Analyzing data from more than 100 BluePearl hospitals and 1.2 million pets seen, BluePearl’s 2021 Pet Health Trends Report highlights the most pressing health issues facing pets today.
In 2021, BluePearl cared for over 850,000 pets, accounting for 1.29 million pet visits. Overall, this amounted to a 2.3% increase in total pets seen as compared to 2020. Of the pets seen, approximately 184,000 were cats, 662,000 were dogs, and 11,500 were other species such as birds, rabbits, and reptiles.
Confirming ownership of young pets is on the rise, BluePearl has seen an increase in both dogs and cats less than two years old over the past three years. In 2019, approximately 19% of dogs seen and 18% of cats seen at BluePearl were under two years old, whereas in 2021, approximately 22% of dogs seen and 20% of cats seen were less than two years old (3% increase in dogs, and a 2% increase in cats). Interestingly, these findings confirm predictions presented in BluePearl’s 2020 PET OWNER REPORT: FULL HOUSE: People and Pets in the Pandemic, which revealed that 10% of clients had adopted and/or added a pet to their household during the pandemic and 18% of those pet owners planned to adopt another pet in the future.
In addition to pet ownership trends, this report offers a big picture of pet wellness across the United States. This year’s top pet health trends include:
- Top pet names and breeds
- Top pet diagnoses
- Top pet toxicities
- Pet obesity trends
- Pet blood donations trends, and more.
Trends in pet names & breeds.
From the over 850,000 pets we treated in 2021, we looked at trends in both breeds and names. We noticed the mix of names for both dogs and cats did not differ significantly from 2020, but there was one new name on the list of dog names: Coco.
New in 2021: Pet names we never saw before.
Our data showed the most common dog names included Bella, Max, and Lucy. Compared to Trupanion’s list of 2021 most popular dog names, there are many similarities between the two lists. But, our top 10 includes Buddy and Coco, two names missing from theirs. Bella has consistently been among the top 3 dog names since 2009, when it skyrocketed to the top after the wildly successful movie Twilight was released.
For dogs, the top name we’ve never seen before is Runtz – which is likely a reference to a strain of medical marijuana that experienced huge buzz last year - winning multiple awards, spawning counterfeit strains and garnering a popular fashion collaboration.
Popular cat names included Luna, Oliver, and Kitty - names that show consistent popularity among cat owners. Included in some new pet names that we’ve never seen before for cats is Atreus – most likely a nod to the very popular game: God of War, which is planning a sequel in 2022. Atreus was introduced as Kratos’ young son in 2018, and gamers are excited to see how his character will play out in the sequel. We also saw Tivali, which is known as Cleopatra’s favorite cat; as well as Tardis, a reference to the popular British sci-fi series Doctor Who.
For other pets, which include lizards, parakeets, chickens, and even squirrels, the most popular names were Luna, Coco, Oreo, Kiwi, Daisy, Baby, Charlie, Thumper, Lola, and Pepper.
Interestingly, Luna was the only name that ranked in the top 10 across all three categories.
Unsurprisingly, mixed breeds were the most common across dog and cat owners. Birds and reptiles were most popular among owners of exotics.
Trends in pet insurance among pet owners.
This year, BluePearl again looked into the percentage of pet owners with pet insurance. Investigators found that the number of BluePearl clients with pet insurance rose by 18% in 2020 to 20% in 2021 (2% increase). Furthermore, the percentage of people with pet insurance used at BluePearl was highest among 25- to 44-year-olds (Millennials). It is important to note that Millennials represent the biggest share of pet owners in the U.S. today (32%). BluePearl investigators predict that pet insurance among clients, specifically within this age group, will continue to rise over the next few years.
“…the percentage of people with pet insurance…was highest among Millennials”
Trends in symptoms & diagnoses requiring emergency care.
As an emergency care provider, BluePearl clinicians are there to treat animals when they fall seriously ill or are involved in an accident. Most often, these are acute illnesses or conditions that require prompt care from an ER clinician or specialist.
Spotlight on the top 3 reasons for emergency care.
Vomiting may not be cause for concern when caused by poor judgment, also known as dietary indiscretion. However, vomiting can also be a symptom of a serious or even life-threatening condition that requires emergency medical attention.
When to see a veterinarian: if your pet shows the following symptoms accompanied by vomiting: loss of appetite, change in frequency of urination or thirst, blood in vomit or stool, lethargy, diarrhea, collapse, pale white gums, abdominal pain, weight loss.
