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Cost of Vet Care and Top Conditions Among Dogs and Cats in 2021

By Christy True and Jennifer Coates, DVM
May 6, 2022 • 5 min. read
Veterinarian with dog

It’s probably no surprise to any pet parent who’s been to the vet recently that the cost of veterinary care continues to go up. And with all the people who adopted pets during the pandemic over the last two years, and who spent more time at home, overall spending on pets continued to rise in 2021.

The American Pet Products Association (APPA), said in its annual state of the industry report that U.S. spending on pets reached an estimated $123 billion in 2021, the most ever spent.

Of that amount, pet parents spent an estimated $34.3 billion on veterinary care, an 8.9 percent increase from 2020. Those hits to the pocketbook are due to a combination of more pets, pet parents being more likely to go to the vet, and an increase in vet costs because of labor and more technological treatments for pets that are similar to human medicine.

Procedures such as knee replacements, advanced allergy testing, cancer surgeries, and chiropractic care, which were once only found in human medicine, are now available for dogs and cats.

The uptick in spending on pets continues a trend dating back 36 years, amplified by inflation and a bigger focus on treating pets as part of the family, and even as a substitute for children. Seventy percent of U.S. households now have a pet; up from 56 percent in 1988.

Healthy Paws top conditions in 2021

We’ve combed through the one million claims to Healthy Paws in 2021 and found the top 10 most common conditions for cats and dogs among our customers.

Among the findings:

  • The top conditions have been consistent over the past few years. For both dogs and cats, skin conditions, stomach issues and pain have been in the top three since 2016.
  • There is little difference between the types of conditions that afflict male and female pets. A couple of exceptions: our data showed more female dogs than male dogs suffered from cruciate ligament injuries; and male dog pet parents filed more claims for seizures. Both female dogs and cats are more prone to Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs), in part because they have shorter urinary tracts than males.
  • Diabetes and kidney issues appeared in the claims for cats more than dogs; while dogs showed more claims for cruciate ligament injuries and growths or lumps.

Top 10 conditions – dogs

Vet with a dog

1. Skin conditions
Just like people, dogs can suffer from a variety of skin conditions, depending on environmental circumstances and genetics. Vets see allergic skin disease, bacterial and fungal infections, insect bites, hot spots, rashes, mange, and more regularly.

2. Pain
Pain usually indicates an underlying condition such as arthritis. Past trauma, genetic conditions, illness, and accidents can lead to a pet experiencing pain.

3. Gastritis – stomach issues
Gastrointestinal (stomach) issues are caused by inflammation, ingesting something dangerous or toxic, parasites, infections, some types of cancer, and other serious illnesses. Keep an eye on what your dog eats; life-threatening emergencies happen when dogs ingest bones, toys, and certain human foods that are toxic to dogs.

4. Ear infections (otitis externa)
Outer ear infections can be painful and annoying, but if they persist to the middle ear, they can lead to neurological damage and deafness. Recurrent bacterial or fungal ear infections often have an underlying cause, such as allergies or abnormal ear anatomy.

5. Eye conditions
Common eye conditions include glaucoma, cataracts, dry eye and cherry eye, as well as abrasions and infection, which can lead to pain and vision loss. A vet should check out all eye conditions immediately to reduce the chance of long-term damage.

6. Cruciate ligament injury
A Cranial Cruciate Ligament (CCL) rupture for a dog (similar to an ACL rupture in people) is an injury to an important ligament in the knee joint that often requires surgery to repair. Genetics plays a role in the development of CCL ruptures.

7. Heart conditions
Heart disease in dogs is almost as common as in humans. In fact, approximately  10 percent of all dogs in the United States have heart disease. Heart issues in dogs can include, heartworm disease, enlargement of the heart, a thickening of the heart muscle, valve disease, and congestive heart failure (CHF), which is end-stage heart disease. The most common form of heart disease is chronic degenerative valvular disease, which makes up 75% of heart disease in dogs, and primarily affects small breed dogs over the age of five, according to VCA Hospitals.

8. Growth
This can be any abnormal lump, bump, or mass on your dog’s skin or elsewhere in their body. It could be an infection,  cyst or benign tumor, or in the worst case, a type of cancer that requires removal and other treatment. 

