It’s an age-old question – do we stop moving as much because we get older, or get older because we stop moving around as much?
Most of us will have seen the despondent face on a relative or friend who has just been told by their doctor that their aches and pains are just a symptom of “getting old”.
It’s one of many things which makes getting older such an unattractive prospect.
But what if “grinning and bearing the ageing process” was not in fact the right advice and something practical could be done to reduce discomfort? This is turn could lead to increased activity and maintenance of fitness; recognized to be one of the best ways to maintain capabilities at any age.
Not surprisingly, this is an argument which does not just extend to humans, since we seem too quick to attribute reduced mobility in our pets to “getting older” also. In reality, we may be denying animals access to simple therapies to reduce pain and inflammation, - from arthritis, for example.
A correct diagnosis at an early stage can not only prolong life by maintaining mobility, but hugely increase an animal’s quality of life, at any age. Yet a recent study* found that over a quarter of loving cat owners believed their pets to be “well”, while their vet was able to diagnose underlying condition(s) which negatively impacted the animal’s quality of life.
This is part of the age-old process of trying to second guess the wellbeing of a much-loved but non-verbal companion animal. Cats and dogs are skilled at just getting on with life and have no reliable way to tell an owner if they suffer from headaches, bouts of nausea, inflammation or chronic pain.
In fact, they hide it so well that loving owners are often horrified to learn that their pets may have been suffering in silence and giving no outward clue.
But that’s not quite true, according to Professor Jacky Reid, CEO of NewMetrica, which measures health-related quality of life in animals. “Pets do provide evidence but often it’s so subtle that even the most caring of owners may not decipher it. It may lie in the most subtle of changes in behavior that the owner will only pick up once their attention is drawn to them.
“If any changes have occurred little by little over time then new norms have been established in how an owner sees their pet and subtle indicators of where intervention could help can easily be missed.”
This conundrum has inspired Prof Reid’s lifelong work into measuring health related quality of life in animals, and for which she won an Outstanding Contribution to Animal Welfare Award at the annual Ceva Animal Welfare Awards in 2019.
NewMetrica has developed a range of clinically validated tools which help owners, vets and those responsibly managing drug trials to determine changes in animal wellbeing. These are quick and simple to use, with observational data analysed online to flag up any significant trends.
It's worth noting that in a further study, as yet unpublished, over HALF of dog owners, where their pet was eight or over, believed their animal to be well “for their age”, while veterinary examination suggested that therapeutic intervention could have reduced discomfort and/or benefitted the animal’s quality of life.
Prof Reid adds, “Animals may be skilled in hiding chronic pain or discomfort, since they have little alternative, but science is now able to transcend that. Using NewMetrica tools, owners, vets and those involved in trials can make reliable and valid measurement of an animal’s health-related quality of life, and of any changes over time.
“If help is out there, it makes no sense at all to ignore warning signals which may lead to even greater problems in future. Growing older is not optional but suffering
unnecessary distress certainly should be, whether in animals or humans.”
For further information, visit www.newmetrica.com
*Noble CE, Wiseman-Orr LM, Scott ME, Nolan AM, Reid J. Development, initial validation and reliability testing of a web-based, generic feline health-related quality-of-life instrument. Journal of feline medicine and surgery. 2019 Feb;21(2):84-94.