The importance of vet checks for looking at dogs holistically
"Behavioural problems and physiological medical problems have been treated separately for years, but behaviour depends on an animal's health and vice versa. Some behaviour problems are caused totally or partially due to medical problems. But this comes with its own diagnostic challenges for vets as apart from behavioural changes there are no other indications of illness. Camps. T, Amat. M, et al (2019)
Something that has encouraged and conversely put some clients off on initial contact is the recommendation of a Veterinary check to establish whether sudden behaviour changes or rescue dogs could be suffering with pain or ill health which has caused the change in behaviour.
When a dog presents with a new behaviour we have to explore all of the changes within yours and your dogs life, whether you have moved home, someone has moved in or out, any surgery, any attacks or incidents, a new dog in the home, sudden periods of separation and much more which could influence behaviour or if there's anything medically happening.
Dogs are very good at hiding pain and illness, we have to be mindful that no two dogs will show the same behaviours of expression of pain, especially dependent on their pain threshold as some injuries or pain may be slow in developing to big gestures of limping or vocalisations. There can be more subtle signs such as changes in pupil dilation, restlessness, changes in appetite or behaviour, increased or reduced physical activity and even a bite from a normally friendly dog.
Some people also think that when we say this that we mean a booster appointment for a vaccination.
Within another research study researchers found that veterinarians were criticised for not discussing or investigating behavioural problems with dog owners, so the researchers set up on a fly on the wall approach. 17 consultations were set up with 6 veterinarians, the dog owners were asked to share their concerns about behaviour which resulted in 58 behaviours of concern across the total and found that only 10 of the consultations out of 58 had been discussed. With the dog owners having to bring up the topic of behavioural concerns that they had. Roshier, A. L. (2013)
A previous study five years earlier observed wellness appointments and health problem appointments and found that 90% of the conversation focused on the health problem focusing on the biomedical data whereas in wellness appointments, 50% of the conversation is based on gathering information and 27% based on owner education and that due to dogs only going to the vets when unwell or for boosters is the only opportunity to discuss welfare. Shaw.J, et al (2008).
Which as a form of confusion that we find when discussing vet checks with dog owners makes sense as to why when we ask or recommend a Vet check that dog owners (guardians) typically tell us that nothing was wrong and or discussed at the booster appointment.
There were also two main barriers found in the question of: "Do you have any concerns?" in that dog owners felt embarrassed or that the behaviour was trivial and that dog owners need a flow of conversation to be able to open up. Robinson. J. D, (2001)
This second part is really important because when we use a client centred approach with dog owners (guardians) and help them to feel empowered, more people do talk at ease and even though emotions come up, there is no sense of embarrassment. When we actively listen this helps people to talk, and empowers the dog owner to speak up about how you feel, how behaviour might be affecting you and then we come full circle to how we can help. Because both ends of the leads are equally important.
This study goes onto discuss welfare in dogs and dog owners (guardians) legal duties under the Animal Welfare Act (2006) which I have discussed before. The study finishes with the conclusion of understanding animal and owner needs for best welfare practice aimed at vets. Short, C. E. (1998)
But all professionals who work with dogs have an ethical duty of care to best inform dog owners (guardians) education on why vet checks are vital and why doing particular things with dogs and meeting their biological needs is so important. This is why we also share a welfare responsibility for dogs who we work with because we need to best support the primary caregiver and families of their dog.
So if your dog is showing changes in behaviour or you have a new dog and you're worried about some of the behaviours, please don't be worried about reaching out for help and discussing these worries. Either with your vet or reach out to a behaviourist. You should always be made to feel empowered, valid and supported.
There are no silly questions or concerns, if you are worried about something it's much better to ask and if you aren't happy with the answer you can absolutely get another opinion. This doesn't make you a "Karen or a Kevin" as many people do worry they will quickly become a social media slur and considering people's feelings and worries as much as we might chuckle at these expressions of names to label someone difficult, the truth is more people dare not speak up when something is bothering them because of silly social media quips.
Always speak up, always ask questions, your feelings are valid and there is nothing to be embarrassed about and even if you cannot pinpoint how your dog could be ill or in pain, remember they hide pain and unwellness well, circling back to journals yesterday this is where journals come in handy paired with your vet and behaviourist.
Camps T, Amat M, Manteca X. A Review of Medical Conditions and Behavioral Problems in Dogs and Cats. Animals (Basel). 2019 Dec 12;9(12):1133. doi: 10.3390/ani9121133. PMID: 31842492; PMCID: PMC6941081.
Roshier AL, Foster N, Jones MA. Veterinary students' usage and perception of video teaching resources. BMC Med Educ. 2011 Jan 10;11:1. doi: 10.1186/1472-6920-11-1. PMID: 21219639; PMCID: PMC3025976.
Shaw J. R., Adams C. L., Bonnett B. N., Larson S., Roter D. L. (2008) Veterinarian-client-patient communication during wellness appointments versus appointments related to a health problem in companion animal practice. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 233, 1576–1586
Robinson J. D. (2001) Closing medical encounters: two physician practices and their implications for the expression of patients' unstated concerns. Social Science and Medicine 53, 639–656
Short, C.E. (1998) “Fundamentals of pain perception in Animals,” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 59(1-3), pp. 125–133. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/s0168-1591(98)00127-0.
Image description: a mint green background with a shaded green category circle. Within the categories are sleep, with a grey wolf dog sleeping on a pink bed.
A Wheelchair user with their back to the screen playing the chair game with a cream and grey wolfdog with the category title of "Time to train new protocols."
A category called "diet" with the sodapup honeycomb slow feeder with raw food in the centre with vegetables, fish, liver and eggs in the outer of the bowl.
A Vet with blonde short hair, white medical coat and green scrubs stood with a dark grey and tan Wolfdog with the category "vet check".
A category called opportunities for mental enrichment with a dark grey and tan Wolfdog behind an xpen fence, within a Doggy Enrichment Land. A green wall with the bottom of a picture frame and a music speaker. There is a destruction box filled with balls, a Kong, a lickimat, a snuffle mat, an orange bed, a bone, an ostrich twist and a loose ball.
The last category is "Keep a journal" with a lined journal with green edges and rainbow dividers.
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