Monday, January 5, 2015

For the Love of Pets

A few weeks ago the Indianapolis Star ran a three-part series on medicine for pets in which it painted pets as kind of second-class citizens – as weird as that may seem.  It told stories of veterinary medicine not being held to the same standards as human medicine.  The series emphasized that prescription drugs for pets are not held to the same FDA standards of approval and that when a dog or cat dies, their owners have no economic recourse.  As they put it:  A dog’s love is worth nothing.

One of the articles tells of a veterinary conference in Chicago with all the booths and exhibits.  It implies, not too subtly, that vets are influenced with trinkets, pens, and free lunches to overprescribe certain medications and treatments.  Another part of the series told of a suspected connection between a particular drug, trifexis, and the death of some dogs.  (A division of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly makes the drug, so it had a local connection for the Star.)

Dog owners that had lost their pets considered a class action lawsuit against the company but found that the only allowable damages in most states were the replacement cost of the dogs.  Legal action was not a viable option.  This elicited the conclusion of a dog’s love being worth nothing.

This is portrayed as unfair.  Many people consider their pets as part of the family and the very folks who manufacture and deliver these drugs encourage that attitude for economic gain.  “According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, if you view your dog as a family member, you will spend about $438 a year on care. Those who consider a dog property — as laws in most states do — spend about $190.”  A similar relationship holds for cat owners as well.

We are expected to come away with the conclusion that those greedy drug manufacturers and veterinarians set up pet owners to spend more on the pets they have become emotionally attached to and then skimp on care.  States then add to the hurt by not valuing a companion’s life appropriately.  Wow!  (I once heard a journalist define as someone who can turn a story into a sensation, and this seems to be a prime example.  Tears in our eyes may keep us from thinking clearly.)

A need for economic understanding jumps out of this article.  If the FDA set the same standards for pet medicine as for human medicine, everyone would be paying in many ways.  New drugs would be more expensive to get approved.  There would be a long delay in approval – probably years.  (What would they do, test them on mice before giving them to dogs?  The cats might get a laugh out of that!)  The costs would also increase based on the need to insure against lawsuits from bereaved pet owners.  That $438 annual medical cost would mushroom to $1000 or even $2000, and everyone would wonder why.  Treating pets the same as people would carry a cost, a cost that might be difficult to defend logically.

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