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Get ‘hands-on’ and tailor language to engage dog owners in canine osteoarthritis (OA) cases, encourages RCVS specialist


  • Get ‘hands-on’ and tailor language to engage dog owners in canine osteoarthritis (OA) cases, encourages RCVS specialist

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    Veterinary communications consultant, Zoe Belshaw, has called on vets to involve owners in the examination process and management of their dog’s OA. By encouraging owners to feel the physical impact of osteoarthritis in their dog and helping them to take ownership of their dog’s management plan, vets could see better engagement and more uptake of their recommendations.

    Elanco Animal Health, maker of Onsior™, has created a film in collaboration with Zoe Belshaw, an RCVS and European recognised internal medicine specialist. They recognised that vets are often left frustrated by these consults if the owner isn’t able to recognise that their dog has a painful condition. This is often then compounded by the time restrictions in a short consult, leaving vets unable to fully communicate the implications and treatment options for the disease.

    The video draws on Zoe’s PhD research in which she interviewed dog owners on the subject, to offer vets tips to help engage owners on the topic of OA in their pet.

    Zoe encourages vets to tailor their language to each case, in particular, using the language dog owners will use. While undertaking her research Zoe noticed that many owners do not talk about OA in the same way that vets might; instead of referring to lameness or pain, many owners will refer to the actual physical signs of OA such as stiffness or communicate that their dog is slowing down.

    Zoe has also warned that not all owners are convinced by visual demonstrations such as flexing and extending the dogs joints. Instead, she suggests encouraging the owner to get hands-on.

    She says: “Point out the visual changes suggestive of osteoarthritis that you can see, such as muscle loss, scuffed nails, and enlarged joints. And encourage them to have a look and a feel, comparing affected and unaffected joints. Hopefully, the owner may be more receptive to the conversation now they associate it with a symptom they can recognise.”

    Additionally, Zoe found that many owners of older dogs often misinterpret the signs of OA as ‘just old age’ and may not be aware that the condition can be managed effectively with medication, the right exercise, diet and by making modifications in the home.

    Zoe reassures owners about treating OA with medications, such as NSAIDs: “Evidence available to date suggests that NSAIDs are the treatment type that are most likely to be effective in dogs with OA. “

    Zoe believes the importance of empowering owners at home shouldn’t be underestimated. By creating a management plan with the owner, vets are able to encourage them to better manage the condition at home.
    To make this quick and easy, Elanco has produced an OA management template which enables both the vet and the owner to create a tailored plan. It also provides the owner with information to take away with them about how to modify their home, written in collaboration with Founder of Canine Arthritis Management, Hannah Capon.

    Lastly, Zoe recommends a whole practice approach to becoming experts on OA. She particularly praises vet nurses, saying:

    “Vet nurses often have great ideas about how to explain the condition in a way that owners understand. Better owner understanding of OA should lead to better adherence to treatment plans and ultimately better clinical outcomes.”

    The communication film with Zoe Belshaw is part of a wider campaign driven by Elanco to help vets and owners communicate more easily on the subject of OA. To watch the full video click here.

    To access the suite of assets Onsior has created (which includes the management plan, social media posts for the practice, and infographic to help owners to spot the signs of OA) visit:

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