CAM blogs

Cam Meets Caroline Clark

CAM Meets Caroline ClarkCaroline kindly agreed to answer the following questions…

What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs?

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disease diagnosed in veterinary medicine but despite its high prevalence, on the whole, it still remains a poorly understood condition

I am a practising clinical animal behaviour counsellor although my background is rooted in veterinary nursing. I began my nursing career over 40 years ago and although we have made huge leaps since then, in terms of the arsenal of treatment and management techniques available, canine osteoarthritis (OA) still poses a considerable challenge to the welfare of dogs.

For example, there is still a perception that it’s an “old age problem” and so owners, mistakenly, think that nothing can be done and therefore fail to seek veterinary attention. However, it isn’t just a condition that affects the elderly. Arthritic changes can occur in very young dogs too and not that long ago we were reminded of this fact during a CAM Facebook Live event with the pain specialist Dr. Fergus Coutts. He pointed out that many youngsters with joint abnormalities such as hip and elbow dysplasia, although in considerable pain, can adapt in such a way that lameness/ pain isn’t always that obvious to the owner or even the vet. As a consequence, the condition is often undiagnosed and a number of dogs are left to cope with uncontrolled chronic pain.

As a Clinical Animal Behaviourist/ RVN what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively?

Education is key.  Making prospective owners and breeders aware of some of the hereditary diseases that lead to joint abnormalities, as well as the medical screening available, is one important preventative measure. Starting a discussion about joint disease from the get go is also worthwhile. Giving advice about the ways to prevent the development of the disease through weight control advice and appropriate exercise regimes can be discussed at the veterinary clinic even as early as the first vaccinations, at puppy parties and later at each annual booster check.   Raising awareness before a dog develops arthritis means that owners can be proactive instead of reactive.

Pain doesn’t only affect the dog physically, it can impact on their mental health too. Fear, anxiety, aggression, increased reactivity, withdrawal and even obsessive compulsive disorders are some of the behaviour problems that can manifest so it’s important that these signs are on the radar. In fact, very often, a behaviour problem is the first sign that a dog with joint (or any other) pain will exhibit which can prompt the owner to seek help from their vet, trainer or canine behaviourist.

Of course a registered behaviourist would always insist on a veterinary referral and the dog should be examined before they are booked in for a consultation. Nevertheless when the presenting sign is of a behavioural nature, or if the dog is tense during the veterinary examination, painful arthritic changes might be missed.

For that reason we all need to be mindful of the behavioural changes that can be evident even some time before the actual symptoms of joint pain present and owners and other para-professionals shouldn’t be frightened to refer the dog back to the vet for a more detailed examination if they feel something just isn’t right.

How do you see treatment options for arthritis progressing over the next ten years?

As well as the emergence of more sophisticated treatments and licensed drugs, I see a greater number of vets and owners embracing the move to a more holistic, multi-modal approach. This might include speedier referrals and a readiness to work alongside pain specialists, physiotherapists, clinical animal behaviourists and other suitably qualified and regulated para-professionals.

If you could have the opportunity to give one tip/ piece of advice to an owner with a dog suffering from arthritis what would it be?

There are so many useful tips but if I had just one piece of advice to give an owner whose dog was suffering from arthritis it would be to join the CAM community. It’s where they can gain support from professionals in the field, and other dog owners who are going through similar experiences, as well as being able to access up to date, accurate and effective advice in order to optimally manage their dog’s condition.


Caroline Clark RVN, Cert. Ed, Post Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling (Advanced Studies) is a registered clinical animal behaviour counsellor (CAB), registered veterinary nurse (RVN) and author.  Caroline is a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) and a candidate member of the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians (FABC). Caroline has been working with dogs and other companion animals for over forty years, starting out her career as a veterinary nurse where she began developing a veterinary-behaviour connection that she continues to promote today.

Caroline now owns and runs Pet Education and Training where she divides her time between seeing clinical behaviour cases, mentoring budding behaviourists and providing online and in person continuing education to the veterinary community and other pet professionals.

Her first book: Canine Fear and Anxiety: Understanding, Prevention and Treatment, was published in October 2022 and Caroline is currently working on her second: Demystifying Feline Behaviour, which is due to be published in late 2023.