Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
I have lived pretty much my entire life (except for a few stints at university) right here in the Fraser Valley. Most of that time has been specifically in Chilliwack, BC. So over the fifty years that I have been around I have seen a few changes. Chilliwack was a curious little place people passed on their way to somewhere else or may have darted through to get to Cultus Lake. In the old days, we were a predominantly a farming community with all the attendant odours. And we could not be accused of ethnic diversity. This has changed substantially and we are a much more diverse urban community now, though there are still shades of the past in our present. This is certainly true with respect to the changes in perception of pet ownership and veterinary care as well.
A common refrain that I hear from some of my senior clients is “when I was a kid, our farm-dogs lived outside, had a job to do and ate our leftovers.” Often the ones saying these sorts of things are in my veterinary hospital, here in Chilliwack, BC, with a sick pet that requires extensive care or diagnostics. The statement isn’t necessarily a criticism of the present as much as it is recognition of the sometimes shameful way that society used to view pets. These living creatures with capacity for suffering were often left to their own devices. The ones that lived did so on the merits of good genetic material. The ones that that failed to thrive disappeared. And keep in mind that the test for thriving in this scenario is living versus dying. Arguably even the ones who lived may not have been free of suffering. These pets would not have received medications to prevent and treat intestinal parasites (worms) or external parasites (fleas). If they were old, they would have suffered silently with their arthritic pains. If they had dental problems or tooth abscesses, it would have been unlikely that anyone would have looked inside their mouths. So they would have endured their trials.
So does that make the pet owners from fifty years ago monsters? Hardly. It was not common knowledge that flea bites can be completely avoided, cause suffering and can lead to other illnesses. No one knew that dogs feel exactly the same magnitude of pain with their dental abscesses that we do. If the dog limped, one might consider this “normal” for an old dog, a sort of “badge-of-honour”. With the passage of fifty years comes an entirely new world of knowledge and understanding. And with this knowledge, we now have options for intervening and alleviating suffering.
As with anything in life, there are always shades of the past that crop up from time to time, but for the most part, it is relatively common knowledge that dogs and cats feel pain and that it is unacceptable to do nothing to alleviate this. Veterinary medicine and veterinarians play an important role in advancing medicine and society’s understanding of how this impacts them and the pets they care for. At our animal hospital, more than 50% of our time is spent helping our clients to understand how to optimize their animal health and thus how to help these creatures to not suffer but to truly thrive. It is a weighty charge that we take seriously. We can help and we want to help.
Posted by: Dr. Mark Steinebach