Guest Post: Dr Rex Riggs on critical thinking and pet food

Dr GoogleWow, how many dog and cat foods are out there now!  Did you know, in our grocery stores, pet food is the number one grossing item?  It outsells the next 6 items combined!  In 2013, dog and cat owners in the United States, spent $21,000,000 dollars on food. Twenty one million dollars! Dog and cat food is BIG business. So it no wonder that the number of companies making pet food has exploded.  Some of these foods are good, some are heavily marketed with unsubstantiated claims.  Buyer beware.

What do they say about opinions?  Everyone has one.  I hear all the time, “my brother’s girlfriend’s brother worked in the kennel at a vet’s office and he said…..”  Maybe he is right, but you need to check it out yourself.  Do you go to the internet?  Just remember, there is no editor on the internet so anyone can say anything, and will, to sell a product.   Do you ask the people in the pet store? Maybe, but where are they getting their information?  More than likely from the company representative of the foods they are selling. They have a vested interest in having you buy that specific food, often the one with the highest profit margin. 

So where do I think you should turn to?  I would say your vet.  Now, I have heard many times people saying that they were told vets don’t get any training in pet nutrition.  Well don’t tell Dr Tony Buffington at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine that, he might wonder what he has been teaching vet students for so long. 

The fact is, yes we do get taught nutrition in school, and like any other professions, the dedicated doctors keep current through continuing education and reading. Many veterinary colleges have a veterinary nutritionist on staff to answers your questions (  

I, like most vets, only sell prescription foods in our hospital. So, there is no ulterior motive for us to have your animal on a particular food.  My only motive is to make sure your pet is on the right food for them. 

Be careful of the fads and hype.  In such a crowded arena, everyone is trying to grab a niche.  Some of these fads are based on pseudo-science, only to sell their product. During the last 3 years, the FDA recalls of pet foods has sky rocketed.  Coincidence?  I think not.

So…BE A CRITICAL THINKER.  If it sounds too good to be true or too far out, It just might be.  Go to your veterinary resources available, because… vets are the experts.

Here is an excellent Myth Busters article written by Dr. Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University College of Veterinary Medicine.  It will answer all your questions.

Related Posts
March is Pet Nutrition Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
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Guest Post: Dr Rex Riggs on critical thinking and pet food

Other posts by Dr Riggs

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.


March is Pet Nutrition Month at Embrace Pet Insurance

When you think about it, our bodies, and those of our pets, are incredible machines. For example, these machines fix themselves (most times) when things break, and we don't have to eat precise diets to stay alive (not like my car that only takes a very certain type of very expensive liquid and my mechanic loves that my car doesn't fix itself.)

It doesn't mean though that all that we eat is good for us in the long run, and eating a better quality of food is one way we can improve our health without having to go to the doctor. It's very much the same situation for our pets, yet some people are still unaware that the quality of the food we feed our cats and dogs is incredibly important. Better and more appropriate foods really do make a difference for our pets.

We are going to talk about pet nutrition in this blog this month. In the meantime, we have some great articles on cat and dog nutrition on our website over at the Water Bowl. For example:

These are just a few of the excellent articles on the pet care page. I recommend you peruse the rest for some good tips and even a contest or two for freebies.

Related Posts
March is Pet Nutrition Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Podcast: Pet Nutrition with Dr Patrick Mahaney
Guest Post: Dr Rex Riggs on critical thinking and pet food

December is Winter Danger Month at Embrace Pet Insurance

As we get more news of winter storms causing havoc across the US (even in usually wonderfully warm Phoenix of all places!), we tackle the topic of winter dangers around this time of year. Not just the colder weather but also the holiday decorations, rich food, and overall busy-ness that can cause anxiety in our pets.

I would like to highlight some handy articles we have in The Water Bowl, the Embrace informational website on pet health and care:

Holiday Fare You Should NOT Feed Your Pet

Ten Doggy Exercise Tips for Avoiding the Winter Bulge

Holiday Pet Safety Reminders

Dogs and Cold Weather: How Cold is Too Cold?

There are many more articles on these seasonal topics and more over at The Water Bowl.