Causes of diarrhea include anything from ingestion of spoiled food to allergic reactions, to parasitic infections or ingestion of a foreign object. Diarrhea lasting no more than a day or two is common.
When to see a veterinarian: If vomiting persists or becomes bloody your pet’s symptoms could lead to dangerous dehydration or other complications.
Dog bite wounds
A feud between dogs or an unfamiliar animal may be over food or a toy, attention of an owner, territory, or as a protective reaction.
When to see a veterinarian: If your dog has been in a fight and you can see obvious wounds. Sometimes wounds that appear to be superficial have the potential to be life threatening, depending on the location of the injury.
Most common cases requiring emergency care by pet type.
Cats and dogs each have their own set of common emergencies. BluePearl’s researchers uncovered important insights that pet parents can use to ensure the best health for their pets.
In 2021, BluePearl clinicians treated cats for urethral obstruction, vomiting, lower urinary tract disease, anorexia, and azotemia (an elevation of blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine levels). Lower urinary tract disease is often associated with urethral obstruction, or blockage of the urethra, which potentially can be life-threatening. Urinary stones or urethral plugs (a soft material made up of minerals, cells, and mucus-like protein) are often the cause of urethral obstructions. Because their urethra is longer and narrower, male and neutered male cats are at greater risk for obstruction than females.
A cat with urethral obstruction may exhibit these symptoms:
- Repeated attempts to urinate yet unproductive
- Crying or straining when attempting urination
- Increased agitation
- Blood in urine
In 2021, BluePearl clinicians treated dogs for vomiting, ACL tear, diarrhea, dog bite wounds, and gastroenteritis. Anterior Cruciate Ligament or ACL is a vital support structure, which provides and maintains stability to the dog’s knee. An ACL tear – the most common knee injury of dogs – will heal quicker and better with less chance of developing arthritis in the future, if detected and treated early.
The most common signs of an ACL tear include:
- Pain in the hind limb
- Swelling and instability of the knee
- Hindlimb weakness
Most common causes of poisoning in pets.
Chocolate remained BluePearl’s top toxic substance – followed closely by marijuana poisoning, intoxication, and ingestion.
Most toxicity cases at BluePearl are the result of dogs and cats getting into substances around the house or outside. Some foods, medications, plants, or household substances that are safe for humans may be harmful to a dog or cat, so it is important to know what can be potentially toxic and keep them out of your pet's reach.
Signs & Symptoms of Pet Toxicity Include:
- Seizures, convulsions, and/or tremors
- Vomiting and/or nausea
- Kidney failure
- Excessive bruising or bleeding
- Unsteady gait or stance
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Pale or irritated gums
- Inability to urinate
It can be difficult to know for sure what, or even if, your pet ate something they shouldn’t; but if you believe your pet has ingested a toxic substance, immediately bring them in to a veterinarian for evaluation.
Chocolate is highly toxic to dogs. Depending on the type and amount of chocolate consumed as well as the weight of the dog, it could cause a serious, life-threatening emergency. Knowing about the dangers of chocolate, including symptoms of ingestion, could save your pet's life. Here’s what every pet owner should know:
10 chocolatey facts
- Chocolate or any other sweets that contain chocolate can be very dangerous for companion animals. Even a small dose can be fatal to dogs and cats.
- Chocolate contains substances known as methylxanthines – specifically caffeine and theobromine – which dogs and cats cannot break down or excrete.
- Different types of chocolate contain varying amounts of methylxanthines. In general, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the greater the danger.
- Theobromine affects the central nervous system, the digestive system, accelerates heart rate, and leads to increased blood pressure.
- Pets experiencing chocolate toxicity may act abnormally, have difficulty breathing, excessively drink water, vomit, and/or have diarrhea. In more severe cases, pets may experience muscle trembling, loss of coordination, coma, or sudden death from a heart attack.
- Symptoms normally occur quickly after ingestion, but in some cases, can occur after a few days. This depends on the animal itself, as well as the type and amount of chocolate the pet has eaten.
- A veterinarian can prevent theobromine from getting into the bloodstream if the owner brings his pet in quickly after eating chocolate. An ideal time frame is no later than 4 to 8 hours after ingestion.
- A specific antidote for chocolate poisoning does not exist, so in severe poisoning, treatment depends on the pet’s symptoms. A veterinarian can give the pet medication to induce vomiting to expel the chocolate from the body or a medication that will bind to the toxic substances to then be excreted in the feces.
