How to keep an old dog’s tail wagging, by mobile vet

Three keys to an elderly dog's quality of life, Dr Matthew says

Dr Matthew Murdoch

The mobile vet, Dr Matthew Murdoch, gave a talk at The Hive last month on “How to Keep an Old Dog’s Tail Wagging”.  Here’s what Matthew had to say: 

The keys to giving an elderly dog quality of life are: Vaccination, healthy lifestyle (exercise and good diet) and avoidance of disease, he said. Vaccination must be annual and preventing heartworm and tick-borne diseases must be continuous. Diet needs to be balanced, giving dogs treats because they enjoy them so much, but the right kinds, so weight stays in control. Exercise is important, for weight control and physical and psychological well-being.

Matthew sells $100 pet first aid kits with proceeds going to Animals Asia

Matthew said 10 breeds have the longest lives on average: Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Pomeranians, Dachshounds, mini-poodles, Malteses, Lhasas, pugs, beagles and mini-Schnauzers. Two-thirds of these dogs will live 12 to 16 years.  He recommends mixed breeds, however. Typically they live to 14. Otherwise known as Sai Kung pedigrees, these dogs haven’t had the good genes that prevent diseases bred out of them. The life expectancy of a Golden Retriever is 12, a St Bernard 8 and a Great Dane only 7.

Dr David Hopkins

The Homevet owner said the oldest dog he has seen locally was 23. The Guinness Book of Records claims an American dog called Max nearly made it to 30.

Matthew recommended the website: where you can check the diseases common to different breeds, so you can take preventative care. It is sad, he said, to see dogs living out low quality lives hospitalised in clinics or hardly able to walk at home. Better care and higher quality of life — the right diet and plenty of exercise — would have prevented the dog from getting into such poor condition.

How do you tell if an old dog is in pain?  “When it won’t eat or there is a big change in its habits.” Watch for arthritis by observing stiffening of joints, discomfort when the dog is touched and loss of muscle. Physiotherapy or acupuncture may help.

For old dogs, he suggested thinking about the surface of your floor, keeping nails short and cutting hair under paws. A Sha Kok Mei resident, Matthew started Homevet two years ago. They have no clinic, but two cars that he shares with colleague Dr David Hopkins and two veterinary nurses. The cars are stocked with just about everything a vet could want during two days of home visits to patients. 

When they need clinic facilities, they usually refer patients to the Best Friends Clinic of Dr Brad Easton in the old town. In over-vetted Sai Kung, Matthew and David are providing a worthwhile service.  All dog owners see their pet’s distress when they are taken to clinics.  A visit at home by Matthew or David will be much less stressful for the animal. Matthew said their consultancy fee is $650 a visit and it may include vaccination.

Matthew’s talk at The Hive was a charity effort for Animals Asia Foundation. He also sold $100 animal first aid kits with cash generated going to AAF.

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