Pet health care a growing industry

November 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Spending on health care is the fastest-growing sector for... pet owners.

Purchases of health insurance for cats and dogs have doubled in the last two years. So has spending on high-tech health gadgets. One example is the drive to discover a better, hotter dog.

"With the sun coming through your window, you'll always find your cat or dog sitting there," says Tim Jahnigen.

"They require that. It's not just something they do for fun. They are actually biologically craving that radiant heat."

In particular, a wavelength of infrared associated with healing effects.

When a dog in his Berkeley family fell ill, Tim Jahnigan couldn't find an infrared medical device for pets. So, he fashioned his own heat sheets out of carbon composite and began marketing a line of infrared furniture for pet therapy under the name Fauna Sauna.

Pet heat is an even bigger deal for facilities like the California Academy of Sciences, where the aquarium cares for lots of reptiles, featuring their star attraction, the albino alligator.

It's not just a matter of comfort. Animals like this require heat for their health. You can't exactly wrap them in a blanket and forced-air heating could get a little expensive in a swamp. That's why the rock is heated.

Heating the enormous rock is expensive and Jahnigan is working to persuade the animal industry that composites could lower energy costs in every lizard lounge, even the home version.

One sheet consumes less energy than a 90-watt bulb and spreads heat over an area that won't burn animals or humans, the way a quartz or ceramic heater could.

Lisa Tarver points to an infrared panel above the encosure for her rainbow boa in Berkeley.

"It has a much larger emitter surface. I can touch it without burning myself."

A few human infrared therapy systems are FDA-cleared for pain and inflammation. But health insurers still say more research is needed into therapeutic effects.

Even so, a number of individual pet owners are warming up to a price tag of as much as $800 for a "fauna sauna".

The latest report by the American Pet Products Association forecasts that you and I will spend $43 billion on pet care like this by the end of the year, an all-time high.

The Pet Association also calculates that by 2010, 7% of all US pets will have health insurance.

Now there's something to wrap your head around. Or around your head.


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