- In general, it is less invasive and less expensive, and the pet has a better prognosis/outcome, if they are treated early. Once a pet has already developed clinical signs, chocolate ingestion by a pet makes for a much more expensive and potentially complicated veterinary visit.
- If your pet eats commercial chocolate, take a picture, or bring in the label. Sometimes chocolate can also include other toxic ingredients such as xylitol and nutmeg.
Chocolate toxicity diagnoses – the numbers.
BluePearl’s top chocolate toxicity days fall in December each year, a time when many primary care veterinarian offices close for the holidays. During other chocolate-driven holidays like Valentine's Day, Easter, and Halloween, primary care veterinarians are usually open. Thus, chocolate toxicity cases may be happening at a similar incidence rate during these other months (February, April, October); however, they are not coming to BluePearl for emergency care.
Key point: Stay wary when chocolate products are in your household – no matter the time of year.
Marijuana vs. chocolate.
Although BluePearl hospitals have continued to see a decline in chocolate toxicity since 2015, marijuana toxicity cases continue to remain steady, with the initial spike in marijuana-related incidents happening from 2017 to 2018. BluePearl investigators predict that marijuana toxicity will surpass chocolate toxicity incidents in 2022 or 2023, as more states move to legalize recreational use of the substance.
Over the last decade, pet obesity has become what many now call a national epidemic. While pudgy pets can be “cute,” excess weight can cause damage or contribute to the dysfunction of pets’ circulatory and respiratory systems.
BluePearl launched an investigation into the prevalence of pet obesity and found a 24 percent increase in the number of overweight dogs treated at its practices over the last eight years. Furthermore, in 2021, 52 percent of dogs and 42 percent of cats treated at BluePearl were overweight.
Adipose tissue (fat) is metabolically active and secretes hormones. Some of the secreted hormones are pro-inflammatory. It is important to also note that overweight or obese pets with chronic diseases such as pancreatitis, diabetes, or feline lower urinary tract disease, or with cardiac, respiratory, or renal issues, can be particularly challenging to treat.
Follow these tips to help keep your pet at a healthy weight:
- Be wary of giving pets human food. Even in small quantities, human food can represent a large percentage of a pet’s daily caloric intake and can lead to unintended consequences like weight gain, toxicity or intestinal blockage.
- Do not give in to begging. Next time your pet is begging, see if playtime or grooming will satisfy them. If not, try feeding your pet a specifically formulated weight management diet.
- Space out food intake (portion control). Split your pet’s food into smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day to help prevent hunger. Puzzle feeders or even small treasure hunts to extend mealtimes can also help keep your pet mentally stimulated and satisfied.
- Use a digital scale when feeding. Also, remember that some of pets’ daily allowances should be saved for treats (if treats are on the menu).
- Involve the whole family. Make sure every member of the family (and guests when applicable) is aware of the feeding regimen. Inform them of any dietary restrictions, including human foods.
- Ensure regular exercise. Take your dog on regular walks and play catch, when possible. Cats can be harder to persuade to exercise, but the use of toys can be used to promote play.
Talk to a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist about a nutrition plan for your pet.
Donations in demand: Pet blood banks.
When pets undergo surgery or are suffering from trauma, auto-immune diseases, heat stroke or other illnesses, they may require blood transfusions. BluePearl, which has 21 active pet blood banks, continues to provide a safe blood supply to animals in need. Sadly, BluePearl has seen a steep decline in pet blood donations since the beginning of the pandemic, seeing an overall 22% drop in donations.
Many veterinarians operate blood banks, and they offer myriad incentives for pets and pet owners to participate. Our blood banks are leaders in the safe collection and handling of pet blood donations, providing life-savings benefits to our patients and beyond.
If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of having your pet participate, speak to your local veterinarian or contact a BluePearl Pet Hospital with an on-site blood bank. Pet donor requirements and screening protocols can vary by state and program.
About BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital
Founded in 1996, BluePearl is one of the largest specialty and emergency veterinary practices in the U.S. today. BluePearl has more than 100 hospitals in 29 states that together employ 7,000+ Associates, including 1,330+ veterinarians, 1,600+ veterinary technicians, and 4,100+ other professionals. Each year, our compassionate teams provide high-quality care for more than 1.1 million pets and their families. BluePearl clinicians also participate in clinical studies to discover new treatments and procedures that improve pet health. As part of the Mars Veterinary Health family of brands, BluePearl is committed to its purpose — A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS® — because pets make a better world for us. Learn more at BluePearlVet.com.
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