And finally, it's that time of year for gifts - for your pets and for your pet loving friends and family. Here are some great pet gift guides for your holiday shopping.

Holiday Pet Gift Hot List 2013: Stocking Stuffers to Splurges

Holiday Gift Guide for Pet Loving People 2013

Trending Pet-themed Kid’s Gifts for 2013

If you can't find something in those lists, you either have it all or have friends that do! What do you recommend as a good holiday gift for your friends or pets?

Related Posts
December is Winter Danger Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Have a Safe and Happy Holidays from Dr Rex Riggs
Podcast: Dr Patrick Mahaney on Winter Dangers



Guest Post: thinking about the food you feed your pet

Dr Riggs is sure to stir up some controversy with his post on pet food. All I say is educate yourself as best you can and make the decision you deem best for your pets.

It seems every day we hear about yet another recalled pet food. Why is this happening you ask? I really feel there are a number of reasons but here are the few that I think contribute the most.

The first one is actually a good reason. The pet food manufacturing plants are under scrutiny. They are being inspected more thoroughly, not only for our pets, but for better public health. Many of the recalls have been due to salmonella contamination from poor hygienic practices. Other recalls have been due to unbalanced diets that result in toxicities.

So what is the biggest reason I think we are seeing more problems? Money. Clear and simple.

The pet food industry is a multi-billion dollar business, with everyone getting their niche in the market. They use whatever is needed, even false science and words with undefined meanings to promote their often over-priced products. “Organic”, “holistic” and “natural” have no definition in pet foods, therefore these terms can be used to describe anything.

The current “big fad”, a term I am sure will offend some people, is the "high protein low grain" diets. There is no scientific basis to support these diets, just unsubstantiated claims. One theory as to how these diets came to be is due to the increase of gluten intolerance diagnosed in humans. Dogs or cats rarely have allergies to grains; the vast majority of allergies are due to proteins!

The disappointment is that these diets are marketed to people who are concerned about what they are feeding their pets, and they are being misinformed unintentionally or intentionally. The sales force representatives who are selling these products in your local pet store are giving recommendations they often feel are best, they are good people , but they too are misinformed and repeating the company line. I have always been a critical thinker and I look into claims before I buy.

Here are some questions you should ask about a pet food company before you buy.

  • Is there a veterinary nutritionist on staff?
  • Does the company archive its ingredients? This is done so they have a way to test ingredients if a problem arises.
  • Does the company do AAFCO feeding trials on any of their foods? This is not a federal requirement but one that good companies do feeding trials to insure quality control.
  • Where are the diets made? Many of these pet food companies don’t have their own plants and farm the manufacturing out to other companies who make many of the foods on the shelves.

Iams, Science Diet, Purina and Royal Canin all make their own dry diets and can answer yes to all the above questions. We as Veterinarians do not get any kickbacks from the companies as the pet stores would have you believe. We only sell prescription foods, so we have no conflict of interest.

Ultimately, what I am saying is make sure you get the facts. The internet has no editor so… people can and will say anything so find credible sources. Look to internet sites that are university based. You do not need to spend in excess of $50 or more on your pet’s maintenance food.

Be that critical thinker and ask questions and demand documentation of their claims. I want the same thing for your pet that you do… a happy, long and healthy life.

Related Posts:
April is Wellness Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: thinking about the food you feed your pet

Other posts by Dr Riggs

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

Call to action: Dr Riggs is participating in Pelotonia, raising money for cancer research. In fact, in its first four rides, Pelotonia has attracted over 11,100 riders and raised over $42 million for cancer research. Check out Dr Riggs' profile page where you can learn about and support his efforts. Thank you!

Pet Food Recalls: where to find information

The pet food recalls continue and another two people have become sick from the salmonella contiminating their pet's food making that 16 people. No-one knows how many pets have been affected [update: 2 cats in a Canadian shelter are known to have died after being fed Diamond Naturals cat food]. I thought I should alert you to the details of the recall in case it affects you or other pet lovers you know.

If you are just catching up on the news, there have been numerous pet food recalls over the last couple of weeks. The recalls are due to a potential Salmonella contamination and involve many brands of dry dog food manufactured at a Gaston, S.C., plant operated by Diamond Pet Foods of Meta, Mo.

