Adopting a Disabled Pet

Jack L. Stephens, DVM – Sep 25, 2009

Adopting a disabled pet is not for everyone, but can lead to great satisfaction and joy. If, however, you are not ready and willing to spend the additional time a disabled pet requires, it can lead to anxiety and frustration.

The most common disability causing pets to be placed for adoption is dogs with a paralysis of the rear legs. This paralysis is usually due to a “slipped disc” in the back causing pressure on the spinal cord, such that the cord can become permanently damaged, leading to paralysis of the rear legs and even loss of bowel and bladder control. If treatment (which often include very expensive invasive surgery) is implemented soon after symptoms develop, it can often be reversed.

As pictured, there are carts or doggy wheelchairs that allow a paralyzed dog to be ambulatory and get around surprisingly well. Schatzie was a dog my wife fostered for about a year after being abandoned. The owners could not afford the necessary surgery. We purchased a cart and cared for him for nearly a year, until we found a permanent home with a veterinary technician who also had her own grooming business. Today he runs around her business daily as she grooms dogs, bringing joy and hope to everyone who meets him.

In Schatzie’s case there were special requirements, such as manually expressing his bladder, otherwise he would build up urine until his bladder was so full he dribbled or leaked urine. Occasionally he acquired bladder infections. And of course, he had to be placed into his cart from a crate, otherwise he would drag himself around with his front legs and create sores.

While all of this extra work is not for everyone, I can say we saw him as a blessing during the time he was in our lives. He taught us many valuable lessons, not the least of which is to be thankful for our health and the inner joy for helping pets live out their lives. We are the richer for it, and you could be, too.


Jack L. Stephens DVM

How to introduce your dog to your new baby

Introduce Your New Baby to Your Dog

Introduce Your New Baby to Your Dog

My wife and I know a young couple, I’ll call them “John” and “Marsha.” John called me up the other day, very excited to tell me that Marsha was pregnant. They were going to be first-time parents! Parents of a human baby, I mean. Their first child, Kody, is a three-year-old Siberian Husky. They’ve raised her from a puppy, and she’s still as fun-loving and frisky as ever.

“Congratulations, that’s great!” I said.

“Yeah,” he replied, “We’re totally stoked. But I’m really going to miss Kody.”

I was surprised. “Why? Did something happen to her?”

“No,” he sighed, “but Marsha’s worried that Kody might hurt the new baby. Plus she doesn’t want the baby exposed to all the germs.”

I can definitely understand Marsha’s fears – my wife and I had been in the same boat when we were expecting our first baby. We had tons of questions, scared to death that if we did something wrong, we would damage our new baby in some way. But it horrified me that they thought they had to get rid of their beloved dog.

Yes, it’s true that there are some illnesses (called zoonotic illnesses) that can be passed from pets to people and vice-versa, but the truth is, your kid is more likely to catch a sickness from exposure to people than from pets. And with the right kind of preparation, your dog will probably accept your family’s new addition.

How to introduce your dog to your new baby? For John, and anyone else in his shoes, here’s an important checklist, based on my experience and the research I did when we were getting ready for our first baby:

  • Training is the most important thing. Work with a professional trainer. You’ll find the basic commands, like “heel,” “sit,” “down,” “stay” and “come,” valuable in everyday situations with your baby. Manners, such as not jumping or nipping, will be the key to a happy household.
  • Make sure your pet is well socialized with other dogs and with children, too. If possible, introduce them to your friends’ babies.
  • Desensitize your dog to the kind of touching a toddler is likely to do, including tugging at the dog’s ears and tail.
  • Get your dog used to the sights, sounds and smells that will soon invade your home. Put a baby doll in the crib and pretend it’s the real thing. Apply any lotions or baby powder you’re planning to use and put a real diaper on the doll. Play a tape of a baby crying.
  • If you’re planning on keeping the dog out of the baby’s room, get a mesh gate to close off the doorway – that way, your dog can still see what’s going on.
  • As soon as possible after the new baby is born, bring a blanket home with the baby’s scent on it, and let your dog become familiar with the smell.
  • When the new baby comes home, make sure to give your pet some attention and a treat to let them know you still love them and that they haven’t been replaced.

