Pet Tales: Weight-related ailments are no treat

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They look at you with big sad eyes, begging for just one more treat, or just a taste of the food from your table. If we "give in" too often, our dogs and cats will get fat, and they're at high risk for a host of ailments that will shorten their lives, according to repeated warnings from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Now the nation's oldest and largest provider of pet insurance is echoing that warning, and giving us an idea of the cost of diseases and ailments that can be caused or aggravated by excess weight.

Obesity-related claims are steadily increasing for the 485,000 pets with the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. Those types of claims topped $34 million in 2012, according to the news release that includes a "top 10 list." At the top were more than 34,000 canine claims for arthritis, with an average claim fee of $300. No. 1 for cats was bladder and urinary tract disease, with 4,200 claims costing $415 on average.

The rest of the list for dogs: (2) bladder and urinary tract disease, (3) undiagnosed limp, (4) low thyroid hormone, (5) liver disease, (6) torn knee ligaments, (7) diseased spinal disc, (8) diabetes, (9) heart failure and (10) chronic kidney disease.

The cat list: (2) chronic kidney disease, (3) diabetes, (4) asthma, (5) liver disease, (6) high blood pressure, (7) arthritis, (8) undiagnosed limp, (9) heart failure and (10) gall bladder disorder.

"Most pet owners claim their pet is of average weight. However, studies completed in the past five years reveal dramatic increases in overweight cats and dogs," according to just one of the many facts in the most recent edition of the AVMA U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook.

Apparently, most pet owners need a veterinarian to tell them that Fido or Fluffy is fat, but the sourcebook says visits to vets are declining. About 81 percent of dog-owning households made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, a 1.7 percent decrease from 2006. Only 55.1 percent of cat owners made at least one visit to the vet, a 13.5 percent decrease from 2006.

Hero dogs

The Hero Dogs of Western Pennsylvania event on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. will celebrate dogs that serve in extraordinary ways. It's part of the "Pennsylvania's Civil War" exhibition at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

The exhibit features "six lifelike museum figures," and one of them is Dog Jack, a brown-and-white mixed bull terrier adopted by Company F of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteers. A curator will tell visitors about the dog's contributions.

Dozens of service, working and therapy dogs from 15 local agencies have been invited, and they'll be doing demonstrations on the fifth-floor Mueller Center. Agencies bringing dogs include Allegheny County fire marshal and sheriff offices, Canine Companions for Independence, Pittsburgh Police K-9, and Veterans Administration Hospital therapy dogs.

Museum admission is $15 for adults, $13 for those 62 and older, and $6 for students and children 6-7. Younger children get in for free. The History Center is as 1212 Smallman St., Pittsburgh 15222 (Strip District).

Station Square Event

Help the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society by sampling food at nine Station Square restaurants and then get desserts and coffee at Highmark Stadium, home of the Riverhounds. The 10th annual Sample of Station Square is from 5:30-7:45 p.m. Wednesday at Bar Louie, Bucca Di Beppo, DiSanto Pizza, Buckhead Saloon, Hard Rock Cafe, Houlihan's, Joe's Crab Shack, The Melting Pot and Texas De Brazil. Desserts and coffee are from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. There will also be live music, raffles, prizes and shelter animals.

Tickets are $40 in advance at www.wpahumane.org or 412-321-4625, ext. 248. Tickets are $50 at the door. The $75 VIP tickets include a Pittsburgh tour aboard the Gateway Clipper.

Cash Bash

Here's a chance to win cash at games of chance and raffles to benefit Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley. More than $4,000 will be awarded at the Cash Bash next Saturday from 5:30-10 p.m. at the West Leechburg Firehall, 116 Gosser St., West Leechburg. Only 500 tickets will be sold, and you need a ticket and an over 21 ID to get in.

Advance tickets are $25 and include an Italian buffet, dessert, snacks, draft beer and soft drinks. Call Pat at 724-448-4170 for tickets. At the door they're $35.

To be in the running to win a $25 Petsmart gift card, bring a bag of Purina One Dog Formula, Purina Cat Chow, Purina Kitten Chow or kitty litter.

Pet oxygen masks

First responders affiliated with Allegheny Health Network are getting nine pet oxygen mask kits donated by Invisible Fence of Western Pennsylvania and Invisible Fence of Pittsburgh.

It's part of the fence company's Project Breathe, which has donated more than 10,000 pet oxygen masks in the U.S. and Canada.

Pet deaths are not officially tallied by the U.S. Fire Administration, but industry sources estimate that 40,000-150,000 pets die each year in fires, usually from smoke inhalation, according to an Invisible Fence news release. More than 90 pets have been saved by donated masks.

"We've seen residents run back into burning homes to save a pet," said Jim Palafoutas, director of prehospital services for Allegheny Health Network. "It's understandable but extremely dangerous. These masks will give residents comfort in knowing we can save their pets if they are suffering from smoke inhalation."

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Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.


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