How many pups get ear infections? Do only cats get UTIs? Here’s what we can learn from the statistics compiled by pet insurance companies.
Ever wonder how many dogs have asthma? Or what scrapes cats most commonly get into? Those looking for answers to questions like these often turn to pet insurance companies for the stats. Every year, insurance companies process thousands of medical claims. Each contains one or more diagnosis codes that indicate the reason for the claim. By collecting these codes in a database, staff can run queries based on breed, region, age of animal and more.
Data and demographics
Pet insurance data is useful for analysis, but Dr. Carol McConnell, Chief Veterinary Medical Officer for Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), points out that drawing disease-incident conclusions based on insurance statistics wouldn’t yield accurate results because they are derived from a relatively small cross-section of society.
“Though it has been rising in popularity, only a small percentage of the population purchases pet insurance,” she says. “Our data covers approximately 470,000 animals currently, representing less than 1% of the pet population. The statistics don’t represent a broad demographic.
“Our data serves as more of a confirmation, than to support trends,” adds Dr. McConnell. “For example, if we get a call from a researcher looking for information on different types of canine cancer, I would redirect them to a pathology lab. While we can generate this data from the claims we see, there are many backyard dogs that rarely see a vet, or others who don’t have insurance. We don’t have statistics for those dogs.”
Raising public awareness
Despite this, valuable information can still be gleaned from the insurance industry. “Many people like to believe nothing will happen to their animals,” explains Dr. McConnell. “But dogs and cats do get sick, and by sharing what we’re seeing, we hope to raise public awareness.”
For example, those who peruse VPI’s list of the top ten most expensive conditions might re-think how well they tidy up their homes, since foreign body ingestion tops the list as the most expensive condition for a feline, and ranks fourth for dogs. The number one surgically removed culprit in dogs? Socks! Insurance data also sheds light on ways you can help prevent illness or injury, by alerting you to potential dangers. “The most common cause of eye trauma is face-first collisions with tree branches,” notes VPI in its list of the ten most common eye ailments. “Owners can prevent these by trimming bushes and keeping branches above pet eye level.”
Trends in animal care
Veterinarian Dr. Jack Stephens, President and Founder of Pets Best Insurance, observes that the trends his company sees reveal that people are taking better care of their animals. “From ten to 15 years ago to today, there has been a dynamic shift in people’s minds,” he says. “Animals are no longer considered disposable, they are more like children, and people will do much more to keep them healthy.”
Dr. Stephens says the most common claims received at Pets Best have not changed much in 30 years – they include those resulting from ear infections, skin dermatitis, cystitis and GI upsets. But other claims indicate people are seeking a much higher level of care for their companion animals.
“There has been an increase in referrals to specialists,” says Dr. Stephens. “People are using surgeons, internal medicine professionals, oncologists, behaviorists and ophthalmologists. Specialist care such as this makes up 35% of claims paid over $500.”
Dr. Stephens has also seen a growth in cancer treatment, as well as claims addressing behavioral conditions. “People are more willing to find solutions and work with their animals. Overall, they are providing better care for them.”
Industry professionals benefit too
Insurance statistics also provide insight to industry professionals, such as neutraceutical companies and university researchers. Dr. Stephens says Pets Best data is used by the North American Pet Insurance Association, a non-profit organization that shares statistics with pet food companies, supplement companies, and others in the industry.
Take note next time you see a report of insurance statistics. You might pick up a tip that will prevent a costly trip to the vet!
Here’s a list of the ten most common items surgically removed from animals, according to VPI:
6. Chew toys
7. Corn cobs
9. Hair ties/ribbons
Six yard problems for pooches
From the claims they’ve received, Pets Best Insurance is in a good position to warn people of common backyard dangers.
1. Strychnine: a potent poison used to kill rats, moles, gophers and other rodents. Can be fatal if ingested.
2. Snail bait: these products contain metaldehyde, another toxic poison.
3. Swallowed objects: dogs and puppies often swallow things while playing or when bored, potentially causing a bowel obstruction.
4. Plant poisoning: many plants and shrubs can cause poisoning if ingested.
5. Sharp objects: cutting instruments, construction debris, broken glass, and nails extending from low places often result in lacerations.
6. Ice retardants: can cause skin irritation and problems when the animal licks his pads and ingests the chemicals after walking on treated areas.