We love hearing from followers! In fact, this #VirbacVetTalk blog was inspired by our Twitter follower Ginette and her dog Tiko. While Ginette was working as a vet tech in Florida, a dog arrived at the shelter after being hit by a car. Due to the severity of the injury, the dog’s back leg needed to be amputated. Just one day after surgery, this resilient dog was standing and walking, and just four days after surgery, Ginette knew she had to adopt him. Now known as Tiko, he is living a full life, even without a limb.
With Tiko in mind and Ginette’s suggestion, we’re focusing on pets with special needs. They may be defined by a missing limb, diminished eyesight or hearing, diseases such as osteoarthritis, and others. Learn more from Dr. Kara Wolf, DVM, Technical Services Staff Veterinarian for Virbac Corporation.
Just like Tiko, many pets live long and healthy lives without limbs. Important factors to consider in pets missing limbs are diet, exercise, and care for the limbs that work overtime to compensate for the one missing. Diet is crucial in all pets and proves to be greater in those missing a limb. Extra weight creates more work on the rest of the body as weight is shifted to the present limbs. Adjusting the amount or the formula of the food may be required to keep the pet at an ideal weight given the activity level. When it comes to exercise, having a pet with a missing limb may be challenging. The hind limbs carry the brunt of weight and force in the dog and cat. The front limbs are not as weight bearing during most movements unless a back limb is missing. Addressing balance, flexibility, strength, and pain levels are important when designing an exercise program with your veterinarian. Exercises that work the hindlimbs without putting extra weight on the forelimbs include walking up hills in a diagonal pattern, moving from a sitting to standing positioning on the hindlimbs (like putting the front paw on the owner's shoulder), and walking in general. Be sure to watch for signs of pain and limited range of motion in the other limbs. Speaking with your veterinarian is the best way to learn how to address the needs of a pet missing a limb to keep them comfortable, happy, and living a full life.
Whether a pet is born blind or loses its eyesight later in life, there are ways to augment navigation and lead a normal life. When a sense is altered or taken away, the other senses tend to become more prominent. A dog that may not see well or at all may exhibit increased hearing or develop a strong sense of smell and touch. Using sounds and smells is a great way to guide pets with diminished eyesight. Keeping furniture, bedding, water bowls, and feed bowls in the same place is key to their ability to move about their environment, whether indoors or outdoors. Controlled walking with a leash, pushing in a stroller, or using toys with a voice recording are excellent ways to provide exercise for these pets. Provide food or treats with a stout odor and texture as this will entice eating and make receiving treats more enjoyable. In addition, there are items that have been designed to aid navigation in blind pets. Plus, a second pet or housemate may take on the role of being an "assistant" or "protector" to the special needs pet.
Similar to a pet experiencing issues with vision, a pet with decreased hearing acuity and even deafness will need special attention. Using smell, sight, and vibration helps these pets live a somewhat normal life. For exercise, take your pet on a controlled walk or allow them to run in a protected area. Walk around heavily and move where the pet can clearly see to prevent surprising the pet. A second pet or housemate may alert the deaf pet when others are around, it's time to eat, or to avoid danger. Always talk with your veterinarian about your pet and their condition.
The special needs category includes pets with diseases such as diabetes, Cushing's, heart disease, atopy (severe allergies), etc. A specialized diet may be recommended by your veterinarian. As always, exercise is necessary but may look different given the pet's management of the active disease. Extreme hot or cold temperatures and humidity make it difficult for some pets to exercise. Finding ways to engage them indoors serves a purpose. This may consist of playing with toys or placing simple obstacles for the pet to move around. Monitoring allergens and ozone is pivotal with pets that suffer from allergies. Again, minimizing time outdoors when elements are excessive will help those pets. Of course, always talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s needs to help manage their disease, among other conditions such as diet, exercise, etc.
The last group of special needs pets I would like to address are those that have severe osteoarthritis or arthritis of the joints. Diet plays a big role in managing this condition. Keeping the pet at a lean, healthy weight aids in less trauma on the joints during everyday motion. Swimming or use of an underwater treadmill is a tremendous way to minimize weight on joints while contributing to movement. Make the environment more friendly for the pet, such as adding stairs to their favorite chair or bed. The key to working with an arthritic pet is to find ways to engage the pet without causing more pain or discomfort. Always talk with your veterinarian about your pet and their condition.
Diet, exercise, and daily care are essential to every pet. However, pets with special needs require various adjustments to these elements dependent on their specific condition. Always talk with your veterinarian about your pet and their condition. Given appropriate care, pets with special needs lead full lives and bring an abundance of love to those around them. Please share your stories of your special needs pets with us!