“I could throttle him!”
The young woman dragged her Border Collie into the clinic.
“He just pulled my daughter onto the road. If a car had been coming she would be dead! I want one of those Halti collars that controls your dog when he is on the lead.”
One of our veterinary nurses fitted and sold her a Halti, and then a second one five minutes later when the Collie had chewed through the first.
But she didn’t make an appointment with our behavioural trainer! This owner didn’t only need a product; she also needed help with training.
Failure to get that right could mean an early death sentence for this dog. This transaction was a failure in our delivery of wellness care.
Halifax Veterinary Centre exists to enhance the relationship that you enjoy with your pet.
We do this by increasing your awareness of ways you can help your pet live a happy, healthy and long life.
To achieve this we have to promote a different level of veterinary care than the traditional ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ approach. We first need to focus on keeping your pet well.
In pet health, as in human health, the biggest gains come in preventing problems before they occur. We are familiar with this approach with vaccination which has controlled many previously devastating diseases of pets.
However there are even bigger benefits to be gained through a comprehensive wellness care approach.
The wellness care approach focuses on making you a successful pet owner
You need to make good decisions on all aspects of pet care. These include pet selection, behaviour management, nutrition, parasite control, oral and skin health, and early detection of illness. When you do these well, it is easier to enjoy a close relationship with your pet.
On the other hand, it is clearly harder to enjoy a pet to which you are allergic, which destroys your garden and your furniture and pees on your carpet. It’s harder to cuddle up to a pet which has bowel problems and flatulence, worms and fleas, let alone rotten breath and a greasy, smelly skin! That many pet owners in my experience put up with several of these problems in their pets is a testimony to how much we love our pets.
What can you expect wellness care to look like at Halifax Veterinary Centre?
Start out right.
We have a strong emphasis on starting out right. Our team can guide you in selecting an appropriate pet for your lifestyle. We can also often recommend good local breeders of the type of pet you choose.
If you have just obtained a pet a prompt visit for a thorough check-up is well worthwhile. This is rather like an AA check and significant pre-existing problems are sometimes found.
There are some blood tests available now for breed-specific heritable diseases and this is a rapidly developing field. The next decade will see a battery of these tests come on stream. This will help selection decisions.
It can also help the management of your pet to minimise the impacts of a genetic disease.
Behaviour management needs to start right away.
This is especially important for puppies, and good for kittens too. Puppies and their owners get great benefit from the puppy classes. They are lots of fun and make coming to the clinic a positive experience for the whole family.
Excellent nutrition is the basis of good health.
The food you feed your pet should at least be AFFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) tested.
You can find this information with the nutritional information on the side of the packet.
AFFCO testing shows that the diet is adequate to maintain health if fed exclusively for six months.
There is a difference between adequate and optimum nutrition. There is often a dramatic change in energy, coat quality, and the nature of the stools in dogs that have upgraded to a good quality commercial diet.
For example the marked improvement seen in dogs and cats with joint problems when they are fed prescription diets such as Hills j/d shows that enhanced nutrition can make a major impact on a pet’s well-being.
Unfortunately there are as yet no long-term studies that have defined optimum nutrition. It is likely to vary from pet to pet depending on such things as genetic make-up, exercise patterns, allergies and oral health.
At Halifax we aim to tailor the best diet for your pet’s needs.
The biggest dietary mistake most of us make is eating too much. Obesity is a major issue for our pets too. An extensive 1996 survey in the United States showed that 35% of cats over a year of age were moderately or severely overweight. This obesity was linked to a range of serious diseases.
Relatively modest obesity (about 20% above lean weight) in Labradors caused lifespan decreases of nearly two years, and a marked increase in and earlier onset of arthritis.
We will help you manage this issue with your pets.
Wellness care also looks at ways of making your pet nice to be near.
As close-knit members of our families we want to know our pets are kept parasite-free using safe and effective products. We want good oral hygiene, healthy and fresh-smelling skin, and no discharges from eyes, ears or anal glands. Not dealing properly with these issues at an early stage can tip the balance against a pet when a serious health decision is faced in the future.
Mobility is often a major quality of life issue for pets.
Pets rarely complain about chronic pain, but they slow down, lose their zest for life, limp or seem stiff, and often have restless sleep. Many of these signs are interpreted merely as the pet getting old or slowing down.
We will be proactive in preserving mobility and the enjoyment of life for your pet for as long as possible.
Early detection of disease greatly improves success in treating it.
That is why we advise annual health checks for your pet. There are many things they won’t be telling you about their health needs. After middle age – 6 years in a large breed dog; 8 years in a small dog or cat – we need to check your pet twice yearly. We will ask some probing questions and perform a thorough physical examination of all body systems. Wellness care needs early detection of problems.
Contrary to the popular saying, what you don’t know can hurt you. This is especially true of lumps and bumps. “Waiting to see how it grows” can be a recipe for disaster with cancerous lumps.
Lumps are best managed by fine needle aspiration and cytology as soon as they appear.
Many masses can be accurately identified in clinic using this technique. It can usually be done while you wait. If benign they are measured and mapped.
You will be given a copy of this tumour map so that if other lumps appear you can recognise them as something new and get them checked.
Dental disease is very common
These regular health checks often turn up dental disease that is unrecognised by the owner. Early detection and treatment and good oral hygiene is the recipe for a healthy mouth. Periodontal disease (disease of the gum margins) occurs in about 70% of pets over two years of age. Many pets suffer stoically with dental pain from tooth root abscesses. In the case of cats a painful tooth lesion called feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion is common. We need to take Xrays to detect problems below the gumline.
Screening blood and urine tests are worthwhile
As pets approach middle age there is a greater need for screening tests of blood and urine . These detect underlying disease or deterioration in organs. Unsuspected urinary tract infections, deteriorating kidney function, gall bladder problems and quietly grumbling liver disease are all common.
Early detection and treatment can make a huge difference.
Smart nutrition is simple and effective
There are now very clever disease-specific diets for managing a broad range of diseases.
These use a ‘food as medicine’ approach and can have substantial impact in slowing the rate of kidney deterioration for example. Diets can even improve brain function in old dogs showing signs of ‘dogzheimers’!
Regular monitoring through physical exams and blood or urine tests is required to get the best out of the ‘food as medicine’ prescription diets. These are a focus of wellness care.
Does wellness care cost more?
Generally speaking, prevention is better and cheaper than cure.
Some elements of wellness care, like keeping your pet lean, give fantastic health benefits for very little expense.
It is also true in health care that the biggest cost often comes from getting it wrong – from delayed or incorrect diagnosis and treatment.
The proactive approach of wellness care improves the chances of detecting and sorting out problems sooner.
Having said that, health issues will keep on cropping up in our pets and smarter solutions are becoming more costly.
Consider pet health insurance
Pet insurance is a way of managing that expense so that the bigger unexpected costs can be covered.
The New Zealand pet health market is still under-insured compared with the Europe and North America.
This becomes a wellness issue when the cost of repairing, for example, a broken leg forces a second-rate treatment option or even euthanasia.