New from the USA: well­be­ing pro­grams for pets

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - LIFESTYLE - PETE WEDDERBURN

ONE of the in­ter­est­ing aspects of sum­mer­time work as a vet is that we some­times have vis­i­tors from over­seas. In the past twenty years, it has be­come eas­ier than ever to travel with pets, so these days, we reg­u­larly en­counter own­ers – and an­i­mals

– from continenta­l Europe and North Amer­ica.

Last week, I met a man from Cal­i­for­nia called Chuck, and his Golden Labrador, named Thor.

The dog had cut his pad while out on a hill walk, so a sim­ple stitch up was needed.

As Chuck set­tled his bill, I men­tioned that many peo­ple in Ire­land had pet in­sur­ance to cover such even­tu­al­i­ties, and I asked him if Thor was in­sured back home.

“No, he isn’t in­sured, but he does have a well-being plan”. And when I asked Chuck more about this, he ex­plained the de­tails.

Well-being, is one of those con­tem­po­rary buzz-words that’s used for hu­mans. More than just phys­i­cal health, it in­cludes men­tal and so­cial well-being, and per­sonal ful­fil­ment. It’s a broad, slightly fluffy term that oozes pos­i­tiv­ity and good­ness.

So what might a well-being plan for a dog look like?

Chuck told me that the plan was sug­gested by his vet­eri­nar­ian, and just as in the hu­man field, well-being cov­ers all aspects of Thor’s life.

Phys­i­cal health is the first area, and that’s the main fo­cus of vets. We are trained to know about health and dis­ease of an­i­mals, so we can guide peo­ple to­wards mak­ing sure that their pets are phys­i­cally well.

The foun­da­tion of Thor’s well-being plan is a once yearly ex­am­i­na­tion by his vet. Ev­ery­thing is checked: his body weight, his heart and lungs, his limbs and joints, his teeth, eyes and ears, the con­di­tion of his skin, coat and nails. Every mi­nor dis­crep­ancy is noted, and pho­to­graphs of any phys­i­cal is­sues are taken and stored in his clin­i­cal record.

The vet felt that Thor’s coat smelled fusty, sus­pect­ing a mild yeast in­fec­tion, and he rec­om­mended twice monthly washed in a med­i­cated sham­poo. And his nails were slightly over­grown: the vet clipped them.

At Thor’s last visit, the vet had noted that the early signs of den­tal tar­tar ac­cu­mu­la­tion were vis­i­ble: he took pho­tos, and told Chuck to im­prove the home den­tal care that he was giv­ing (so he’s moved to from twice weekly to daily tooth­brush­ing, plus den­tal chews). Next year, he’ll re­view progress.

Next, Thor’s vac­ci­na­tion pro­to­col was checked: he had been given puppy shots, then every year the vet looked at what was due. Some vac­cines last just one year, while oth­ers last three or four years. Thor’s needs are re­viewed every year to en­sure that he was up to date with pro­tec­tion against viruses and in­fec­tious bac­te­ria.

Af­ter the phys­i­cal check up, the vet car­ried out a “nu­tri­tion au­dit”: he asked Chuck pre­cisely what Thor was eat­ing. He looked up the brand of kib­ble on the com­pany web­site, and ex­plained the in­gre­di­ents to Chuck: this was a good qual­ity food, with no need for change. He also asked about all other treats, stress­ing that no more than 10% of Thor’s diet should be tid­bits from the hu­man ta­ble.

Im­por­tantly, Thor’s body weight was ex­actly the same as the pre­vi­ous year: the early de­tec­tion of ex­ces­sive weight is the best way to pre­vent obe­sity. There was no need to ad­just Thor’s food in­take, but with many dogs, a re­duc­tion in daily calo­ries is a key rec­om­men­da­tion.

Next, it was time for the par­a­site pre­ven­tion pro­gramme. Fleas, ticks and heart­worm are com­mon in that part of the world, and Thor has to be on monthly med­i­ca­tion to keep him clear. This is done on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis. An “apart­ment dog” faces dif­fer­ent risks to a meadow-lov­ing, for­est-roam­ing dog like Thor.

So far, I was im­pressed with the vet’s thor­ough­ness, but there was noth­ing new here: when Ir­ish dogs go to the vet, it’s nor­mal for all of the above to be dis­cussed, even if not in such a sys­tem­atic way. But it was the next bit that sur­prised me.

The vet went on to carry out a men­tal and so­cial well-being re­view. He asked how Thor spends his days, what ex­er­cise he has, and what dog-dog and dog-hu­man en­coun­ters he en­joyed..

Chuck had to itemise who lived in his home, where he took Thor for walks (ter­rain, dis­tance, games played etc), and he had to men­tion any dogs Thor met on the way. The vet had a com­puter pro­gramme that al­lowed him to record all of these de­tails. He also had to de­scribe what Thor loved do­ing the most: as a Labrador, he’s a real ball-chaser, and Chuck uses a spe­cial ball launcher to max­imise the fun. Thor also loves swim­ming in a lo­cal river.

Fi­nally, the vet asked about Thor’s home rou­tine. Sleep­ing: where, when, and how long? Any bad habits? (Thor some­times barks at 6am to go out­side).

Chuck was given a printed sheet with sim­ple rec­om­men­da­tions to im­prove Thor’s life. (Leav­ing a night light on near his bed may stop the night time wak­ing).

It’s no won­der that this an­nual check lasts for a full hour. It’s im­pos­si­ble to fault its thor­ough­ness, nor to ques­tion the fact that it’s the best way to op­ti­mise a dog’s well-being. But would Ir­ish pet own­ers be pre­pared to pay the hefty vet fee needed to cover the cost? Chuck is happy, and Thor is very happy and well. Per­haps Ir­ish vets should try step­ping up to this mark?

Thor’s well-being is re­viewed at least once a year by his vet

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