Have you ever stopped to think about whether your dog or cat has a headache? If you think about it, how would you know? When I observe a person walking down the street, I don’t know if they have a headache, a stomachache, a toothache or a sore toe, unless they actually tell me. Our pets obviously cannot tell us when they are sick, well at least not until they are very sick and then we know because they are limping, vomiting or just no longer interacting with the family.
I have thought about this many times over my 24 years as a veterinarian here in Abbotsford. But recently it became even more apparent to me that our pets may be suffering without our knowledge. Two weeks ago I went to see my local ophthalmologist, as I thought I needed a new prescription because I was starting to have some difficulty with my vision. I am now of the age where many of us need reading glasses to see all that tiny printing on bottles of medicine, which by the way seems to be getting smaller on a daily basis, but I was not too worried and delayed my visit to the doctor, after all I have many young eyes belonging to my fabulous team that I could depend on. My issue was I was just getting old. Then I noticed that I was starting to blink more as my eyes felt dry and bit irritated. Ah feeling even older I thought, yup dry eye, once again not uncommon as we age and thought as soon as I had a minute I would make that appointment with the ophthalmologist but in the mean time I would wear my contacts a little longer as they kept my eyes moist and comfortable. Well 6 months later I finally decided I had enough and really should just go get another prescription and when I talked to the doctor she agreed that many of my changes were likely due to age. But during the exam I realized there was something more serious and I was not just old. As the doctor turned the dials and asked me to read the chart I could not see the letters on the wall clearly no matter what configuration of lens she placed before my eyes. It turned out that I had developed small fissures or cracks in my cornea. These fissures allowed tears to be absorbed into my cornea making them thick, so it was like looking through those old thick glass windows or a bottom of a wine bottle. And though my contacts made my eyes feel better, they were actually making the disease of my cornea worse. Now here I am a doctor, with significant medical knowledge and as a human able to speak and tell you if I have a problem, and I still chalked up my issues as just getting old.
After that appointment I wondered how many pets suffer in silence. Many days in my exam rooms I have owners who bring their pet, particularly cats, the first moment they see signs that their pet is sick. They often are quite proud that their pet has not had to visit the vet since their puppy or kitten vaccines. I understand that they are telling me that their pet has been healthy; that they have done a great job of keeping Fido or Fluffy healthy. Here is the moral to this story. Often by the time Fido or Fluffy has started to vomit, or is losing weight, they have been sick for months or even years. The hardest part that we owners have with keeping our pets healthy and pain free, is the fact that they are masters of disguise – and cats win first place at hiding disease.
How could you tell if your 10 year old pet had a tooth ache, a headache from a mild increase in eye pressure, early kidney disease, high blood pressure causing a 20% or 30% decrease in vision, early arthritis? Honestly neither you, nor I as pet owners, can tell.
Many of these issues results in your pet sleeping just a little more and we do exactly what I did – ah he is just getting old.
So book an appointment. I know, especially with cats, it can be stressful. But talk to your veterinarian before your appointment about how to make the visit less stressful. At Fraser Valley Animal Hospital we are continually changing as we learn how to minimize stress in our patients. It is important to us to practice Fear Free medicine, as it is the only way to make sure our pets will allow us to do what we need to ensure he or she is healthy and pain free.
Remember that indoor pets may be safe from cars and other animals but that does not stop high blood pressure or dental disease, so I urge you to learn from my own experience and take your pet to the veterinarian every year. If your pet is a senior then really he or she should be seen every 6 months. Think about how much a person changes between 75 and 80 and 85 years of age. Well, a pet ages approximately 5 years in 1 year so a lot can happen in that one year. Our goal is to catch a problem while we can still help and keep our pets from hurting. Celebrate when the exam and blood work comes back showing he or she is healthy. And congratulate yourself that you caught it early if there is a problem, which could add years to your pet’s life, and most importantly you made sure your four-legged family member did not suffer in silence.