Here's a current list of brands involved in the recall:

[list updated May 21, 2012]

If you use any of the above brands, please use the link for brand-specific recall information from the FDA, including production codes and expiration dates. If you have been feeding your dog or cat recalled food, stop use immediately and consult your veterinarian and doctor.

Since the recalls are being updated frequently, check the FDA website frequently for new recall updates here and click on the Animal Health tab to narrow the recalls to pet-related issues.

Salmonella in Dogs

Symptoms may include decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, pets may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever and vomiting. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans.

Salmonella in Humans

Individuals handling dry pet food can become infected with Salmonella, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with surfaces exposed to this product. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever.

If you would be so kind as to share this post with your friends and family who have pets, I would be very grateful.

Be well,

Laura Bennett, your Chief Embracer

The Best Wellness Product in Pet Insurance

Usually I would say that "best" is in the eye of the beholder since what might be best for me might not be best for you. In the case of wellness with pet insurance though, it's hard to think of a situation where the Embrace Pet Insurance Wellness Rewards option isn't the best for everyone.

The Embrace Wellness Rewards works quite like a Health Spending Account and can save you a lot of money:

  • you pick one of the two Wellness Rewards options with your Embrace Pet Insurance policy - $200 or $400 limit
  • you can use the Wellness Rewards benefit the day you buy it - no waiting for the coverage to start the next day. That means you can buy it after your spay or neuter surgery and still have it covered if you buy the same day 
  • spend your Wellness dollars on wellness related care such as:
    • spay or neuter
    • flea or tick medication
    • routine vet visits and diagnostics
    • prescription diet foods (at the $400 Wellness Rewards Plus level)
    • and more
  • send in your claim form with your invoice and we'll reimburse you what you spent up to your annual limit
  • Best news of all? You do not have to pay a deductible and there's no copay percentage 

How do you save money? Well, the Wellness Rewards program costs less than the benefit you can get. And because we have no sublimits on each item and we pay you back exactly what you paid on your vet bill up to your limit, it's easy to max out your savings.

Wellness Rewards benefits

Any questions?

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April is Wellness Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: annual vet visits are more than vaccinations
The Best Wellness Product in Pet Insurance
When you aren't sure if you need to go to the veterinary emergency room or not

Make 101 dollars on your pet's dental cleaning

Amos and Haylee
Too good to be true? Actually no.

Here's how it works. Add the Dental Rewards plan with an Embrace Pet Insurance policy and you'll get $400 of benefit for $299 cost annually ($101.00 savings) or $28.95 monthly ($52.60 savings).

The plan works just like a health savings plan and you can spend your rewards dollars on as many of the items below as you would like up to your $400 limit:

  • Teeth cleaning
  • Dental checkups and exams
  • Dental X-rays
  • Blood-testing, antibiotics, & anesthesia related to dental surgery
  • Crowns, fillings, and even orthodontics!

Download a sample rewards certificate to view a full list of what's covered.

There are some very nice features in addition:

  • no deductibles or coinsurance percentages
  • no waiting period
  • covers pre-existing dental illness - so if you know your dog needs some teeth pulled or that you'd like to get your dog braces, that is covered too

Want to learn more? Get an Embrace pet insurance quote to see how little it can be to insurance your dog or cat for accidents, illnesses and dental wellness.

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February is Pet Dental Health Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: video of a veterinarian cleaning dog teeth
Make 101 dollars on your pet's dental cleaning
Guest Post: your pet dental questions with Dr Patrick  Mahaney
Claim Example: Tooth Fracture in a Golden Retriever

Is it possible to train a cat to walk on a leash?

We shall see!

When we think of the term "pet behavior", we think of issues, like chewing or inappropriate urination or freaking out in a thunderstorm, not something more positive like getting your cat to walk on a leash. So I am taking up the challenge of training my cats to walk on a leash.

I have two indoor cats, Rocket and Rosie, who are 2.5 years old and have never gone outside. Here's a quick video introduction to them. 

