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Disabled pets are nothing new in veterinary medicine. In fact, they are often the face of veterinary training programs, rescue groups, and other nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately, many pets who become disabled are euthanized, abandoned, or given to animal shelters, sometimes due to a simple lack of education on how best to care for them. According to Melissa Shapiro, DVM, owner of Visiting Vet Service in Westport, Connecticut, and the driving force behind the @pinkpigletpuppy social media phenomenon, with their mix of deaf and blind Dachshunds and Chihuahuas, disabled pets can now enjoy a good quality of life thanks to them the development of wheelchairs and carts for pets, advances in physical and alternative therapies, and the power of social media.
Decades ago, many clients whose dogs were paralyzed from conditions such as spinabifida, cerebellar hypoplasia, or congenital leg deformities chose euthanasia either because they believed their pet would have a poor quality of life or because they felt unprepared to become a disabled one Grooming animal. In recent years there has been a movement among pet owners to keep disabled dogs and provide them with wheelchairs and other necessary equipment to give them a second chance in life, Shapiro said during a talk at the Fetch virtual conference this week dvm360®.
“The perception of paralyzed and mobility impaired dogs has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years,” Shapiro said, largely attributing the shift to improved networking skills through social media. Now rescuers can raise funds to rescue, treat, house, and find homes for dogs that need bikes to get around. Owners can contact other disabled dog owners for information on support and care.
This increased interest in providing wheels for disabled dogs means that veterinarians are playing a new role in advising and guiding their owners in the care of wheelchair dogs.
Dog wheelchairs 101
The dog wheelchair industry has grown exponentially over the past few decades, and new lightweight materials and designs can now accommodate dogs with a wide variety of needs. For example, front carts can aid dogs with front limb abnormalities, including congenital deformities, missing limbs, and amputation due to cancer or injury. Customers need to learn how to train their dogs to use the front wheels until they get used to them.
Shapiro says foreleg amputee or dogs with congenital leg deformities should be accustomed to carts around 7 months of age. The sooner they can adapt, the better.
The rear carts are useful for dogs that are paralyzed due to disc disease, spinal injuries, neoplasms, deformities of the hind legs, injuries and weakness due to arthritis and spinal cord degeneration. Quad carts provide support for dogs with general weakness, generalized arthritis, cerebellar hypoplasia, and other musculoskeletal disorders, as well as dogs recovering from cervical surgery. In addition, trolleys can be adapted to the dog’s individual needs.
A balancing act
According to Shapiro, caring for disabled pets is an art. “You balance medicine with compassion,” she said. “Customers expect support and guidance from you as they navigate their pets through this new and stressful situation. Having compassion for the people who care for these animals is a big part of the package. “
One of the vet’s jobs is to help clients make the difficult and emotional decision about whether to keep a disabled pet. Shapiro’s advice? Let them know what is available for disabled pet care, discuss quality of life, and provide general care recommendations and a list of useful resources.
Caring for disabled pets also includes addressing secondary issues. For example, dogs who use rear wheelchairs are at increased risk of developing urinary tract infections, rubbing abrasions, ulcers, sensitive skin, and more. To avoid some of these issues, make sure the stroller is properly seated and advise customers to change their pet’s diapers regularly.
Depending on the severity of the paralysis, you may need to teach clients how to express the bladder and bowels and how to treat pressure sores. Some patients may also benefit from physical therapy, acupuncture, laser therapy, or swimming therapy in conjunction with medical treatment.
Finally, be sure to connect customers to other owners who have disabled pets through social media support groups. Having a like-minded network of people to talk to can give them the support they need to adapt to this new way of life.
Take that away
Caring for a disabled pet can be challenging, but the rewards are great. “These special pets can inspire their owners to face their own challenges, help children with special needs feel accepted and be accepted by others, and nurture empathy,” Shapiro said. “For veterinarians, caring for these pets is a unique opportunity to be part of something very special.”