Human health risks on the rise in animals

Written by Lindy Washburn,
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Diabetes is on the rise — but humans aren't the only ones suffering. Diabetes diagnoses are rising at an even faster rate among dogs and cats than their human companions, according to a national analysis of pet health released Tuesday.

New Jersey dogs have the sixth-highest rate of diabetes in the nation, and cats have the 10th-highest rate, according to the 2011 "State of Pet Health" report. It is based on data from more than 2.5 million dogs and cats that visited Banfield Pet Hospital facilities in 43 states. There are 19 Banfield hospitals in New Jersey, including Paramus and Secaucus.

Diabetes affects about three in 1,000 dogs and 10 in 1,000 cats in New Jersey, according to the report's state data.

"This kind of data has never been available before," Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a veterinarian and chief medical officer for the Banfield Pet Hospital chain, based in Portland, Ore. "We want to share it with professionals and pet owners."

The surprisingly high incidence of diabetes, he said, stems in part from rising rates of obesity.

"We have increasing obesity in dogs and cats, just like in humans. It's no mystery how that occurs: overfeeding and lack of exercise."

Nationally, diabetes rates increased by nearly a third among dogs in the last four years and by 16 percent among cats. It is much more common among cats. By comparison, human diagnoses of diabetes rose 10 percent over the same period.

How can you tell if your pet has diabetes? The most common signs are excessive urination, excessive thirst, and weight loss, despite a good appetite, according to veterinarians. Once diagnosed, managing this chronic disease can be time consuming, usually including twice-daily insulin injections, a change in diet and regular monitoring by a vet.

"Millions of pets are getting insulin twice a day," he said. "Dogs can be diabetic for years and do just fine." Cats can be somewhat harder to treat because they are smaller, and harder to find for the daily injections.

The best bet: Make sure Buster and Tiger get enough exercise and don't become overweight.

Overall, the most common problem among the animals was dental disease, the report said.

Problems with the teeth and gums affected more than three-quarters of dogs and two-thirds of cats, with symptoms ranging from gum inflammation and tartar buildup to tooth loss. When severe, oral problems can lead to bacterial infections that spread through the blood to other organs and may cause chronic disease or organ failure.

Other common health problems among companion animals, according to the report:

Fleas and ticks. New Jersey dogs ranked seventh in the nation for tick infestation, which carries the risk of Lyme disease. The rate of flea infestation has also climbed steadily.

Internal parasites, especially among cats in New Jersey. Most pets show no signs of infection, although puppies and kittens can become noticeably ill. Some of these parasites can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Otitis externa, or an inflammation of the outer ear canal. This was the most common diagnosis among dogs and cats after dental disease. New Jersey was among the top five states for the condition in dogs. Prevention includes regular ear cleaning.

Another surprise in the data, Klausner said, was the rising popularity of Chihuahuas and other small dogs, like Shih Tzus and Yorkshire terriers, as larger breeds like Labrador retrievers and German shepherds decline in popularity.

That may be due to changing lifestyles, as an older generation of pet owners with suburban homes and large yards downsizes and focuses on travel, and younger, apartment-dwelling pet owners buy breeds that take up less space, the report suggested. Overall, the top five breeds seen at the 770 Banfield facilities were Labrador retrievers, Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Yorkshire terriers, and pit bulls.

Smaller breeds are more prone to both diabetes and dental disease, the report said.

"What we need to do in veterinary medicine is what they haven't done very well in human medicine," Klausner said. "Focus on prevention."

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