If you have a pet, you’d probably move heaven and earth to protect and keep them in good health and spirits. Something about their sweet little faces looking up at us invokes a protective instinct, and we’re generally willing to put them before our own health and well-being at times. Just as we look at them with the eyes of a parent, they look back at us with the eyes of a child, and dare we say – sometimes they worry. Veterinary visits have long been growing, while many of us see our own doctors far less often than we should. We decided to run a targeted survey of pet owners to see where that balance lies between pet care and self-care.
Let me know if you’ve heard this one before – “cat people” tend to be introverted, solitary, nerdy and wary, while “dog people” gravitate towards other people, tend to be loyal and maybe a bit dopey. In other words, people choose the pets that reflect their own personality. Many of us believe we would do anything – maybe even spend anything – to save our four-legged friends if they’re in need. We decided to look at how much, exactly, our respondents would pay out of pocket to aid the recovery of their feline, canine or other companions. We expected this would be a no-brainer, “dog people” would be loyal and selfless to their pets, while “cat people” would be perhaps a bit more calculating. To our surprise, “cat people” were willing to spend slightly more ($3,000+) on their veterinary bills than dog owners ($2,700+), although the lowest group by far was the “other pets” category ($1,500+).
Next up, we looked at which states spent the most money on veterinary bills per year, regardless of the type of pet. Two states, Maine and Vermont, spent $2,000 or more on vet visits per year. Maybe it’s something to do with the climate – we’d be interested to learn if colder annual temperature translates to more frequent vet visits, but it may simply be to do with the cost of such care at a baseline level up there in the frozen north. Four states, Oregon, Wyoming, Louisiana and Mississippi spent less than $200 per year. This one’s a head-scratcher, as there’s no obvious connection between them, aside from Louisiana and Mississippi, which share a river border. One possibility is that dogs in the more remote parts of the country are more of a business expense (for ranching, herding or hunting) than a family pet.
Addressing our thesis directly here, we asked our respondents how often they went to the doctor and how often they took their pet to the vet each year. Maybe people who are most health-conscious in general keep a closer watch on their pets? Our data seems to confirm it, as well as the interesting finding that both types of visits are consistent (from 3.5 to 4.5 visits per year from 25 to 54) across age groups as well, before dropping off a bit around 55 – presumably as the physical cost of having a pet starts to be more prominently felt.
All these visits can add up – both human and veterinary, unfortunately. When push comes to shove, how many of us would be willing to break the law to keep our pets safe and healthy? In our survey population, over 30% said they were willing to commit a crime to pay a lifesaving veterinary bill. We’ll repeat that for emphasis – 3 people were willing to break the law for every 7 who weren’t, at least among our survey respondents. Some people are even willing to break a window to save someone else’s pet on a hot day, a practice made legal in the state of Florida if the person contacts emergency services and remains with the vehicle until they arrive.
In eastern countries, the first question some doctors ask is “what have you eaten recently?” We agree wholeheartedly with this philosophy, so we asked our survey population how often they cooked at home (per week) for themselves and their pets. Women prepared more meals for themselves (9+) than did men (8+). Men prepared more meals for pets (5+) than did women (4+). We’re puzzled as to why exactly this trend reverses for pets, but we are glad men felt their pets deserved a bit more of the prepared food. All in all, cooking at home is one of the most consistent ways to feed yourself – and your pet – a diet of high-quality whole foods.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Ben Franklin is often attributed to have said. How then are people keeping themselves healthy – and how does it compare to the same tendencies for their pets? For our survey population, the most popular answer by far was exercise (32%+), followed by eating right (12%+) and taking vitamins (8%+). For their pets, regular checkups (19%+), eating right (18%+) and exercise (16%+) were the most popular and about equally common. In both cases, fewer than 1 in 20 were regularly checking blood sugar levels in themselves or their pets, although this is one of the easiest ways to track health in a quantitative way over the long term.
Our survey population surprised us more than once, but the consistent finding is that people care deeply about their pets – sometimes taking better care of them than they do themselves. Holistic healthcare, including for pets, is a worthy goal and there’s an expanding ecosystem of devices and services to keep track of health. Nutrisense offers to the general public, for the first time, the same continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) technology used in diabetic populations for several decades. Nutrisense is here to help you unlock your body’s data and our team of registered dietitians is ready to help you gain insight into how your body responds to both food and exercise to help you make healthier decisions for the long run.
All participants were screened using a two-pronged approach: (1) description of selection criteria with a requirement for self-acknowledgement and acceptance, and (2) directly asking each participant to confirm each criterion, namely owning a “pet.” The term “pet” was defined as “a domestic or tamed animal kept for companionship or pleasure.” A total of 1,136 attempts were made to take the online study, with 81 eliminated for: (1) not owning a pet, (2) failing capcha, (3) not completing the survey, or (4) a mixture of these. Additionally, 17 response sets were eliminated for having duplicate IP addresses, for a total of 98 eliminations, yielding a final completion rate of 91.81%, and a final n = 1,043. This study employed an online survey using a convenience sampling methodology via Amazon's Mechanical Turk, with a subsequent posteriori exploratory, correlational data analysis methodology employed after completion of data scrubbing via Microsoft Excel and data visualization via Tableau.
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