Pet insurance words of wisdom

I believe that things happen for a reason.  This post was motivated by two separate comments I received over the course of the week.

Dog with toothbrush

Reminder: February is Pet Dental Health Month

#1 -You need insurance before something happens

A travel agent made this comment when presenting her pitch at a business networking meeting.  She was talking about travel insurance in context of the coronavirus outbreak.

People who have had travel booked for a while are getting in touch wanting travel insurance in case their trips are cancelled due to the virus.  Her advice:  too late.  You need to buy insurance as soon as you book a trip.  Straight away.  Now that coronavirus is a known risk, no insurer is going to cover it.

The same is true of pet insurance.  Insurers will ask you for your dog’s medical records to review and if they have a diagnosis or previous injury, don’t expect coverage.  They’re called pre-existing conditions.  (There are also things like exclusions – French Bulldogs often have an exclusion for airway surgery, for example, because so many of the dogs need this surgery).

So when I see posts on Facebook saying “My dog just broke his leg and needs surgery and I need pet insurance now” I think the same thing:  too late.

#2 – If you are struggling to pay for insurance, you’re probably the person who needs it the most

This one was personal advice given by a veterinarian.

In her experience, if a pet owner can’t reasonably afford insurance payments, chances are they are even more at risk of being unable to pay when the pet’s needs are acute  – surgery or illness.

Pets are our family, companions, and friends.  They are good for our physical and mental health.  But they are not cheap.  And so anyone who is taking a pet into their life really needs to understand that most pets, at some time in their life, need more than a vaccination, health check, or flea treatment.  If you don’t have insurance, how will you pay for necessary care?

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 3

In Part 2,  I introduced a ladder concept to explain that there were steps in managing an older dog, and particularly one that is likely to have arthritis.

This is what our ladder looks like now, with two rungs, because today we are talking about managing weight.

Arthritis management diagram with 2 rungs

Overweight pets are a first world problem.  We love our dogs, we use treats for training, and we keep using treats to show our love.  Many of us don’t measure (or ideally, weigh) our dog’s food at feeding time.  Portion sizes start to creep up.

And then our dog starts to slow down, not playing or running around as much.  They don’t need as many calories but we keep feeding them the same as we have always done.  So with less calories burned, the dog’s body adds fat placing more stress on joints that are arthritic because they now have to move more weight than they used to (or should).

As with any change in lifestyle, a vet check is always recommended before starting a weight loss program.  We don’t want to assume that weight is the only problem in an older dog.  (Kidney and liver function, for example, should be checked).

I advise my clients to weigh their dog as a starting point and it’s also helpful to take measurements such as the waistline line (in line with the knees) and a measurement behind the elbows.

I often ask my clients to simply reduce the food they are feeding by up to 1/3 per meal (requiring them also to measure or weigh up what a ‘normal’ feed has been).  A diet food is not always needed if they are already feeding a balanced diet.

Other tricks include scattering food around the garden or living room which requires the dog to forage for its food and, while doing that, they are getting some additional low impact exercise.  Snuffle mats, which I sell in my practice, are another slow feeding option.  Kongs are another.

Kobe with snuffle mat

Kobe the greyhound with a snuffle mat

Everyone in the household has to be on board with the weight loss program – sneaking treats just doesn’t help the dog reach its weight loss goal.

Regular weigh-ins and measurements will help you stay on track and be able to celebrate each weekly (or fortnightly) weight loss.  And we celebrate with some play, a tummy rub, massage or a car ride – definitely not food!

I use massage and acupressure to help my clients through weight loss.  Because if the dog is feeling less painful with endorphin release and muscles that are stretched and supple, they will move more.  And with increased movement brings an increase in calories burned.

I also become the dog’s private weight loss coach, and a sounding board for the family so we can remain positive when we have setbacks.

It becomes a happy cycle of more weight loss, happier dog and happier family.

Many parents just don’t realise that their dog is overweight.  Overweight dogs have become something of a normal occurrence in many communities.  A good rule of thumb is to lay your hands on either side of your dog’s rib cage.  Can you feel the ribs without pressing down?  If not, your dog is probably carrying some extra weight.

Charts like this one are also useful.  They are often on display in vet practices to help the veterinarian explain to clients about body scores and condition:

Layout 1

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Scout: Super Bowl Ad Star

In the 2019 Super Bowl, Scout the Golden Retriever featured in an advertisement for WeatherTech and their PetComfort feeding system.

