The BSAVA PetSavers Ageing Canine Toolkit

10 May 2023

A major study recently funded by BSAVA PetSavers at the University of Liverpool is the Old Age Pets (OAP) research project, aiming to help vets and clients provide the best care for senior and geriatric dogs. The fruits of that research have now been translated into the BSAVA PetSavers Ageing Canine Toolkit.

Dogs are living up to twice as long as they did 40 years ago which has implications for their healthcare and wellbeing. The recognition of diseases in dogs is often dependent on owners reporting physical and behavioural changes to their vet, but many find it difficult to know what are ‘normal’ age-related changes (signs of ageing) or whether signs indicate possible disease that would benefit from veterinary advice and treatment. By attributing issues to ‘just old age’, this can result in dogs being presented at an advanced stage of disease, when treatment becomes more challenging.

Traffic light colour-coded owner checklist

The research team interviewed clients and veterinary professionals who suggested it would be useful to develop standardized tools that could be used to assess a senior dog, including the most common signs to look out for, when to seek advice from a veterinary practice and to help guide discussions during consultations.

Key research findings from the in-depth interviews, quantitative surveys and data mining of records in the SAVSNET database were therefore used to develop a checklist for clients to complete as part of a home triage. Answers of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ are coded according to traffic light colours red, amber and green to aid recognition of areas of concern, and clients are encouraged to seek advice from their veterinary practice for any red or amber responses.

The questions are grouped into health topics such as ‘dental’, ‘mobility’ and ‘weight changes’, representing some of the main reasons why senior dogs visit the vet. But the checklist does not shy away from the more challenging issues such as ‘behaviour’, ‘confusion’ and ‘quality of life’. A separate section explores concerns over the sensitive topic of ‘end of life’.

Ageing Canine Toolkit (ACT)

To support the checklist, we have developed a leaflet for clients containing information that ties in with the checklist topics and provides a good background about the more common health problems affecting aged dogs. This has been made possible thanks to the input of the PetSavers Management Committee and was launched at BSAVA Congress 2023.

The leaflet is available in both printed and digital (editable pdf) versions, allowing clients to choose their preferred format. It is supported by an A2 double-sided poster for practice waiting rooms that introduces the checklist and includes a QR code for clients to scan and gain easy access to the digital leaflet.

Client communication

Regular discussions and veterinary check-ups can help relieve and prevent suffering, identify diseases earlier and ensure an ageing dog’s quality of life remains high and that they live longer. The leaflet therefore recommends working through the checklist at least every 6 months, keeping completed versions for comparison, and includes several copies of the checklist to monitor dogs as they age. Some clients may benefit from advice and guidance from RVNs or PCAs on how to complete the checklist for the first time.

Good communication with clients is crucial to developing a relationship based on trust that allows them to seek advice and make the most of consultation time. Promoting the toolkit to your clients can help you do this and achieve the best possible treatment outcome for senior and geriatric dogs.

BSAVA Library collection

Caring for senior dogs can be challenging, so we have put together a collection of resources to support veterinary professionals. These include articles, podcasts, lectures and book chapters about information ranging from senior behavioural problems and cognitive decline to quality of life and end-of-life care. The collection can be freely accessed until the end of June at https://www. bsavalibrary.com/content/supportingthe-bsava-petsavers-ageing-caninetoolkit–act.

 

FREE digital copies of the leaflet and poster can be downloaded here: http://www.bsavalibrary.com/content/cilgrouppetsaversact, where veterinary professionals can also request FREE printed copies for their practices. Physical copies are freely available at BSAVA Congress in the BSAVA Lounge throughout the event. For more information about the OAP project, visit the website here: https://new.bsava.com/petsavers/our-impact/citizen-science-project/.