I just want John and Marsha to know that there is hope. In our case, after our dog got used to the idea of the new baby, he became very protective and loving, sometimes acting like the baby’s third parent. And once the baby started eating in a high chair, messily slopping much of his food onto the floor, the two became friends for life.

Should I feed bones to my dog?

“Of course you need to feed bones to your dog,” says Steve, who works at my favorite pet-supply store. He seems to think I’m crazy for even asking the question. “I thought everyone knew that. Bones are crucial for your dog’s health.”

“Absolutely not!” says my wife’s Aunt Evelyn when the subject comes up at our annual family pot-luck. She’s has been breeding Standard Poodles since Ronald Reagan was President and knows for a fact that bone fragments are a choking hazard, not to mention the fact that dogs who swallow larger chunks of bone have to have painful, costly operations to remove them.

Hm, interesting. Later, I tell Steve about Evelyn’s advice. “She’s talking about bones that have been cooked. Raw bones are perfectly safe. I’ve been feeding them to my dogs for years,” he states.

Via e-mail, Evelyn says “Cooked, raw, it makes no difference. They can kill your dog. And by the way, tell your friend Steve that he’s an idiot.”

Are they nutritious? Are they deadly? I’m so confused! To settle the argument, I consult my veterinarian. The answers, I find, are far from black-and-white.

Yes, she explains, dogs do seem to get nutritional benefits from a diet that includes raw bones, especially compared with a diet of nothing but cheap, corn-based dog food.(Most of the dog food on the shelves at your local grocery store falls into this category.) That’s because domestic dogs, like their wild ancestors, are primarily carnivores. Though they can digest a variety of foods, their bodies were never designed to run on a diet of vegetables like corn.

On the other hand, my vet points out, the nutrition dogs get from bones does not come from the bone itself. It only comes from the meat, cartilage, fat and connective tissue that happens to be along for the ride. The scant amount of protein in the solid parts of the bone mainly exists in the form of collagen, which dogs are unable to digest.

But if you’re feeding your pet a quality, meat-based dog food (look for meat, such as chicken or lamb, as the first item in the ingredient list), they’ll get all the nutrition they need without having to scrounge for it by gnawing on bones.

Are there other benefits from chewing on bones? Well, yes. For wild dogs, the act of chomping on some poor animal’s femur helps to scrape plaque and tartar from the teeth—this is absolutely necessary when it comes to a long, healthy life. But many domestic dogs have their teeth professionally cleaned, and experts recommend that you brush their teeth on a regular basis to prevent the plaque that can lead to tartar build-up.

Next, I ask if bones are dangerous for dogs. My vet tells me that they can be. “Gnawing on bones can crack of the tips of the 4th premolars,” she notes. It’s something she sees fairly often in her practice. These cracks can lead to root infections and abscesses that require dental treatment.

Plus, dogs who ingest chips of bone occasionally experience severe constipation. The chips can also become wedged between teeth or stuck in the dog’s throat or intestinal tract, making for a very painful situation which may need medical treatment. The good news is that, if your dog has a Pets Best policy in force, the treatments will be covered, but that doesn’t mean the process will be enjoyable for your pet.

So what’s the answer? Are bones a nutritious necessity or a deadly menace? I guess what I discovered is that bones can be part of a healthy diet, but aren’t necessary for my dog’s health. And while they might be mildly dangerous, they aren’t deadly.

This is a lot to chew on, but ultimately the choice is up to you. Here at my house, we’ll keep feeding our dog a high-quality, meat-based diet. When he wants something to gnaw on, we’ll just throw him a rawhide bone. It’s safer, and he’ll be just as healthy. No bones about it.

Got a pet health insurance story? Win!

