PetSavers – BSAVA PetSavers’ OAP project update: your chance to contribute

The project aims to develop a BSAVA PetSavers’ ‘Canine Ageing and Wellbeing’ toolkit and practice guidelines to aid discussions
between veterinary professionals and owners about senior dogs. Senior animals make up around 40% of the UK veterinary client base yet approaches to their health provision have not been evaluated and guidelines for their well-being are limited. What is considered normal during dog ageing is under debate, but many owners do not recognize potentially serious clinical signs as they consider them part of the normal ageing process. Taking a citizen science approach means that all those living with, and providing veterinary care to, dogs can actively contribute to the project, thereby maximizing the utility of the final toolkit and guidelines to the reality of daily life.

In the first part of the study, the team’s postdoctoral researcher Dr Lisa Wallis carried out in-depth interviews with veterinary professionals and owners. The pandemic made it impossible to conduct the face-to-face interviews that were originally envisaged for this project; however, the ever-resilient Dr Carri Westgarth and her team at the University of Liverpool adapted to the changes in
circumstances by moving their in-person interviews online. Alongside these interviews, the team have been using information from the SAVSNET database containing 8 million electronic health records from participating UK veterinary practices to identify the most common reasons for older dog presentations to the vet as well as breed variations.

The interviews with veterinary professionals asked about the services currently provided to senior dogs and their owners regarding preventative healthcare, treatment and advice. The owner interviews asked about experiences of living with, and accessing veterinary care for, senior dogs. To supplement the interviews, owners of senior dogs were also invited to submit videos and photographs depicting life with a senior dog. “The interviews obtained rich qualitative data that captured the thoughts and feelings of the owners living with and caring for a senior dog”, explained Lisa. “Their depth and detail encouraged people to expand on their individual experiences and open up new topic areas that we might not have initially considered”. Analysis of the interviews has identified a number of key themes, such as ‘ just old age’, barriers to care (which comprise animal, owner, and veterinary factors, in addition to other issues such as level of insurance and COVID-19 restrictions), the owner caregiver burden, and trust in veterinarians. These themes have been used to develop online surveys for owners and veterinary professionals which will be used to expand the findings of the interviews and video/photo submissions in a quantitative way.

Ethical approval has now been granted for both the owner and veterinary professional surveys. Carri said: “The veterinary survey focuses on the perceived barriers to care for senior dogs, end-of-life care including quality-of-life tools, and the potential BSAVA PetSavers tool design.” The survey should only take around 20–25 minutes to complete, and gives you the opportunity to have your say in the development of a tool to help guide discussions with owners about senior dog care in practice.

Calling vets and vet nurses – how you can help
If you would like to take part in the online survey, access it here: https://bit.ly/PetsaversOAPVetSurvey
Remember, it should only take around 20 minutes of your time and by filling it in you can help shape the development of a guidance tool to support the care of senior dogs! In the meantime, don’t forget you can follow all of the progress of the BSAVA PetSavers OAP project on the project Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/oldagepets or the Twitter feed @OldAgePets. Also, check out our webinar with team members Carri and Dr Zoe Belshaw to hear their personal interest in this area of study, and how they envisage the outcomes of the study being incorporated into veterinary consults: bit.ly/3wCb1vr.

Pet owners can take part too!

Current or recent owners of a dog of any age, breed or health status can complete a separate online survey, which is available here: https://bit.ly/PetsaversOAPSurvey

Both surveys are completely anonymous and offer the chance of entering a prize draw to win an Amazon voucher.