CAM blogs

CAM Meets Rebecca Barr

Rebecca Barr BVMS MRCVS

Rebecca graduated from Glasgow Vet School in 2013. Shortly after this she moved to County Durham to start work in a busy small animal practice. Rebecca moved back to Glasgow to work in the Scottish SPCA vet clinic in 2016. Having had a strong interest in animal behaviour for a number of years, she completed my Masters in Clinical Animal Behaviour at the University of Lincoln in October 2018. Rebecca is currently working as vet part time in Cumbria whilst getting her behaviour consultancy business off the ground. She is particularly interested in the links between pain and behaviour, dog-owner communication and developing methods of low stress handling.

Rebecca kindly agreed to answer the following questions:
What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs?

Things have progressed a LOT in the management of chronic pain in the last couple of decades; there are now a large number of therapies and medications designed to give relief to our pets. Many owners are now aware of the options available to ensure their animals maintain the best quality of life possible, it is encouraging to speak to these clients, to discuss their experiences in order that we can improve things for them further.

Despite this progression, there are still a significant number of animals who do not have adequate pain management; we still have work to do in finding ways to improve the lives of animals affected by arthritis, and their owners.

Although there has been an increase in the number of dogs on long term analgesia, at present I feel there could be a greater uptake of vets and owners managing the condition in a multimodal fashion. We know that a once daily dose of a nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) is often not suitable on its own as a way to help our dogs make the most of their lives, but it can sometimes be tricky to ensure clients are on board. They understandably worry that it may be expensive, that it won’t make any difference to their dog or simply that their dog doesn’t need it. Some still think that arthritis is an inevitable process and as such doesn’t warrant thorough assessment and management. As vets we need to make sure that we are staying up to date with the latest research and treatment options in order that we can pass relevant information onto clients, resulting in better control of pain in our animals, which is, after all, our common goal.

As a veterinarian what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively?

Education, education, education!

As our understanding of the disease process improves with the progression of science, more information is becoming readily available. We need to make sure this information is easily accessible and communicate it well to owners. It is common in practice to hear that ‘she’s just getting a bit stiff’ or ‘he doesn’t need to be on medication, he’s just getting old’ – if we can get these owners on board, explain the disease processes and show them that there is so much we can do to help, we can start the ball rolling and improve the lives of these pets.

Making owners aware of the behavioural changes often associated with pain helps us to identify painful conditions earlier, which improves the animals’ comfort. In addition, teaching clients about making small changes to their home, to their routine, to their pets’ physical condition will all be SO beneficial in the long term.

Addressing client concerns regarding the use of long term medication such as the use of NSAID’s is also crucial. It is natural for owners to be worried that the medications we use have risks of side effects, particularly with many scare stories circulating the internet. Helping owners to understand where these risks come from and how we minimise them is essential. It breaks my heart when I see a dog hobbling into my consult room and when I broach the subject with the owners they tell me they don’t think the dog is ‘bad enough’ to justify using lifelong or long term medication.

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

I hope that things continue to progress in a positive and forward thinking manner! There isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to arthritis management, treating each pet and client on an individual basis is key; over the next 10 years I hope to see more of a focus on this. Additionally, the influence of pain on behaviour is often underestimated, more work is needed in this area to help owners pick up on behavioural changes sooner, allowing for earlier intervention.

I am encouraged and inspired by the many vets and owners thinking about changes that can be make, therapies that may be useful and medications that will make huge differences to an animals quality of life. More practices are running pain clinics than ever before, client engagement is becoming a priority for more and more clinicians and owner awareness of the risk factors is on the increase. These are extremely positive steps and I am excited to see where the next 10 years take us!

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?

A diagnosis of arthritis not the end of the world but it NEEDS to be addressed carefully.

The best results for maximum comfort often come with using a combination of therapies. There are so many professionals who are passionate about improving the lives of those pets who suffer from arthritis; we are lucky to have access to a range of specialists who can work together to provide information, advice and services to owners at a time when they need guidance on how to give their much loved pet the best quality of life they can.