How to help physically challenged pets adjust and thrive
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Savanna was born to run. The retired racing greyhound loved going on daily walks ... until the day she fell over for no apparent reason. A veterinary exam, X-rays and an MRI brought home the awful truth: Savanna had osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. The recommended treatment was amputation of her right hind leg and chemotherapy.
Savanna was my dog, and choosing amputation for a 10 1/2-year-old former racer was one of the most difficult decisions my husband and I ever made.
Have you ever faced the decision to have a pet's limb amputated or eye removed, or wondered whether it was the right thing to keep a pet alive who had suffered a paralyzing injury? Pet owners who have faced these quandaries, myself included, are often surprised and delighted at how well their animals adjust to their new physical circumstances. Young or old, they usually adapt remarkably well to getting around on three legs, life without sight or rolling on wheels.
While people may flinch at the thought of amputation or enucleation (eye removal), that's because we compare it to how we would feel about losing a limb or an eye. Our pets, fortunately, don't have any preconceived notions about their ability to get around on fewer than four legs or how they'll manage without one or both eyes. They adapt rapidly, shifting their center of gravity, making greater use of their senses of smell and hearing (not to mention those sensitive whiskers) and just generally getting on with life.
You can, however, take steps to help your pet recover and learn how to get around. The key is to see him not as damaged goods, but as a regular dog or cat who simply needs a little help from his friends.
-- Amputation. Young dogs or cats may be up and around the same day or the next day following surgery, but older animals, such as my Savanna, may have a longer recovery time. Talk to your veterinarian about the best medications for pain relief. He'll recover more quickly if he's not hurting. For a large dog, get a body harness with a handle that will allow you to help him stand up and move around until he gets his groove back. If you have uncarpeted floors, lay down nonskid rugs for ease of walking. Keep his weight down to avoid putting stress on his joints. Visit tripawds.com for more information.
-- Blindness. The main factor in adjustment is how quickly vision is lost. A pet who loses vision slowly or at a very early age generally copes well, but one who loses vision rapidly or later in life may take two or three weeks to adjust. Walk blind dogs on leash and talk to them as you go so they always know where you are. Keep to the same route so they can use their sense of smell to recognize where they are. At home, feed blind pets in the same place every day. If they get disoriented, take them to the food bowl. It's a landmark that can help them regain their orientation.
-- Paralysis. When a dog becomes paralyzed, consider whether the condition is painful and whether the pain can be relieved. If the dog is not in pain, he can likely adapt well to life on wheels. Make household changes such as blocking stairs so he doesn't tumble down them as he's racing around. You may need to learn how to express his bladder so he is at less risk for urinary tract infections.
Confidence is probably the common denominator in any animal's ability to live a normal life with a disability. Veterinarian Robin Downing fondly recalls Frankie, a pug-mix she adopted who had been paralyzed after breaking his back. She anticipated that he would need several weeks to adapt to his wheelchair. "We put him in the chair the very first time, and he wouldn't let me get him out of it," she says.
Potty problems can
have several causes
Q: My silky terrier will use the outdoors to potty unless she gets upset with me, like when I go out of town or have to run a lot of errands during the day; then she will urinate in the house. What can I do about that? -- via email
A: We talked to silky expert Sandy Mesmer, and she says the breed can be difficult to housetrain. They are creatures of habit, so if you "let" them mark a spot in the house, they will almost always want to go back there.
The first thing you need to do is to take your dog to the veterinarian to make sure there is no physical reason for the peeing, because silkys can be susceptible to bladder stones. If she gets a clean bill of health, it's time to go back to potty training 101. To do this, maintain a strict potty schedule, just as you would with a puppy. Go outside with her to make sure she actually urinates. If she doesn't perform, put her in her crate for half an hour and then try again.
Here are some additional suggestions.
-- Film your dog while you're gone to see if she is suffering from separation anxiety. Pacing, whining, drooling, stress panting and, yes, peeing in the house are signs that she is distressed or depressed during your absence.
-- If the problem is anxiety-related, play calming music, use calming scents such as lavender or dog-appeasing pheromones, and make sure she has brainteasers such as food puzzles to keep her occupied while you're gone.
-- Have a pet sitter or dog walker take her out. They can help ensure that she potties outdoors as well as ease her loneliness.
-- If she's friendly with other dogs, consider leaving her at a doggy daycare when you're not at home. -- Mikkel Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dog treated for
-- Darwin the dog developed an ulcer near his tail that was first diagnosed as a bacterial infection and treated with antibiotics. When it got worse, his owner, Florida resident Efram Goldberg, did some research and became concerned that Darwin might have a rare, life-threatening tropical disease called pythiosis. He took Darwin to the University of Florida's Small Animal Hospital emergency and critical care service. After performing several biopsies, the veterinarians confirmed his suspicion. Veterinary surgeon J. Brad Case amputated Darwin's tail and removed the ulcer on his hip. Goldberg is passionate now about raising awareness about the disease among pet owners and veterinarians. "Most veterinarians see at most one case of pythiosis in their career," says UF clinical assistant professor Justin Shmalberg, DVM.
-- We knew we liked singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris, and it's not just because of her amazing pipes. Harris started a dog rescue called Bonaparte's Retreat, in honor of her late dog, who spent 10 years on the road with her. The nonprofit organization takes in dogs from Metro Nashville Animal Care and Control who are scheduled to be euthanized and finds homes for them. Find out more this month on the "Shelter Me: Partners for Life" documentary series airing on PBS.
-- You've heard of chick lit and crime lit, and now there's kitty lit. No, not litter -- literature. Students at Northwest School for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children in Shoreline, Washington, practice reading aloud at the Seattle Humane animal shelter in Bellevue. Their audience? Shelter cats. The reading program, called Kitty Literature, gives the children, who range in age from 5 to 10 years, an opportunity to practice their speech to appreciative listeners. The kids also get a chance to play with the cats, which is good socialization and can help them become more adoptable. Now that's a win-win! -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Whether they lose a front or rear leg, animals can adapt well to life as a "tri-pawd." Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Darwin's case helped University of Florida veterinarians learn more about an unusual disease. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1