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Uncovering the world of pets with disabilities

As an Australian veterinary surgery, we’re no strangers to pets with disabilities. Disabilities in pets can arise from a variety of situations. You may know breeds that are known for having some genetic predispositions such as large breed dogs with genetic hip problems, white cats or dogs with deafness or some squishy-faced breeds of cats and dogs having breathing difficulties.

Other situations can occur too. A lack of proper nutrition or puppies or kittens lying across each other in the womb can cause disabilities. So too can difficult birth processes, infection or disease.

There are also risks from acquired disability through misadventure and accidents. Common situations that result in a pet disability involve being hit by cars or as a result of being an unrestrained passenger during a vehicle accident.

Old age is also another place for disability. As pets age, they increase the risk of bodily wear and tear, hearing and vision loss, and cognitive issues related to mental decline with age.

Pets with disabilities can lead long, fruitful lives as well as making wonderful companions. Yet many are not spoken about on a regular basis.

Let’s check out some of the pets with disabilities you may encounter and get some advice at living with a pet that has a disability

Pet limb amputation and pet wheelchairs

We’ve probably all seen a dog or cat in our travels that has had a limb removed or had a wheelchair added.

Amputation in pets is the last resort for veterinary surgery and results when the quality of life a pet would have keeping a limb is lower than if it remained. Pet wheelchairs assist with mobility issues, especially when both legs are damaged at the front or back or if a spinal injury has resulted.

Causes for pet limb amputations and wheelchairs can vary.

Some injuries can be a result of overcrowding in the womb.  Yet the most common cause is accident or misadventure. For example, being hit by a car and sustaining a crush injury can make amputation the most likely option. With spinal cord damage, usually the limbs remain but a pet wheelchair is added.

Cancer or disease in a limb may also require an amputation. Take bone problems for an example. It may be a better option to remove an affected bone than to explore chemo or radiation if it’s cancer. Or risk sepsis and other issues if there is infection or disease evident.

Regardless, your vet will always lay out all the options when it comes to a pet limb amputation versus mobility aids for your pet so you can make an informed decision.

Cats and dogs can live wonderful lives without the use of all four limbs. Thanks to veterinary medicine, it certainly does not herald the end of a pet’s life by any stretch. The field of mobility for pets is also rapidly expanding to include new techniques, mobility aids and even robotics.

Considerations-

  • Pets with disabilities of this kind need time to re-balance and understand how to move. Fortunately, it usually doesn’t take an adventurous cat or dog long to work out the new normal
  • Extra stress may be placed on remaining limbs, hips or shoulders by an amputation. That means you may need to boost the health of the remaining bones and muscles to help support this and/or ward of inflammation or future arthritis

Life with hearing loss and deaf pets

Deaf pets come from a variety of backgrounds. Sometimes, it’s genetics. About 30% of dalmatian puppies are born deaf in one or both ears. Australian cattle dogs and Jack Russell terriers also have a higher incidence of deafness in pups.

demonstrating common pets with disabilities such as the dalmatian with deafness

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

You may often see deaf dogs and deaf cats that are white. This is no coincidence of nature. That’s genetics at play. 

Other reasons you may find a deaf dog or cat are injury to the ear. This sensitive organ is susceptible to damage, infection or disease. Even chronic ear infections may lead to deafness.

Misadventure for pets can also create deafness in a pet. For example, accidents where a blow to the head is received or drug toxicity can cause deafness in dogs or cats.

Old age can cause hearing loss and deafness with senior pets as well.

A loss of hearing doesn’t slow a cat or a dog down. It simply means you have different considerations when dealing with your pet.

Considerations-

  • Training relies more heavily on hand signals and reading your body language. You and your deaf pet will need to be seeing eye-to-eye to ensure a positive training experience
  • It’s best to label the name tag on their collar with “I can’t hear you” or “DEAF PET” in case they are lost. That will help the people aiding your lost pet in communicating better
  • Deaf pets tend to hold an incredibly strong bond with their owner. This is partly through training and through reading your body language. It also means they will look to you for signs new environments and people are safe more than most
  • Walking a deaf dog is best done on the leash. Off-leash environments may not allow for safe recall. Whatever the case, a focus on strong recall skills is a must

Autism in dogs

A growing body of scientists, vets and animal behaviourists are exploring the notion of dogs with autism. This research is ongoing and not yet to the conclusive stages. A vet will present the possibility as a potential diagnosis. Not an actual certainty. That’s important to remember if you suspect you may be seeing autism in your dog.

From the research conducted, canine autism appears present from birth. It can be genetic and/or found in dog brain’s with less or mirrored motor neurons. It’s potentially found in puppies exposed to a variety of chemicals in the womb. However, chemical exposure research still has a while to go. As the condition is congenital, puppies cannot suddenly acquire autism through lifestyle, vaccination or environment.

In dogs, autism seems to present as lowered interest in play, repetitive play, repetitive actions such as licking or tail chasing, avoiding or being overwhelmed by human or dog on dog interactions, lethargy, and difficulty in expressing some emotions such as fear or happiness.

Like any form of change in cognitive process, autism may influence how a dog responds, reacts and views the world. Again though, this is a different way of viewing the world and can be a rich and rewarding perspective to enjoy with your dog.

Considerations-

  • Seeing a vet is vital to understanding any personality or behaviour that is unexpected in a dog. This includes if you suspect autism
  • Love and affection is essential. Even if your dog is not a demonstrative pet, this is still your foundation of a strong person to pet bond and will assist with trust, training and overall confidence
  • You and your dog may need specific advice to help your dog with training, repetitive behaviours and strategies to reduce being overwhelmed by people, places and other pets
  • It’s assumed change can be triggering and difficult to manage for a dog with autism. Therefore, consistency and routine are a must
  • As research is not conclusive, information and definitive strategies are limited

Pets with disabilities can make great friends

Like any pet, pets with disabilities have got a whole lot of love to give. They can help you see the world in a new way. And it can be an opportunity to help out pets that end up in rescue situations through no fault of their own.

If you’re considering a pet with a disability, feel free to call on Fox Valley Animal Hospital of Wahroonga. We’re happy to help you with advice and assistance with choosing the right pet for your family.

If your pet has recently acquired a disability or been diagnosed with one, we can help you with strategies, advice, support and veterinary know-how.

We welcome pets with disabilities – call us on (02) 9489 4805 today.

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.