But this year, CEO David MacNeil  paid $6 million dollars for a 30-second ad that didn’t promote his business.  Rather, it featured Scout and the veterinary school in Wisconsin that saved his life.

In July 2019, Scout collapsed and was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive cancer that formed in his heart.  Scout was treated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and MacNeil decided to help them raise money for research by taking out the ad.

Here are both of Scout’s commercials:

 

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 2

According to statistics, one in every five dogs is affected by arthritis, or more specifically osteoarthritis.  It’s a disease that is progressive and is associated with a number of factors which result in degeneration of the joints.

In my opinion, the stats are probably a lot higher.  More than one in five.  And that’s because too many dog parents see the symptoms of arthritis but classify it as ‘normal slowing down with age’ and they don’t seek professional help until much later – if at all.   Arthritis can develop in young dogs – I’ve seen it in dogs between the ages of 1 and 2 –  but the odds certainly increase with age.  If a dog reaches the age of 7, then they have a 65% chance of developing arthritis.

So in this post, I want to introduce you to the ladder concept for managing dogs with arthritis.  There are various rungs to the ladder and we’re going to cover each one.  Each rung is a step up in terms of effort (and potentially cost) and, just like in real life, you can go up and down the ladder based on circumstances which can include progression of the disease.

Ladder diagram

The first rung is about identifying pain and discomfort in your dog.   Many owners expect their dog to whimper or cry out as the primary indicator that they are uncomfortable.  But that just isn’t true.  By the time a dog vocalises, chances are they have been experiencing discomfort for some time and have become very painful.

There are degrees of difference between discomfort and pain

Discomfort is tolerable.  People describing discomfort use words like lingering, annoying, or aching.

Pain is much more than discomfort.  Pain is intense.  It changes the way you do things or enjoy your day.  When people describe pain they choose words like burning, sharp, or shooting.

Discomfort tells us something is wrong and often helps us manage before the situation becomes painful.

Our dogs are non-verbal communicators.  We have to become experts at their non-verbal communication by being keen observers.

In late 2017, for example, I noticed a behavioural change in Izzy.  Over the course of about 10 days, it seemed that almost every time I looked over at her, she was licking her left carpus (wrist).  And so I took her to the vet and asked for x-rays.  These confirmed ”very minor arthritic changes” – so minor that we agreed a regular rubdown with an animal liniment would likely be sufficient rather than requiring pain medication.  Izzy was experiencing discomfort and not pain.

Changes can be subtle.  My intake questionnaire for new clients is many pages long and I ask questions about mobility and behaviour as well as personally observing the dog’s gait.  A reluctance to get out of bed in the morning may not be a sign of laziness, for example.  It could be that the dog is stiff after resting all night.

Other signs can include:

  • difficulty getting comfortable in bed
  • withdrawal from normal activities
  • snapping when touched
  • pressure sores on the elbows or other joints
  • lameness or changes in gait
  • scuffing of toe nails
  • pacing

The list goes on…

When we see someone every day (and this includes our pets), we often don’t pick up on small changes.  This is a main reason why asking for a professional’s assessment is a good thing to do.  They come into your situation with a fresh set of eyes.

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Image

Doggy quote of the month for February

Sitting Bull quote

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 1

I promised a series on dog aging and care to explain that Izzy’s care started long before we introduced her pram (stroller).   Welcome to Part 1

For this series, I’ll be drawing on my experience as a dog parent with an aging dog as well as my 10+ years of professional experience in canine massage and rehabilitation.

Whenever I am asked about how I chose my profession, I explain that I had a muse.  Her name was Daisy.  An English Pointer who was neglected by her first family, Daisy entered my life at the age of 4 and left it at the age of 14 years and 3 weeks.

Daisy the English Pointer

Daisy, a sweet-natured and intelligent English Pointer, had many health problems over the course of her life. But we managed to get her to the age of 14+ which for a large-breed dog is a good life.

 

Izzy the greyhound

Izzy is my current canine companion. As I write this column in January 2020, she will be turning 11 in a few weeks. As an ex-racing greyhound, you can expect that Izzy’s body has seen some wear and tear and I will cover that in future posts.


For this introduction, let’s talk about time and age.  My mother, who passed away last year, used to say that, “no one I know is getting any  younger.”  The same is true of our dogs.  Aging is a fact of life.  It’s not a disease, it’s a life condition.

Most dog parents understand that their dogs don’t live as long as we do.  And you’ve probably seen charts like these before – but let’s review how a dog ages.  Smaller dogs tend to live longer, giant breed dogs have the shortest life expectancy.

