Caring for pets can be tricky when you’re laid up from an injury, illness or surgery
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When Rosemary George had a hip replacement five years ago, she sent her three collies and 15-year-old terrier-mix to stay with various people, expecting to have them back home within a few weeks of surgery. Instead, a serious postsurgical infection kept her hospitalized for weeks, culminating in five additional surgeries. She was finally able to go home, although she was still sick and weak, unable to drive for months.
Sherman, her terrier-mix, boarded with a pet sitter for three months while she recuperated. A friend was finally able to bring him home to her, but the prolonged stay was the beginning of a downward spiral for the geriatric dog. Her collie Bridget was away from home for six months, Shayna for nine months and Mick for nearly a year.
George’s experience is an extreme example of what can go wrong when pet owners get a bad case of the flu, break a bone or develop complications after surgery. Without a plan and friends who can pitch in, it’s all too easy for pet lovers to be stymied in caring for their animals.
“I could never have managed to get through this horrible time, which is known to family and friends as 'the hip replacement from hell,' without the help of so many, many kind and generous dog friends,” George says. “And you know what? As horrible as the experience was, the worst part was being separated from my dogs for so long. I'll never get that time back.”
It’s easier with cats, but their care in a postsurgical situation still requires planning and preparation. Barbara Cole Miller, who recently underwent knee-replacement surgery, left her cat Piper at home with plenty of food and water during the day and night she was hospitalized. She knew from past experience that Piper didn’t do well being boarded. The amount of food and water she left out ensured that she didn’t have to worry about getting around to feed Piper for more than a week.
“My primary concern when I came home was scooping the litter box,” she says. Knee replacement patients are warned to reach only between knees and shoulders. Miller was able to scoop Piper’s box almost immediately but was still concerned about the possibility of falling. Visiting friends helped as well.
Young and highly active dogs pose a different problem for injured or ill people who aren’t able or willing to have their dogs stay somewhere else. Tracy Weber, a yoga teacher in Seattle, broke her collarbone recently, which has put her in a sling for a couple of months. Because of the high risk of falling, it will be another three months before she can take her 18-month-old German shepherd, Ana, for walks. The experience is taking a toll on both of them.
A friend comes over and plays with Ana, but Weber is reluctant to hire a dog walker because Ana is skilled at slipping out of her harness and doesn’t always come when called.
“I’ve been doing some clicker training with her to train her to do new things and make her focus more,” Weber says. “My husband is taking her for a half-hour walk every night. I’m using treat toys so she has to play to get her treats out. I’m also using lots of chews, but it’s not easy.”
After a horse in a hurry for breakfast knocked down Gina Spadafori, causing her to fall and break her wrist, she called on a cast of friends and neighbors to help care for her four dogs, two horses, four goats and a dozen chickens; hired someone to clean the house; and had her dogs do tricks, play with puzzle toys and practice indoor heeling and long downs to keep their minds engaged.
“The key is not being ashamed or reluctant to ask for help, because you’re probably going to need it,” she says.
Q: Last year I adopted a 9-year-old chocolate Lab who was badly neglected and has permanent limited mobility. He joined my pack of two female Jack Russell terriers and my 13-year-old catahoula hound. Both males are neutered. After about two months, both males started marking the furniture. Now I think it may be only my old dog marking.
When I find urine, I’ve done everything from yelling to speaking calmly to not saying anything when cleaning the area. I have used every kind of cleaner I can find, have given my hound extra attention to make him feel loved and put diapers on him. Do you have any other recommendations? -- via email
A: It may seem as if the behavior is related to the new dog, but there’s a good chance it may not be. Our No. 1 piece of advice is to take the dogs to your veterinarian to rule out health problems that may be causing the behavior.
Often, dogs appear healthy, but if they don’t feel good, breaking housetraining or marking objects may be the only way they have to get their message across. Also, both of your males are seniors; problems with arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, kidney disease or other health issues could be contributing to their behavior.
If your dogs get a clean bill of health, the first thing to do is to make sure you know which dog is marking. Consider setting up an inexpensive video camera in the area where marking occurs to identify who’s doing what and when.
“Try to create opportunities for them to not soil in the house,” says Kathryn Primm, DVM, who often sees behavior issues in her practice. That may mean taking them out more often, rewarding them at the moment you see them potty outdoors and restarting the housetraining process as if they were puppies. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
slick pet product
-- Students at Cornell University came up with an innovative solution to a common pet owner problem -- dingleberries, small clumps of feces that hang onto fur after a pet poops. HygenaPet, a spray made with beeswax and carnauba wax, causes poop to slide off the fur instead of sticking. The product, priced at $10 by team members, took top prize at the 2018 Cornell Animal Health Hackathon, beating out 23 other teams with its low-tech but eminently useful product. “We’re avoiding the spread of germs that can be embedded in the fur, and owners can reclaim their clean homes,” says team member Adam Itzkowitz, an engineering major.
-- Following Delta’s lead and after an incident in which a person tried to bring aboard an emotional support peacock, United Airlines has tightened requirements for emotional support animals on flights. Beginning March 1, customers traveling with emotional support animals must notify the airline 48 hours in advance of the animal’s presence, provide a letter from a licensed medical or mental health professional stating the animal’s necessity and fill out a veterinary health form documenting the animal’s health, vaccination record and behavior training. Animals must stay in the floor space below the owner’s seat and not sprawl into the aisle and must behave politely and respond to direction from the owner.
-- Robodog Diesel is training Marines how to care for working dogs wounded in the line of duty. The canine simulator can mimic such injuries as broken bones, bleeding and burns, as well as changes in vital signs, reports Will Morris in Stars and Stripes. The realistic canine model even barks and whimpers. The Marine Corps hopes to have the robotic dog more widely available in the spring.
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.