9. Seizures
Seizures can look like twitching or uncontrollable shaking and can last from less than a minute to several minutes. Frequent seizures caused by abnormal, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in your dog’s brain, may point to epilepsy. Other causes may be brain cancer, liver or kidney disease, low blood sugar levels, or ingesting poison.

10. Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common in dogs and can develop any time throughout their lives. UTIs are caused by bacteria that usually enter the urethra and travel up to the urinary bladder where they multiply and colonize. Common symptoms include frequent urination, straining, discomfort, and discolored urine. They occur less frequently in male dogs due to their longer, narrower urinary tracts.

Top 10 conditions – cats

Vet with cat

1. Gastritis – stomach issues
Cats’ stomach issues can include gastrointestinal infections, inflammation, food allergies, poisoning, intestinal parasites, some types of cancer, and other serious health problems.

2. Pain

Pain usually indicates an underlying condition such as arthritis. Past trauma, genetic conditions, illness, and accidents can lead to a pet experiencing pain.

3. Skin conditions

Cats can be afflicted with a myriad of skin conditions such as infections, parasites or allergies. The most common symptoms are itchiness, dry or flaky skin, hair loss, and over-grooming. A vet will be able to identify a cause and start a treatment plan.

4. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)

Cats are more prone than dogs to see the vet for urinary problems, which have similar symptoms like urinating small amounts frequently and having accidents outside the litter box regardless of the underlying cause. Infections are more common in older cats and those with underlying health problems like diabetes while younger cats often have a condition called idiopathic cystitis.

5. Heart condition

Heart issues in cats can include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, complications from blood clots, and heart valve issues. There is no cure for heart failure, but most heart conditions can be managed for a period of time with medications.

6. Eye conditions

Eye conditions affecting cats can include conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers and wounds, uveitis, and retinal damage. A veterinarian should check out all eye conditions immediately to reduce the chance of long-term damage. Treatment can range from eye drops to surgery.

7. Infection

There are various types of bacterial infections that can affect cats and their major organs.

The symptoms of bacterial infections in cats are always specific to their location and severity but may include fever, lethargy, and poor appetite. Infections can also be caused by viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms.

8. Diabetes
Cats commonly develop type II diabetes mellitus. Most diabetic cats are initially overweight, which leads to insulin resistance—a reduced ability of cells in the body to respond to insulin. Insulin resistance results in abnormally high blood sugar levels. . Left untreated, diabetes can lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, severe depression, problems with motor function, coma and even death. Male cats and those who are older or obese are most likely to develop the condition. Diabetes can be controlled with insulin injections, dietary management, and weight loss.

9. Kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is a common ailment in older cats.  Acute kidney injury is a severe condition with a relatively sudden onset. Many kidney conditions may be managed with a special diet, medications, and fluid therapy.

10. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
FLUTD describes a variety of conditions that affect the bladder and urethra of cats. The underlying cause is due to multiple factors: bladder and hormone abnormalities, environmental stressors, idiopathic cystitis, infections, and urinary stones or sludge, which may obstruct the normal flow of urine.

Christy True and Tomas
By Christy True

Christy has been writing about pets for Healthy Paws for 21 dog years. She previously worked in journalism, hence her penchant for writing about offbeat animal studies and the latest viral pet trends. She has been owned by several dogs, and right now, Tomas, a Mexican street dog rescue, is staring at her because he wants a walk. Outside of work, she can usually be found sliding down a mountain near her home in Bend, Ore.

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jennifer coates
By Jennifer Coates, DVM

Dr. Jennifer Coates received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. After graduation, she worked for several years in the fields of conservation and animal welfare before pursuing her childhood dream—becoming a veterinarian. She graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has worked as an Associate Veterinarian and Chief of Staff in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. Jennifer is also a prolific writer about all things related to veterinary medicine and the well-being of our animal friends. She has published several short stories and books, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian. She currently contributes to the Healthy Paws pet insurance blog as a freelance writer. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys life in Colorado with her family and friends… many of whom walk on four legs.

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