined Banfield to lead medical education programs before transitioning to oversee the Veterinary Science team and drive research from Banfield’s extensive electronic medical records database.

Data-Driven Pet Solutions: The Importance of Preventive Care

More than ever before, pets and people share an undeniable bond, and owners are going above and beyond to help them live happy, healthy lives. In fact, a recent report from Banfield Pet Hospital found an increase in puppies and kittens receiving care in 2020 compared to the year prior. Yet despite tirelessly working with pet owners to help them understand the importance of preventive care, veterinary professionals continue to see dogs and cats contracting preventable diseases.

Our goal as veterinarians is to provide the best possible care to pets, and this includes helping to educate owners on the value of staying up to date on their pet’s preventive care, and the potential implications on their pet’s health when they don’t. Despite advancements in medicine and more research at our fingertips than ever before, this continues to be a challenge. By prioritizing building trusted relationships with clients and leveraging data, we can provide more helpful and personalized solutions for pets and their owners – while helping them understand the benefits of a proactive versus reactive approach to pet care.

Seeing more than three million pets each year, Banfield analyzed its electronic veterinary health records system for data and insights on some of the most common illnesses that are preventable but unfortunately still seen in too many of our patients, including oral health issues, parvovirus, heartworm, and feline leukemia. Some key findings from the new report are below.

More than Bad Breath

Oral health issues are the most common diagnoses Banfield sees in dogs and cats, with 85% of adult dogs and 80% of adult cats between the ages of 3-10 showing signs of dental disease (including dental calculus) in the past year. Of course, we all know that bad breath isn’t just an unpleasant smell. Periodontal disease in pets may also be linked to other chronic and systemic health problems in the rest of the body, including heart and kidney disease. Research based on Banfield data found:

  • Cats with advanced stages of periodontal disease were 1.5x more likely to develop chronic kidney disease
  • Dogs with advanced periodontal disease were 2.3x more likely to develop chronic kidney disease and 6.3x more likely to develop endocarditis

A new study from Waltham Petcare Science Institute leveraging Banfield data also found extra-small dog breeds (<14.3 lbs) were up to five times more likely to be diagnosed with periodontal disease than giant dog breeds (>55 lbs).

Dr. Corrin Wallis, microbiome workstream leader at Waltham Petcare Science Institute

Some pet owners “lift-the-lip” and look at a dog’s gums to get a sense of its oral health, but our research shows they could be missing important early signs of dental disease. This is why an oral care routine that consists of regular tooth brushing supplemented with dental chews and veterinary checks is key to maintaining pets’ oral health.

A Spike in Parvovirus Cases During the Pandemic

When looking at the past 10 years, Banfield’s data reveals a 13% increase in dogs 14 months or younger receiving the parvovirus vaccine and a 69% decrease in dogs of the same age contracting the illness. That said, lockdowns due to COVID-19 might have negatively impacted owners ensuring their puppies received this important vaccine, as BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital saw a 70% increase in the number of parvovirus cases relative to ER cases in 2020 as compared to the same time periods in the previous five years – underscoring the importance of remaining committed to prevention.

Dr. James Barr, chief medical officer, BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital

During the initial COVID-19 outbreak, many people turned to animals for companionship. This resulted in significant fostering and adoption of shelter animals. With stay-at-home orders, also came a trend in people spending more time outdoors with their pets, which could have increased environmental exposure to parvovirus in areas such as parks. Other possible causes include disruptions in the timing or prevention of puppies receiving full vaccine series (resulting in incomplete immunity) and financial hardships, such as job loss, preventing or delaying owners from seeking routine vaccinations.

Parvovirus outbreaks pose a serious threat to canines but skipping routine vaccinations also puts human health at risk through the possibility of rabies exposure. As sources of support as well as potential vectors of infectious disease, it is vital canines receive all preventative care vaccines and that owners adhere to timing requirements of those vaccines. As a community, we can collectively support this by educating owners early on about the importance of vaccinations and fostering relationships that will aid compliance.

A Spotlight on Heartworm and Cats

Some owners might put off heartworm prevention as they don’t believe the parasite is present in their state or region. According to the American Heartworm Society heartworm disease is spreading to new regions of the country each year, and cases of heartworm disease have been diagnosed in all 50 states.

In the past decade, Banfield’s data found a 46% drop in dogs diagnosed with the parasite, underscoring the importance and effectiveness of preventive care. The same unfortunately can’t be said for cats: in the past 10 years the practice saw a 22% increase in felines diagnosed with heartworms. Because there is currently no safe feline treatment to remove or kill adult heartworms in cats, this is particularly concerning for cats and their owners.

Feline Leukemia and Getting Cats to the Vet

When looking at cases of Feline leukemia, cats seen at Banfield diagnosed with this disease decreased by 36% over the past 10 years. When identifying and treating this illness, the sooner concerns are noted, the more likely veterinary teams can recommend a treatment plan to manage associated health changes. Unfortunately, across our profession we know that cats don’t see the vet as often as dogs. In fact, cats made up just 22% of the pets seen at Banfield in the past year, and Royal Canin found that more than half of all cats in the U.S. don’t receive veterinary care on a regular basis.

Dr. Tanya Schoeman, member of the Royal Canin R&D team and specialist in feline medicine

Because of their unique nature and needs, taking cats to visit a veterinary clinic can be very stressful, both for cats and owners. Cat owners can be reluctant to make the trip as cats often do not travel well and feel unsafe away from their home. They are sensitive to new sights, sounds and smells and are highly susceptible to stress. Consequently, cat owners unfortunately tend to wait for their cat to show signs of disease before taking them to the vet. Cats also tend to be secretive by nature and often only show signs of illness when it is already well-advanced. Because of this, cats are often taken to the vet far too late in the evolution of the disease. This is why preventive medicine is critical and regular check-ups are essential.

At Banfield, we are committed to leveraging our size and scale to share data and insights that help address the biggest challenges facing our profession. We hope that some of the data shared here might be useful to share with your own clients. By working together and leveraging the data at our fingertips, we can better help pet owners understand that preventive care can have long-term impacts on their pet’s health and happiness – and we as veterinary professionals will continue to be there for them as a trusted partner.