Has your pet insurance policy saved you from putting a much-loved cat or dog to sleep? Or kept you from going thousands of dollars into debt to save a life? If so, you’ve probably told the story to your family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who would listen.

Well now, that story could win you a $500 prize!

NAPHIATo celebrate National Pet Health Insurance Month, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, or NAPHIA, invites you to tell them how pet health insurance has helped you when your pet was in need of medical care.

The submitted stories will be used in NAPHIA’s mission of educating pet owners about the values and benefits of pet health insurance. NAPHIA board members will review the submissions and choose one contest winner, who will receive $500.

Here are the contest details, as published on the organization’s website:

  • The story must discuss pet insurance in action.
  • A digital photo of the pet must also be submitted.
  • All submissions must be received by September 30, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST.
  • All submissions must be submitted digitally, sent via email to
  • Winner will be notified by October 14, 2009.
  • By submitting a story and photo, you grant NAPHIA permission to publish your story and photo on their website and for other promotional purposes.
  • The decision of the judges is final.

The group is also looking for stories about great veterinarians, and will award an educational grant to the winning veteran’s practice!

Top Ten Strategies for Preventing Veterinary-Related Fear in Pets

1. Kennel Train – Kennel train your pet and make being in the car for short, fun rides a part of life. Incorrectly, many pets are only put in kennels and cars to go to the veterinary hospital.

2. Fun Visits – Go to the veterinary hospital for fun visits during errands. Go in, weigh your pet, give a treat and leave. Bring your pet when you go in to purchase food, prescriptions or other products. Participate in puppy or kitten socialization classes if offered at the veterinary hospital.

3. Hungry Pet – Always skip the meal before the veterinary visit so your pet is hungry. Food tastes better when you are hungry. Bring in a special food for small treats that your pet only gets for these visits. Ask each veterinary staff person you meet to offer your pet one of your treats. Ask the DVM to give your pet a treat when he or she first enters the exam room.

4. Pheromones – Put a fresh new dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) collar on your dog or spray Feliway in the cat carrier the night before the visit. Both these pheromone products have a mild calming effect on the pet.

5. Extended Exams – Ask your veterinarian if you can separate out the exam from the vaccine visit for the same fee. Or ask if you can pay for an extended exam to avoid a rushed physical exam so the DVM can go slowly to avoid a negative experience.

6. Medications – For panic prone pets, ask your veterinarian about options to lower anxiety similar to what dentists offer to fearful patients. Be willing to pay for anti-anxiety and pain medications to protect your pet from both emotional and physical pain. Tell your veterinarian that your goal is for your pet to enjoy visiting the veterinary hospital.

7. Hiding Place – Bring cats in kennels covered with a towel or in pillowcases. Cats are less stressed if they can hide. If your cat needs to stay for a procedure, bring in a brown grocery bag and ask the veterinary staff to put the bag in the kennel, BEFORE they put the cat in.

8. Exercise -Take dogs on long walks before the veterinary visit to empty out and reduce stress. Engage your cat in a long session of interactive play. Being tired helps to reduce anxiety.

9. Be Relaxed – Resist the temptation to soothe your pet in ways that may reinforce fearful behaviors. What gets rewarded gets repeated. Instead, act happy and relaxed to provide your pet emotional leadership. Your pet is more likely to relax if you are relaxed.

10. Wait Outside – If your pet is fearful of other pets, especially cats who fear dogs, ask to wait in your car with your cat until an exam room is ready. Cover the kennel with a big, fluffy towel. For dogs, let the vet staff know the plan, then instead waiting inside, go for a short walk or wait outside while giving treats and practicing obedience cues.

Authored by: Rolan Tripp, DVM

Rolan Tripp, DVM is a Veterinary Behavior Consultant and founder of www.AnimalBehavior.Net. He helps pet owners nationwide solving pet behavior problems by working with the local attending veterinarian who handles all medical issues. He can be reached at (800) 372-3706 x82 or RTripp@AnimalBehavior.Net.

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