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Posted on Mon, May 13, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Pets are living longer, healthier - but which states have pets that fared best?

By Lorrie Shaw


Lorrie Shaw | Contributor

I can't emphasize enough the role that our better understanding of the overall needs of our companion animals plays today in helping them live better. Advances in veterinary care, better education of pet owners in understanding what makes for a healthy pet and even strides in understanding animal behavior have had a hand in that.

But what it really comes down to, according to a recent study by Banfield Pet Hospital, is the human factor.

The State of Pet Health 2013 Report fleshed out some interesting findings, including how far both dogs and cats have come in recent years in terms if their longevity, how advances and availability of specific kinds of preventative care have influenced the change — even pinning down in which geographic regions they have a higher quality of health and life.

The most compelling conclusion is that spaying and neutering pets plays a huge role in extending their healthy years.

Spaying and neutering have benefits besides helping to address the overpopulation problem.

Both unneutered male dogs and cats are more likely to be hit by a car or bitten by another animal. Intact dogs also have a higher rate testicular cancer. Females that are spayed benefit from the reduced risk of life-threatening diseases like mammary cancer (especially cats) and pyrometra.

Vaccinations, parasite control and dental care are three main areas of preventative care that have made an impact. The last of those three has had more emphasis in recent years and isn't important only to promote a healthy mouth — bacteria from inflamed gums and the pockets that that result can enter the bloodstream and affect major organs, like the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs.

The report notes that factors like dogs living indoors and in a geographic region where disease rates (like Lyme disease and heart worm) may be lower risk seem to contribute to longer lives. States in the South have high rates of heartworm because of heat and mosquitoes. In the northeast, Lyme disease is more prevalent because of disease-carrying ticks.

"I can't emphasize enough how important it is just to protect against common diseases like heartworm and Lyme disease," Dr. James Darden, Chief of Staff at the East Houston Banfield Pet Hospital.

"Visit with your veterinarian twice a year and get routine annual blood work. Early diagnosis is one of the most impactful things you can do for your pet no matter where you live."

More rural areas tend to have higher numbers of intact animals, and pets in these regions may not receive veterinary care that is as comprehensive.

"It's all about lifestyle, what your pet means to you and how you take care of them," says veterinarian and epidemiologist Dr. Sandi Lefebvre.

"There are different attitudes, different levels of education and they tend to cluster in certain areas of the country."

Cats in Montana, Colorado, Rhode Island, Illinois and Nebraska enjoy longer lifespans. The shortest life expectancy prevails in Delaware, Ohio, Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi.

Dogs that hail from South Dakota, Montana, Oregon, New Mexico and Colorado fared the best. Sadly, dogs in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Delaware and Massachusetts live the shortest lives.

Michigan ranks in the higher percentiles for longevity for cats and for dogs, The Mitten seems somewhat favorable, falling into the moderate lifespan category.

The report includes one crucial factor in the lifespan of dogs: size.

Click here to browse the very interesting data on the State of Pet Health Report.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for Connect with her on Google+ and follow her daily adventures as a professional pet sitter or email her directly.