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CAM Meets Sophia Chalk

Sophia Chalk

Sophia is the owner of Behaviour Matters, a company providing humane and science – led animal training and behaviour support in South Devon. Sophia is passionate about human and non-human animal behaviour, its function and the many benefits of observing and correctly interpreting the behaviour of our companion animals. Sophia’s approach seeks to build resilience through the teaching of essential life skills that better equip animals to manage challenging situations, while educating care givers on the needs of their animals so they can better facilitate and manage their animals’ environments.

Among the dogs and cats Sophia shares her life with, Lily the Labrador has a diagnosis of canine arthritis. Lily’s treatment plan consists of environmental management, appropriate exercise, the use of supplements, complementary therapies and conventional medicine.


Sophia kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

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

The veterinary profession are getting better at screening more dogs for canine arthritis and younger than ever before. Earlier diagnosis leads to better management of this debilitating condition and ensures dogs diagnosed with arthritis are not suffering in silence. Current treatment of canine arthritis involves a holistic approach which often includes environmental management, symptom control and therapies designed to reduce the severity of or even onset of symptoms. By adopting a multi-modal approach, veterinarians can tailor treatment plans to the patient to maximise its effectiveness and adjust this plan as the condition progresses. Despite improvements in both diagnosis and treatment options, dogs can only access these services if their human caregivers notice when dogs are struggling. As our dogs age, it’s easy to miss the subtle signs of arthritis, particularly as its onset is often gradual. It is therefore crucial that canine caregivers are vigilant of their dog’s behaviour, so that any behavioural changes are noticed and acted upon. Far too often mobility difficulties are simply attributed to getting older and assumed to be part of the ageing process. In some cases, canine caregivers are simply unaware of the treatment options available and assume that nothing can be done. This is why Canine Arthritis Management is such as crucial service for canine care givers as it provides up to date, scientifically supported information that can bring about meaningful change to the lives of countless dogs and their human caregivers.


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

As a canine behaviourist, I recognise the importance of being vigilant of behavioural changes in our companion animals. When animals experience pain or discomfort, particularly when intermittent, there are usually subtle changes to their behaviour, and these are often our earliest indicators that something is not right. These can include changes in sleeping or resting routines or positioning when toileting. It can also include increases in aggressive responses towards caregivers and others or a reluctance to engage in typical or usual activities. Behaviour is vital as it provides us with clues about how the animal might be feeling and is our only means of meaningful communication with our animas. We often view our dogs behaviour in ways that is not necessarily helpful by using labels such as stubborn, difficult or attention seeking, but what if we were to consider the function of the behaviour? Perhaps these same behaviours would be viewed differently. The dog that we call stubborn because they won’t walk when we take them to the park, might now be viewed as being in pain or afraid. Why else would they simply refuse to walk? Or the dog we now call snappy is perhaps struggling to cope with the pain and simply cannot be touched without discomfort. I believe that if we ask ourselves why our dogs behave in the way that they do, we would not only have a better understanding of their lives but also be able to respond to challenges more swiftly and this includes noticing when our dogs are struggling with mobility. Better diagnostics and subsequent treatment options for canine arthritis are only beneficial if dogs can actually access these services. As advocates for our canine companions, it is our responsibility to ensure our dogs have access to veterinary care and therapies, but when dogs can access a diagnosis and treatment rests upon the vigilance of the caregiver for those early indicators that our dogs needs help.


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

I am heartened that more veterinarians recognise the arthritis crisis that many older and even younger dogs face. More and more dogs are being diagnosed earlier suggesting both veterinarians and their caregivers are getting better at noticing when dogs are struggling. In addition, more veterinarians are accepting of treatment options beyond pharmacological intervention, with many embracing and endorsing complementary therapies for their patients. As each treatment journey is unique for the patient and their advocate, having more options available can only bring about greater relief for those suffering from this condition. I hope to see better and more widespread education in the future emanating from veterinary practices regarding canine arthritis, ensuring canine caregivers are aware of both the risks and the prevalence of this condition. Providing this information earlier would enable people to make better choices about diet, play and activities and would mean that caregivers could be proactive in planning for their dogs’ senior and geriatric years.


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?

Pay attention to your canine buddy – listen to what your dog is trying to tell you in order that you can access the help when they need it. If you routinely observe your dogs behaviour and respond to behavioural changes, your dog is far more likely to be diagnosed earlier and this will enable you to gain access to the right treatments. Canine arthritis can be successfully managed provided your dog has a proactive advocate capable of noticing and responding to behavioural communications.