I know they'd like to go outside but I'm committed to keeping them out of harm's way so we asked JoyKatz if we could test out some of their beautiful handmade walking jackets for cats.

So, here are the kittens getting their harness put on. 

And here they are wandering around with their harnesses. 

As you can tell, it is going to take a while for them (Rosie in particular) to get used to the harnesses and associate them with a fun walk outside. It doesn't help that I'm in Cleveland and it's cold and snowy outside, and will be for a while. Perhaps we'll have to practise in the garage.

I'll post every now and then with their progress and next time, I'll show you the harness in more detail and how it works.

Thank you to JoyKatz for supplying these two Walking Jackets - they are very smart and well made indeed, and to Erin for taking some of the video.

Related Posts:
January is Dog & Cat Behavior Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Why Are Our Pets So Stressed?
Is it possible to train a cat to walk on a leash?
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Guest Post: Seizure Behavior in Dogs

Top 10 Pet-related Trends 2012

Myla loves barley 4Did you know that that spending on pets in 2011 topped $50 billion for the first time? That's a lot of dog collars, don't you think! 

Actually, we spend on everything from pet accessories and food to veterinary care and services such as boarding and pet sitting. To put $50 billion in perspective, the pet industry tops the book publishing ($31 billion) and women’s clothing ($41 billion) industries by a healthy margin.

Want to know what is driving pet spending in 2012? Hop on over to the Embrace site for an in-depth look at pet-related trends for 2012

Related Posts:
Pet Industry Trends 2012
Pet Industry Trends 2011
Pet Industry Trends 2010

Pet Industry Trends 2009
Pet Industry Trends 2008
Pet Industry Trends 2007
Pet Industry Trends 2006

Laura bennett 2008 80 redo About the author: Laura Bennett FSA CFA is the CEO and Co-Founder of Embrace Pet Insurance. Her career working in the insurance industry has taken her from Toronto, Canada and Dublin Ireland to the US, where she obtained her MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Laura was the first pet insurance actuary in the United States and was named to the Society of Actuaries Top 100 Actuarial Pioneers for her ground-breaking work in pet insurance. Laura strongly believes in furthering awareness of pet insurance across North America and leads that work in her third year as Chairman of the Board of NAPHIA, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Laura also writes a blog on pet-related issues, the Embrace Pet Insurance blog.

Veterinary Inflation Observations

Have you been wondering recently why your veterinary care feels like it costs so much more than it used to? You are not alone.

I was digging into the inflation numbers over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and I was fascinated by the difference between veterinary inflation (yes, they do track such a thing!) and the consumer price inflation.

For example (see graph below), if I look at January 2007 to March 2011 (just about as long as we've been selling pet insurance policies), while my wages went up 10% over that time (yay!), my vet bills went up 25% in the same period (ouch!). Vet bills are definitely taking up more of a bite out of my free cash than they used to. 

Veterinary inflation vs CPI 
You can clearly see the impact of the Great Recession in the second half of 2008 in the CPI, with the year's inflation being practically zero (-0.1%); however, veterinary inflation chugged along at 7% that year and didn't slow down until 2009.

Another point to note, the Consumer Price Index is defined as the change in the prices paid by urban consumers for a representative basket of goods and services and Veterinary Services are just a subset of those goods and services. The representative basket of goods is based on typical family spending in 2007/2008 so changes in the types of veterinary services (such as more TPLO surgeries or MRIs) are not reflected.

So chances are, as veterinary medicine has grown in the last 3 years, and more complex and more costly procedures are more common, your veterinary spending increases are even more than those shown above.

It's amazing we can afford our cats and dogs at all, don't you think?

If you are wondering what impact veterinary inflation has on pet insurance premiums, check out my blog post on how inflation and other factors affect pet insurance premiums using Trupanion as a case study.

Just for fun, here's another graph for 2001 - 2011. It really shows the bite into your household income over the last 10 years.

Veterinary inflation vs CPI 2001.2011 
For the data hounds out there, you can find the data on the BLS website:

  • CPI - All Items US City Average Seasonally Adjusted
  • Veterinary Inflation - Veterinary Services US City Average Seasonally Adjusted????

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