I’ve included two charts because some of my readers go by weight in pounds, and others like my local clientele in New Zealand use kilograms.  Both charts have been derived by the work of Dr. Fred L. Metzger of Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, PA.

How old is your dog in poundsHow old is your dog in kgsSo I expect most of you have gone to find your dog’s human age on the chart.  That’s good; it’s how I start a conversation with one of my clients about their dog’s life status.

A more powerful use of these charts, however, is to consider time.  Because we age in our time, we tend to lose track of time in terms of our dog’s health.

Let’s say that we have a large breed dog who is 11 years old and he’s recently been to the vet for medication for the first time and the family has asked me to work with him because he’s reluctant to walk and doesn’t want to get into the car.

When we chat, the family tells me he has  probably been slowing down for ‘about a year.’  Today he is the equivalent of a 72 year-old man.  But his symptoms started when he was 10 and the human age of approximately 66.  So his family, although they clearly love him, waited 6 years to get professional help.

If your child was limping, would you wait 6 years to take them to the doctor? (I hope most of you say no.)

What I’d like each of you to do now is record your dog’s birthday and human year equivalent on your phone, wall calendar or diary – whatever you use.  If your dog was adopted and you don’t know their exact birth date, you can use their Gotcha Day instead.  Now, check out the chart and see how many human years will go by before their next birthday.

In the example above, it’s 6 years.

12 months/6  = 2 months

So if you were my client, I may ask you to enter a reminder message every two months in your diary and I’d give you a simple checklist of questions to review.  Just one tool that I use with some clients to help them understand their dog’s aging process and need to remain vigilant for signs of change.

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

New dog, old tricks? Untrained stray dogs can understand human cues

If you have a dog, hopefully you’re lucky enough to know that they are highly attuned to their owners and can readily understand a wide range of commands and gestures. But are these abilities innate or are they exclusively learned through training?

To find out, a new study in Frontiers in Psychology investigated whether untrained stray dogs could understand human pointing gestures.

Dogs and gestures research

A new study shows that untrained stray dogs respond to gestures from people, suggesting that understanding between humans and dogs transcends training. Image: Shutterstock

The study revealed that about 80% of participating dogs successfully followed pointing gestures to a specific location despite having never received prior training. The results suggest that dogs can understand complex gestures by simply watching humans and this could have implications in reducing conflict between stray dogs and humans.

Dogs were domesticated 10,000–15,000 years ago, likely making them the oldest domesticated animals on the planet. Humans then bred dogs with the most desirable and useful traits so that they could function as companions and workers, leading to domesticated dogs that are highly receptive to human commands and gestures.

However, it was not clear whether dogs understand us through training alone, or whether this was innate. Can dogs interpret a signal, such as a gesture, without specific training, or even without having met the signaling person previously? One way to find out is to see whether untrained, stray dogs can interpret and react to human gestures.

Stray dogs are a common feature in cities around the world and particularly in many developing countries. While they may observe and occasionally interact with people, such dogs have never been trained, and are behaviorally “wild”. Conflicts between stray dogs and humans are a problem and understanding how humans shape stray dog behavior may help alleviate this.

To investigate, Dr. Anindita Bhadra of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, India, and colleagues studied stray dogs across several Indian cities. The researchers approached solitary stray dogs and placed two covered bowls on the ground near them. A researcher then pointed to one of the two bowls, either momentarily or repeatedly, and recorded whether the dog approached the indicated bowl. They also recorded the perceived emotional state of the dogs during the experiment.

Approximately half of the dogs did not approach either bowl. However, the researchers noticed that these dogs were anxious and may have had bad experiences with humans before. The dogs who approached the bowls were noted as friendlier and less anxious, and approximately 80% correctly followed the pointing signals to one of the bowls, regardless of whether the pointing was momentary or repeated. This suggests that the dogs could indeed decipher complex gestures.

“We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” explained Bhadra. “This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”

The results suggest that dogs may have an innate ability to understand certain human gestures which transcends training. However, it should be noted that the shyer, more anxious animals tended not to participate, so future studies are needed to determine more precisely how an individual dog’s personality affects their ability to understand human cues.

Overall, dogs may be more perceptive than we realize. “We need to understand that dogs are intelligent animals that can co-exist with us,” said Bhadra “They are quite capable of understanding our body language and we need to give them their space. A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict.”

Original article:  Free-Ranging Dogs Are Capable of Utilizing Complex Human Pointing Cues

Source:  Frontiers Science News