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Learning that your dog is paralyzed and may never walk again, is an overwhelming and scary experience. I understand because my dog Sophie suffered from a neurological illness that left her paralyzed for the last 5 years of her life. One of the best ways I found to relieve the stress and fear, was to join a dog wheelchair support group.
These associations are there to help pet owners adjust to their new lifestyle and teach the skills to take care of a disabled animal. I liked the idea so much that it led me to start the Dog Wheelchair LIFE support group.
If support groups are new to you, this article breaks down the essential goals I think a group should have.
Here’s how a pet mom named Ann recently put these goals to use. It was Ann’s first day alone with her dog Bear after he ruptured a disc in his spine. She was in such a state of panic about taking care of him, that she recruited her mother to help out.
Throughout the day Ann looked over the list of duties their veterinarian had given for Bear’s care, but each time she lifted him or turned him over, she worried she might hurt him. By the end of the day, her stress level was at 100%.
That evening Ann found her way to the support group. She chatted with another pet parent who shared her experience and by the end of the evening her nerves had calmed down. Ann continued with the group. From time to time she posted questions and she sent a steady stream of pictures about Bear’s recovery.
In return received advice, encouragement, and most of all hope, from the members.
A general overview of support groups for disabled pets
Here are the 6 major goals:
Provide emotional support
Learn about products for daily living
Listen to members
Offer hope for the future
The knowledge and information exchange
Education about different mobility problems
There is a multitude of causes of paralysis, limb weakness, and the inability of a dog to walk. Groups are good at providing education about each disability. It provides pet owners with the information they should know about their dog’s specific health problems and prognosis.
Knowledge about diagnostic tests
Whether a dog has a neurological disease or an orthopedic condition the veterinarian will order imaging and diagnostic tests. This helps the vet develop a sound treatment plan. It’s important for pet owners to understand the purpose of tests such as an: MRI, CT scan, x-ray, ultrasound, bloodwork and more. That way they’ll know what to expect when their dog undergoes a procedure.
An understanding of veterinary specialists
There are many different types of specialists that will be involved with each case of paralysis. These include veterinary neurologists, canine therapists, rehab specialists, and hydrotherapists. Pet parents should know the role each professional plays in the treatment of their dog.
Dog support groups also assist members in locating veterinary specialists. Many associations have a database or directory to help.
Surgery and treatment plans can be cost-prohibitive for pet families. Dog support groups are a great resource for financial aid. Most have a list on hand of charitable organizations that pay for medical procedures and a list of nonprofits that offer free dog wheelchairs.
A source for alternative therapies
Support groups can also direct pet parents to professionals who practice alternative veterinary medicine. These include Traditional Chinese medicine, holistic veterinary care, integrative vets, acupuncturists, and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).
Daily living products
There are lots of daily living products on the market that make life easier for dogs with disabilities. It’s the topic that is most often discussed in groups. A member who wants to learn about a better diaper or a new way to protect a dog’s legs just needs to write a quick post, and there’s sure to be someone with a recommendation.
Dog support groups teach skills
One of the main goals of a support group is to provide ongoing education to its members. This is sometimes in the form of downloadable instruction sheets, checklists, or in-depth written guides. Other groups use tutorial videos and live classes.
Topics for educational discussions range from:
Daily care – How to express a dog’s bladder, how to keep dog safe in wheelchair or home care of urinary tract infections.
Treatments – How a therapy works, different forms of rehab, the benefits of hydrotherapy, and chiropractic care.
Home therapies – At-home massage techniques, physical therapy exercises, and infrared light treatments for home use.
Clinical trials – Support groups are often notified by universities about upcoming clinical trials. That way they can alert members and help recruit canine participants. It’s a win-win situation. Dogs receive cutting-edge treatments and they potentially improve the lives of future dogs with mobility issues.
Moral support in a dog wheelchair group
Providing moral support to members is a chief goal of a support group. Spine and neurological diseases can progress, even if a dog is getting treated for it. And secondary problems like urinary tract infections and even age can cause a decline in a dog’s health.
These constant changes can lead to sadness and frustration in a pet owner. Support groups are there to listen and boost the morale of members when needed. Unfortunately, the challenges disabled dogs face, aren’t always understood by friends and family members. Sometimes it takes another pet parent of a wheelchair dog to understand the situation.
Support groups lift morale by being a safe place to chat, cheer for each other’s successes, celebrate our specially-abled dogs, and vent when there is disappointment.
Where to find a support group
Pet support groups can be found in live and virtual formats through local organizations such as Meetup groups. Others are hosted through social media sites. Facebook and LinkedIn have nearly a dozen support groups for owners of disabled dogs.
The topics they cover range from dogs with paralysis, Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), amputations, and strokes. Some of the groups are open to the public and others are private, where members are accepted after completing a short application.
Still, other groups are set up to achieve a specific goal, like the Paralyzed Dog Pet Sitting Network, which matches paralyzed dogs with local pet sitters.
Guest Author: Sharon Seltzer
I’m a blogger, professional writer and co-founder of the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. I’m also a pet mom who’s raised 9 dogs, 6 cats, and lots of other critters. When my dog Sophie became paralyzed in 2008, it was a lonely experience. It took months to find all of the resources to help her live a quality life. My mission is to share those services with other pet owners and to teach people how to care for a disabled dog.