Aging Pets: Owners Pay Big Bucks To See Dogs & Cats Live Longer

Germany has registered a rise in pet owners shelling out big bucks for complicated procedures like organ replacement or chemotherapy. Not surprisingly, dog and cat life expectancy is on the rise.

A pair of handicapped boxers
A pair of handicapped boxers
Elke Bodderas

BERLIN - Maxi is seven years old. If he were a person, not a cat, he would be a young-looking guy in his mid-40s. Thomas, a student in Hanover, adopted Maxi from an animal shelter, and loves Maxi so much that he found the money for a kidney transplant when his four-pawed pal would otherwise have died. The whole thing cost Thomas 15,000 euros, including the flight to the United States, where the operation took place.

"Maxi stood by me when I was very sick," Thomas told the German newspaper Bild. "He's my alter ego. "

A "new" cat kidney costs 15,000 euros, chemo and radiotherapy for a dog suffering from cancer cost around 18,000 euros. By comparison, a new titanium hip joint – at a mere 5,000 euros – is something of a bargain. And compared to that, the cost of the physiotherapy needed to round out treatment seems like peanuts.

The lens of an eye? Spinal disk operation? Artificial joints? There is virtually no procedure available to humans that can't also be performed on animals. Sure the veterinary surgeries are expensive, but humans are often willing to pay for the simple reason that dogs and cats play a role in their lives that not even close relatives can match.

American writer Michael Schaffer calls such pets "fur babies." He reports that in the United States, eight out of 10 pet owners see themselves as "Mommies' and "Daddies' to their pets. Another similarity between humans and their animal companions is that there is a direct connection between social status and the life expectancy of both.

In Germany, one dog in four lives in a one-person household. Dogs and cats often spend more years with their owners than many people stay married. It's no accident that the life expectancy of pets has nearly doubled within the past few decades.

Wilfried Kraft, professor emeritus and former head of the medical clinic for small animals at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, has documented the phenomenon. Dogs today, he says, have an average life expectancy of 10 years – twice as long as dogs living in the post-war years.

The age curve is even more striking with cats. In 1967, Kraft says, less than a fifth of all cats and dogs in the clinic were older than 10. Thirty years later, half of them are. "In 1983, the average age of a cat that came to the clinic was 3.8 years; in 1995 it was 7.5," he says.

As a general rule, cats live longer than dogs. Some cats live to be older than 20, which would be rare for a dog, although they can, in some cases, live to 17 or 18 (about 120 in human years).

One thing to note, however: with dogs there's a natural variable that plays tricks with statistics -- size. The rule of thumb is that the larger the dog, the lower its life expectancy. Scientists are still unable to explain this biologically, and usually offer the not very convincing explanation that it has something to do with genes.

Breaking it down by breed

Regardless of the medical care they receive, not all breeds of dogs have the same life expectancy. German zoologist Helga Eichelberg has worked out that on average, Rottweilers have a seven-year life expectancy. German shepherds live nine years, Dachshunds 11 and Poodles 13. Pugs tend to live longest – 18 years.

Statistically, Bernese mountain dogs die earliest, due to hereditary illnesses. Every second Cocker spaniel dies of cancer, while Yorkshire terriers are victims of their temperaments and lead the statistics for animal accidents due to biting, car accidents and poisonings.

Dogs are twice as likely as humans to die from fatal accidents – and if they are not pure bred, that chance increases because, according to the statistics, there is a prevalent notion that mixed-breed dogs have more street smarts, are more resistant, and have longer life expectancies than purebreds. According to one German vet: "mixed breeds break a leg more often than purebreds." Why? Because owners don't watch over them as carefully.

As with humans, a longer pet life goes along with many of the same health problems: signs of wear and tear like lowered resilience, aching joints, over-sensitivity to temperature, visual and dental problems, and a weak bladder, but also diabetes, degenerative osteoarthritis, obesity, cancer, heart attacks, hardening of the arteries, and dementia.

Veterinary medicine for pets, which in Germany have the legal status of an object, is a market that has no basis in social or political obligation. It exists purely because of the demand from pet owners – a demand driven by love, and hence hugely powerful.

In the search for optimum care, alternative treatment methods also play a role. There is acupuncture for dogs, supplements and even "wellness' walks. And for dogs that can barely move on their own anymore, there are artificial joints or wheeled walkers.

Many animal owners pay for radiotherapy for dogs, cats, and horses with tumors. Professor Ingo Nolte at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover says that tumors in dogs and humans show many similarities, and conclusions drawn from looking at the tumors of dogs are applicable to human tumors. "Tumors in dogs and people are very similar because a pet and its owner share the same living conditions."

A study at the Minnesota Stroke Institute shows a further surprising result: statistically, pet owners stand less of a chance of suffering a heart attack or stroke. Put succinctly, that means a pet is a healthier choice of life companion than a human partner. Why? Is it because they don't talk back?

Read the original story in German

Photo - handicappedpets1

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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