Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pet medications represent growth industry

May 10, 2007

Rudy was a dog that loved to run, play and have a good time.

"He is a very big part of our family; we've had him since he was 8 weeks old," Chris Norris of Shawnee said of his black Labrador. "He's kind of like our first kid, actually. He's a big brother to our 2-year-old. He's worth all the time and energy we put into him."

So a year and a half ago, when Rudy started to show signs of pain due to arthritis at just 6 years old, and then tore his anterior cruciate ligament jumping out of the family truck, the Norris family was quick to do whatever it took to get Rudy back in shape. He took Rudy in for a femoral head ostectomy, surgery on his hip and knee to relieve the arthritis pain, as well as surgery to repair the ACL.

"It's a pretty expensive surgery, because they actually put the dog under, and then the therapy after it is important to make sure he can get back to his normal stuff," Norris said.

The therapy the family's veterinarian, Jim Swanson of Shawnee, suggested was hydrotherapy, using something similar to a dog "hot tub" as well as another hydro tank with a treadmill. It was a service Swanson offered at his family's Swanson Streamway Dog Park and Day Care, 6241 Woodland Dr.

After a month of recovery, Rudy began his hydrotherapy sessions twice a week. Almost two months ago, after a year of twice-weekly sessions, he was able to cut down to just one session a week.

Norris said the difference was amazing compared to Rudy's life before the surgery.

"You could just tell, emotionally, he was hurting," Norris said. "After the surgery, and the therapy, his disposition is just as it was before he was in that amount of pain. He jumps around and plays fetch and smiles at you all the time."

The amount of time -- and money -- the Norris family has put into their pet is not uncommon. Nationally, the pet care industry is growing by leaps and bounds thanks to a growing concern for family pets, and local families are no different.

More than just a pet

Lisa Swanson sees it every day -- the love that pet owners have for their pets.

She knows that, like the Norris family, more and more people have a deep attachment to their pets and are willing to pay for better care.

"There's a lot of people that that's their baby," Lisa Swanson said. "These people are empty nesters, and their dogs have become their children, and they can afford it. It's not just the pampered pets in Hollywood, it's the dog down the street that needs a pin in its leg because it got hit by a car... and (owners) are willing to seek that out."

Swanson and her husband, Jim, know pets are no longer farm animals, they are family members, and as Jim says, the days of disposable pets are coming to an end. Jim, a veterinarian at Wellborn Pet Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., knew pet owners' desire for their pets to receive a high level of care was so great that he and Lisa decided to open their dog park and day care in Shawnee last year.

At Swanson's Streamway, they care for older dogs, dogs with slipped discs, diabetes or thyroid problems, dogs that have lost their eyesight or hearing. But thanks to new animal medications and therapies, these pets are comfortable and are enjoying their extended lives.

Jim Swanson says advances in veterinary medicine are a big part of lengthening pets' lives. Many of the diagnostics tools available in human medicine are now readily available for pets, and there are new antibiotics and medications.

Crista Wallis, veterinarian for the Monticello Animal Hospital, 22026 W. 66th St., agreed that almost any pet disease is treatable now, and guessed that 80 percent of the pets she sees are on some sort of medication.

"We certainly don't put dogs down because they have arthritis or an upset tummy or kidney disease," she said.

Wallis also agreed that as owners share more of their lives with their pets, they have become more attached and are more willing to go the extra mile to help them.

"Pets have moved inside now; they live with us instead of outside or on a farm," Wallis said. "We're more aware of what's going on in a pet's life."

A thriving industry

The care people are taking for their pets has also translated into a lot of money.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that consumers will spend $40.8 billion on their pets this year. Of that, $9.8 billion will be spent on veterinary care, and another $9.9 billion will be spent on supplies and over-the-counter medicine. The pet services industry, including mostly grooming and boarding, is expected to garner $2.9 billion.

Given last year's total, $38.5 billion, pet spending has seen an 83 percent increase in the last 10 years. In 1996, consumers spent $21 billion on their pets.

Those numbers have had an impact at Bayer HealthCare's Animal Health Division international headquarters in Shawnee.

"The whole notion of pet care has changed dramatically," says Bob Walker, Bayer Animal HealthCare's director of communications. "People are taking more care of their pets and their spending a lot more money doing that.

"Our business is very healthy -- no pun intended."

Walker said as more and more people look into ways to help extend their pets' lives, the pet care industry looks into medications to treat the ailments pets will face in their geriatric years. While Bayer currently offers dewormers, antibiotics and medications to ward off fleas, ticks and mosquitoes, they're starting to look into animal medications to treat things like obesity and osteoporosis.

"As pets are afflicted with these human things, we find ourselves collaborating with our colleagues on the Bayer human side," Walker said. "The discussions there are taking place to a much larger extent than they ever have in the past. The whole industry is starting to look at these things."

For example, arthritis pain is a leading cause of euthanasia for pets, Jim Swanson said, but now medicine and therapies have been able to significantly reduce that pain.

The booming industry is also part of the reason why Bayer has taken one of the biggest roles in promoting the Kansas City area as an Animal Health Corridor, making pet care big business locally. From the veterinary school at Kansas State University to the veterinary school at Missouri University in Columbia, the corridor along Interstate 70 has 118 animal health companies, representing a third of the total animal health business sales globally.

A comfortable life

At 14 years old, Champ, a yellow lab, was starting to slow down.

He had some of the same problems Rudy, the Norris family's lab, had seen at a younger age; with hip dysplasia and arthritis, he could hardly get up. About 10 months ago, his owner, James Clayborn of Shawnee, hoped to help ease his pain in some way.

Clayborn's primary veterinarian recommended Swanson's hydrotherapy machines. After three or four months of hydrotherapy and arthritis medications, Champ had markedly improved.

But then, Champ suddenly suffered a mild stroke. Clayborn rushed him to an all-night animal hospital, and Champ almost didn't make it through the night. The hospital veterinarian told Clayborn it might be time to consider euthanasia.

"I was too stubborn; I just wanted to take him home at least and have my primary vet look at him," Clayborn said.

Though his vet also didn't have a hopeful outlook, Clayborn couldn't bring himself to put Champ down. He took Champ to Swansons for a weekend while he went out of town, where once again they tried hydrotherapy coupled with some different medications. With several more treatments, Champ was able to feel good and strong for another six months.

"I would have never expected, with where he was at that point, for him to have gotten as much better," Clayborn said.

Of course, such care for pets doesn't extend to all. Wallis said in her experience, not everyone will go to these lengths to give their pet more time, but it changes case by case.

At Swansons, they also find people who aren't willing to spend the extra money for the services they provide -- walks on a dog trail, play time in a special playroom, bigger kennels and care for dogs with special needs.

"I have the people who call up and ask for our prices and say 'Are you kidding?' and hang up," Lisa Swanson said. "Then there are the others that don't even bat an eye. They're willing to spend the money and the time it takes to get their dog just as comfortable as they are on their vacation."

They find that pet owners no longer find their pets expendable. Veterinarians and others in the pet care industry are pampering pets trying not only to extend their life, but also to extend their quality of life, Jim Swanson said.

"We are able to keep our pets for many more years, comfortably, instead of just going out and getting a new pet," Swanson said.

Unfortunately, in late March, six months after Champ's first stroke, he suffered a second, more debilitating one. Clayborn decided it was time to let his pet go.

But Clayborn says he doesn't regret the last six happy months Champ had thanks to new medications and therapy.

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