Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Physically Challenged Dogs

Printed All About Dogs Nov/Dec 2014 
When is a dog considered physically challenged? I would include amputees, deaf dogs, blind dogs, dogs that have spinal injury or disease and their hindquarters are compromised, even tetraparetic individuals. As humans, supposedly having “dominion” over our canine friends, when should we make a decision to allow their lives to continue? That, of course, is very personal but I would like to give my views based on 14 years of small animal private veterinary practice, and a further 6 years as a physical rehabilitation veterinarian. 
Dogs do not have the psychological issues associated with disability, which humans have. Running around on three legs does not make them less of a dog in their minds. I would like to make the point that many disabled dogs live full and happy lives.
All dogs have a keen sense of smell. The olfactory sense of a blind dog is even more-developed. This, along with an acute sense of hearing, allows him to negotiate his surroundings. Provided there are not too many changes in the environment, and hazards such as swimming pools are appropriately barricaded, blind dogs can continue happily for years. There are even photographs of blind dogs having ‘guide’ dogs! These are other dogs that have taken on a role of being the blind dog’s eyes. Often these companions are inseparable. 
Deaf dogs should also not be discriminated against. Dalmatians have a genetic line which predisposes some to deafness. Their sight is unaffected. I have watched such a dog, and a teenage boy, build such a strong bond that they outdid all the other people and dogs in their training class. I am sure they had many pleasurable years together. 
Single limb amputees, whether front or back, are able to run and play with the same gusto as a four-legged dog. Consideration for the remaining limb is important but can be managed. I met Hanna, a Labrador x Bull Terrier, when she was two years old. She was hit by a car and had to have one of her front limbs amputated at 7 months of age. Hanna has been on hydrotherapy program since we met, in order to maintain the strength and mobility of the remaining front limb. Hanna’s guardian was hoping for 5 years but next year March she will be 10! Earlier this year we invested in a neoprene support for her wrist as she has developed arthritis in this joint. She lives on a smallholding with numerous other dogs and runs around like a mad thing! She also attends a private training session once a week where the focus is on mental stimulation as opposed intensive physical training.
Since I have been involved in physical rehabilitation of our canine companions, I have seen many dogs with compromised hindquarters. These dogs are unable to walk with their back legs and often drag them.
 Being disabled in this manner does not stop these dogs at all! Mobility carts are becoming more readily available and are a necessity if such a dog is permanently paralysed. When in the cart, these dogs cannot be left unsupervised as the cart may catch on an obstacle or even tip over in the dog’s excitement to chase someone. However, these individuals never consider that their so-called disability requires them to stop participating in life. They can and do catch a ball, and also chase the visitors at the gate. Recently, Pug Rescue SA (PRSA) received a 7 month old Pug with a spinal condition which is inoperable, leaving Pug-Lee paralysed in his back legs. PRSA is a pro-life shelter that has made the decision to give Pug-Lee an opportunity to live life. His mobility cart is on order. He is a part of daily life in the centre and is moved around from office to outdoors, based on activities. He has a specific set of exercises which he must complete daily. He also enjoys a daily massage and stretching session. He is interactive, eats well and is already much-loved.
In conclusion, living with a disabled pet has its challenges. The largest of which is adapting the dog’s environment to ensure it is a safe playground. Cognisance of compensatory patterns of movement is essential, and necessary adjustments must be made. Awareness is the key but these pets live a fulfilling life and it is most rewarding for their human family, too.


  1. I really love that we have giotf to the place where can recognise that disability need not be a death sentence for an animal companion

    1. I totally agree. I love having these conversations with guardians and seeing the response when we figure out a solution! So very rewarding.