The Truth About Tripods – When Is It Best To Amputate?

Three legged "tripod" dog at the dog park

(image credit)

Whether due to cancer or injury, many pet parents have agonized over the possibility of having to amputate a pet’s limb. But do we anthropomorphize or empathize too much with our dogs and cats in this situation?

“People get hung up on the idea of losing a limb, and dogs really don’t care,” she says. “They just want to run and be happy.”

These pet parents and veterinary professionals want to provide the best quality of life for our companion animals. Could you make the choice to amputate, if it means your dog or cat would avoid pain?

So your dog is fat – now what?

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Image from Flickr user Andy Henry Photography.

I recently sharing a co-working space with another dog lover, so of course we end up talking about our pets. Turns out, he has a 170 pound Newfoundland.

Let me repeat that. One hundred. And seventy. Pounds. Of big, slobbery, furry dog. That’s a good forty pounds more than I weigh (okay, thirty-five pounds, but STILL).

He admits she’s overweight, and we talked for a while about some of the tools he’s using to address the issue. After speaking to him, I came upon these 5 tips to help your pet lose weight. My colleague is already doing almost everything on the list – exercise is a problem for Freya, as he doesn’t have access to a pool and she’s a typical large, lazy dog – but I really liked the article for two big reasons:

Human companions of overweight pets really do need to consult with a vet before changing their dog or cat’s lifestyle or feeding schedule. Your vet deals with these issues every day – she will be able to eliminate any potential medical causes of weight gain, like hypothyroidism, and help you formulate a plan to slim down your pet without endangering his or her health.

Weight gain may be due to behavioral issues. Just as humans can overeat or be inactive because we’re depressed, bored, or stressed, dogs and cats may gain weight because they’re understimulated, or have dominance issues with other humans or pets in our homes.

As for my new friend with the “Rubenesque” Newfie, he’s started taking her to doggie daycare once or twice a week, and substituting some of her regular dog food with green beans, on the advice of his vet.

I’m looking forward to seeing her slim down as he brings her into the office!

Pets as presents? Weigh the costs…

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image courtesy flick user Mike Schmid

Everyone loves the idea of a cute puppy or kitten as a holiday gift, but the cost of buying or adoping a pet is only the beginning. According to the ASPCA, the first year of your new family member’s life with you can cost between $300 and $2,000 – and that doesn’t include emergency veterinary services or boarding!

There are ways to keep costs down, however, without sacrificing the health and happiness of your new furry friend.

Packaged vet care

Many veterinarians and animal hospitals offer well puppy (or kitten) packages – bundled services that can save you 20% or more on the necessary services you’ll need, like spay or neuter services, vaccines, parasite prevention medications, and other checkups. Ask your vet (or look on their web site) for lists of included and excluded services and price comparisons.

Pet insurance

Just as our costs for health care can spiral out of control if we didn’t have insurance, so can veterinary costs. Companies like VPI offer plans at different price and coverage points – ask your vet for advice on what plans she would recommend for your dog or cat.

Extend your pet’s family

The average American dog-owning family spends about $300 a year on boarding. Pet sitters can be a more personal and cost-effective solution, but you should also consider finding friends to trade pet sitting with among your existing social network. You’ll not only be giving your dog a “home away from home” experience with another dog lover, you’ll be building a support network for your pets.

Are you and your pet prepared for an emergency?

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With winter weather coming, many of us are making preparations for severe storms or other emergencies by buying extra candles, batteries, canned goods, and other necessities. But have you given much thought to what your pet needs in case of an emergency?

The US Department of Homeland Security has developed a pet preparedness pamphlet (PDF) in partnership with the ASPCA, the American Kennel Club, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Humane Society of the United States. Here are some highlights:

Prepare an emergency supply kit that contains:

  • Food. Keep at least three days of food in an airtight, waterproof container. 
  • Water. Store at least three days of water specifically for your pets in addition to water you need for yourself and your family
  • Medicines and medical records. Keep an extra supply of medicines your pet takes on a regular basis in a waterproof container. A copy of your dogs vaccinations will also be important to have in case you need to board your dog.
  • First aid kit. Talk to your veterinarian about what is most appropriate for your pet’s emergency medical needs. 
  • Collar with ID tag, harness or leash. If your pet isn’t already microchipped and registered with a service like HomeAgain, you should consider it.
  • Crate or other pet carrier. 
  • Sanitation. Include pet litter and litter box for cats and waste bags for your dogs. 
  • A picture of you and your pet together. If you become separated from your pet during an emergency, a picture of you and your pet together will help you document ownership and allow others to assist you in identifying your pet. 
  • Familiar items. Put favorite toys, treats or bedding in your kit. Familiar items can help reduce stress for your pet. 

