Little Rhody: Where pets live longer


While the Jersey Shore continues to struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, there’s a quiet little cat in Providence who knows that Sandy wasn’t the first or the last storm the New Jersey coast has seen. A Providence woman remembers a storm while she was there 21 years ago.

“We found him in a puddle,” said Karen Holleron of her oldest cat. “He was about 6 weeks old and covered with dirty water. We didn’t think he’d last the night.”

Holleron is not the kind of person who gives up easily when it comes to animals. She has two yappy Chihuahuas she apologizes for and a sweet Papillion who needs no apology. She has several cats staying at her house, one of which she’s fostering until a permanent family is found for it; the other is naturalized. But it is Nemisis who is her oldest and dearest feline friend.

“That’s Nemisis with an ‘I,’ because I looked it up and Nemesis [the myth] was an unbeatable foe but she was female and my cat’s a male, so we spell it with an ‘i’ to differentiate.”

Nemisis came to our attention last week, the Banfield Pet Hospital sent us a press release about a survey of pet health around the country they had just published. Nemisis was featured because, give or take a few weeks, Nemisis is 21 years old.

People who see elderly cats as pampered, overweight lay-abouts will have that perception changed by Nemisis. He is slight but not skinny. He moves effortlessly but he’s not in a hurry. We’re told he’s playful, but in the presence of this reporter, he was slightly aloof and dignified; friendly but not effusive; standoffish without looking shy: You get the impression that Nemisis is taking your measure as he stares at you and his face seems to say, “Dude, I’m cooler than you.”

“He was brought up with a dog, so he’s somewhat like a dog,” said Holleron. “He was a bit wild when he was younger, but these days he seems to enjoy his little treats and cuddles more.”

But, getting back to that Banfield survey. A survey of the longest living pets in the country has added yet another good reason to get your animal neutered: It’ll help it live longer.

“He was neutered a long, long time ago,” said Holleron, a firm believer in controlling the pet population.

The Banfield State of Pet Health 2013 Report revealed that spaying and neutering dogs and cats, among other factors, might influence a pet’s lifespan.

“Pets that have been fixed tend to have less problems when they get older,” said Dr. Amanda Holmes, the Banfield vet who sees Nemisis in their Johnston animal hospital for regular check-ups. “There are less prostate problems for males and less [hormone-related] complications for older females.”

The survey gains its credibility to the sheer number of animals that Dr. Holmes’ hospital chain sees during the year. Banfield said it cares for more than 2.5 million dogs and cats every year in more than 800 hospital locations across the United States. Through its electronic medical records, Banfield analyzed pet health trends state by state, offering statistics regarding lifespan of pets and providing a comprehensive summary of overall pet health, especially including common and chronic diagnoses.

This is the third annual State of Pet Health Report. Among its 2012 findings, the average lifespan of a cat in 2012 was 12 years, which was one year more than the calculation for 2002, an increase of 10 percent.

The survey said neutered male cats live 62 percent longer than un-neutered males and spayed female cats live 39 percent longer than the un-spayed. Consequently, in states where fixing animals was less common, so was longevity. About 20 percent (or 1 in 5) of the cats in Louisiana and Mississippi aren’t spayed or neutered, and these are among the states with the shortest lifespan. Montana and Oregon are tied for the highest percentage of geriatric cats at 24 percent, but Colorado, Rhode Island, Illinois and Nebraska have the oldest of the old.

States with the shortest lifespan are Delaware, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi.

As most owners know, dogs do not usually live as long as cats under the best of circumstances, but they, too, are living longer. The average lifespan of a dog in 2012 was 11 years, up about half a year since 2002.

Neutered males live 18 percent longer than un-neutered dogs; spayed female dogs live 24 percent longer than un-spayed.

Also familiar to large dog lovers, toy and smaller breed dogs live 41 percent longer than giant breeds. But the survey consistently showed that fixed animals live longer than unfixed.

Two of the five states with the shortest lifespan for dogs have the highest prevalence of un-spayed and un-neutered dogs, with Mississippi at 44 percent and Louisiana at 38. Oregon has the highest percentage of geriatric dogs at 13 percent. States with the longest lifespan for dogs were South Dakota, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado. The shortest lifespan for dogs are in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Delaware and Massachusetts.

To sum up, the report says cats in Rhode Island live an average of 13 years, more than the national average of 12.1 years.

Dogs in Rhode Island live 10.7 years – just shy of the national average of 11 years.

But there are other things noted in the survey that are less related to health. For instance, the top three most popular dog breeds in Rhode Island are Labrador Retriever, Shih Tzu and Chihuahua. Domestic shorthaired cats are amongst the most popular in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island has a high prevalence of dental tartar and periodontal disease, so more chew toys and hard biscuits are in order and Nemisis would agree.

“He was brought up with a dog, so he’s always eaten dog food and had chew toys,” said Holleron.

The survey also said there is a low prevalence of kidney disease in dogs and cats, which certainly helps to keep the longevity figures up.

But, according to Dr. Holmes, the best way to ensure that your pet enjoys a long happy life is regular check-ups. Her own dog, an adopted Labrador-terrier mix, has the benefit of 24-7 veterinary care, but most animals don’t, which factors into life expectancy. People tend to take their pet’s health for granted and often only see a doctor when symptoms appear.

“Veterinarians see a lot of young dogs,” she said. “People bring puppies in for the usual procedures and we get them up and running and they go on their way. One of the reasons we see so many geriatric animals is because that’s when people start bringing them to the vet again.”

Karen Holleron said regular check-ups are part of Nemisis’ routine and she suggests that pet owners, especially pet owners with older animals, get a comprehensive health plan that ensures that animals are seen more frequently by veterinarians to catch problems at a stage when they can effectively be treated.

“I can’t say enough about the plan we have,” she said. “We see the vet twice a year and Nemisis is in great health. There is a small problem with the hair around his ears that’s getting thin and needs attention but other than that, he’s in great health.”

There are many of us who are “of a certain age” who would be delighted if the only health issue we had to worry about was our hair getting a little thin around our ears.

Karen Holleron will participate in the Pet Refuge Seventh Annual Dog Walk on June 2. The Pet Refuge is a no kill shelter in North Kingstown. If you would like to help her meet her goal of $1,500, contact her at 318-5833 no later than May 27.


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