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.
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
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