Monday, March 12, 2007

Too Much Puppy (or Kitty) Love?

When reviewing the various benefits packages for jobs I was recently applying to, I was surprised to discover that one company offered employees' pets full medical insurance coverage. Considering the pricey veterinarian visits for my new puppy, health insurance began to seem appropriate for him as well. Little Poochini insists on continually being the center of attention, requires a special diet, and is known to bark until his demands are satisfied. His playful disposition and constant presence lead me to forget that he is not an actual person; I think of him more as a little boy than a pet sometimes.

A week ago Poochini had a urinary track infection, which required antibiotics to be crushed in his food twice a day. In the past several months, he has also been to the vet more than I have been to my primary physician over the past several years. Are we beginning to place the health of our pets at a higher priority than the medical care we seek for ourselves?

Apparently in 2005, over two billion dollars of American spending can be attributed to pet medications (1). Many households have made desperate financial sacrifices to ensure that their pets receive the best available healthcare, regardless of what that may entail (1). Some pets undergo several courses of chemotherapy because their owners are hesitant to put their cherished loved ones to sleep. New drug developments by pharmaceutical companies and subsequent approval by the Food and Drug Administration has enhanced the number of available pet medications currently in circulation (1).

I think we sometimes procrastinate when it comes to addressing our own health needs. Then suddenly when we think our pet might be ill, we are anxious to run our pet to the veterinarian immediately. In kindergarten, I also recall that putting our family dog to sleep proved almost as devastating as the loss of a close family friend!

Should pets undergo intensive treatments and medical interventions like chemotherapy or be put to sleep? Are our pets sometimes subjected to unnecessary suffering because of our selfish desires to prolong their lives as long as possible? Does the development of new pet medications significantly interfere with medical research for humans?

1. Donn, Jeff. "Americans increasingly medicating pets" Yahoo News. 11 Mar 2007.


Kelly Hills said...

I wondered similar about Barbaro, when I heard just how much money and medical treatment had been sunk into his care, and my main concern mirrored one of yours: what about QoL?

I don't think there's a huge issue with research for animals infringing on research for humans - in fact, medical care for the two often overlaps and flows back and forth. Chemo developed for humans is ported to animals, treatment on animals is ported to humans.

Nor do I think it's problematic that people want to treat their animals like members of their family. As far as I'm concerned, my cats are my boys, they are members of my family. They fill an emotional niche that I have no desire to have filled by wee humans, and they do a lot of physical good for me, as well. (As everyone knows, animals are good for your health - keeps you calm, lowers your blood pressure, etc and so forth.)

My concern is simply QoL. I'm afraid too many people don't think about what's best for the animal in treatment, only what's best for themselves - a charge you could equally level at, say, parents of terminally ill children. But at least in that case, there's generally an ethicist that can be pulled into the conversation, or a doctor unwilling to blindly treat. I'm concerned by the number of vets who treat based on what the owner wants, rather than what would be good for the animal.

A friend asked me, after the race horse was put down, if there was such a thing as an animal clinical ethicist. And while I'm sure there are people in the field who consider the care and treatment of research animals, to my knowledge, there's no one looking at the lives and treatment of our pets - which is too bad, since I think there's a lot of stuff going on there, because people are willing to pay, that should not be going on.

Anonymous said...

I think it was Gandhi who said the measure of a civilization is the way they treat their animals....(I think that could be applied more generally to the weak and disabled and those that cannot speak for themselves}...I think it reflects a sense of responsibility and caring towards all living beings!

Robin said...

On the one hand, I find this a wonderful perk for a company to offer (2 of my cats have congenital heart defects and have lives of daily medication and ultrasounds to look forward to).

On the other hand, the fact that there are companies offering health insurance to people's pets while same-sex marriage (and even civil unions) are still outlawed and life-partner's cannot even receive health benefits absolutely sickens me.