Make a plan:

  • Be prepared to assess the situation. Depending on your circumstances and the nature of the emergency the first important decision is whether you stay put or get away. You should understand and plan for both possibilities. 
  • Create a plan to get away. If you must evacuate, take your pets with you if practical. If not, find a pet-friendly hotel on PetsWelcome.com, locate a boarding kennel (don’t forget those vaccination records!), or arrange ahead of time with a friend who can pet sit.
  • Develop a buddy system. Plan with neighbors, friends or relatives to make sure that someone is available to care for or evacuate your pets if you are unable to do so. 
  • Talk to your pet’s veterinarian about emergency planning. Discuss the types of things that you should include in your pet‘s emergency first aid kit. Get the names of vets or veterinary hospitals in other cities where you might need to seek temporary shelter.
  • Gather contact information for emergency animal treatment. Make a list of contact information and addresses of area animal control agencies including the Humane Society or SPCA, and emergency veterinary hospitals.

You may also want to consider creating a DropBox, Google Docs, or other cloud services account so you can access your pet’s records remotedly or share them with a friend. Most are free for casual use, and you’ll be able to upload photos of your pet, scans of their vaccine records, and contact information. Many of these services allow you to access your files from your iPhone or Android smartphone as well.

Is your dog at risk for canine influenza?

While it can’t be spread between dogs and humans, canine influenza can still be a serious threat to your furry friend’s health. The symptoms mimic kennel cough, and are often accompanied by low-grade fever, a drippy nose, listlessness, loss of appetite, and a cough that can last for up to a month. In severe cases, dogs can develop a high fever and pneumonia. If you’re curious what the flu cough sounds like, a YouTube user was kind enough to post a video:

Canine influenza virus (CIV) is highly contagious, and since it’s a relatively new virus, exposed dogs will usually be susceptible. Dogs spread their flu much as we do – through direct contact with infected pooches, or through infected surfaces. Boarding kennels, doggy daycares, groomers, and even obedience schools and dog parks can put your dog at risk. Outbreaks have been reported here in Oregon, as well as in several other states.

Fortunately, there’s a vaccine. And while it doesn’t prevent your dog from getting the flu, it can lessen the symptoms. While it’s not appropriate for all dogs, if your four-legged family member spends lots of time in close contact with other dogs, it may be worth asking your vet.

 

Help your pet sitter prepare for the worst

I’d already agreed to help cat sit for my friend Amy when we were driving to Costco (kibble run!) and she turned to me and said “There’s something awkward I need to talk to you about.”

Uh oh.

I knew that her cats, Trotsky and Sakharov, are both diabetic and require twice-daily insulin shots. In fact, the majority of pet care was being handled by a paid cat sitter during Amy’s two-week trip – I’d agreed to pitch in a few evenings, as my schedule permitted, to help defray her costs a bit. The injections weren’t too difficult to administer – Amy had shown me how to do it the last time I’d taken care of her cats. However, Sakharov was suffering from kidney failure, and Amy was worried that due to stress, and without the IV fluids she’d been administering (a task she didn’t feel comfortable offloading to Rachel or I), Sakharov might die during her trip.

I won’t go into details here, but we ended up having a long talk about both of our experiences losing pets, what the options were, and what Amy’s wishes were. At the end, I told her “You should tell Rachel all this, as well.” Then I realized that workmen would be going in and out of Amy’s house during her trip – she really should let them know who to contact if something went wrong, too. I started thinking that while Amy’s situation was much more involved than most, we could all take a look at how we can make sure we’re all on the same page.

The basics

Every pet owner I know has a standard list of information – veterinarian phone number, emergency contact, favorite food and toys – that they leave with a pet sitter. You can copy and paste this checklist into your own pet care document and fill in the blanks:

  • Veterinarian name, phone number, locations, and directions
  • Location of and directions to the closest 24 hour emergency pet hospital
  • Name, appearance, frequency, and dosage of medications, as well as where to keep them (not everyone will know that insulin needs to be refrigerated)
  • What, how much, and how often your pet gets fed
  • Any toys or treats that will cheer your pet up while you’re gone
  • Where your pets might hide from visitors – even the friendliest cat or dog can become anxious without their owner around

Be thorough

Your pet sitter isn’t the only person who might need to take care of your pet. Other service professionals like gardeners, housekeepers, or workmen who will be in and around your house should have at least basic information – how to contact your pet’s vet, or where to take them for after-hours care – if they find your pet in distress.

Plan for the worst case scenario

While it’s upsetting to think about things that can go wrong while you’re away, it can be comforting to have a plan in place. We have living wills for our loved ones – why not for our pets? Think about what medical procedures you would or wouldn’t want to subject your pet to. For instance, Amy knew that while she was comfortable having IV fluids administered to Sakharov, she didn’t want him to undergo general anasthesia.

How much are you willing for a pet sitter to spend on your pet on your behalf? No one wants to put a price on their pet’s life, but your pet sitter deserves to know what your limits are – for all you know, she might choose to reject a treatment out of fear that you’ll be angry about the cost.

Once you make decisions about these issues, tell your pet sitter – or even better, write them down and add them to your own pet care document.

Spread the word

Often your pet care information is printed out, handed off, and left to languish beneath a car seat. While printed material will always have a comforting permanence and tangibility, saving a pet info sheet in the “cloud” lets all stakeholders access information anywhere they have an internet connection. Google Docs provides a ton of space online for free, and all you need in an email address to share documents and spreadsheets with the other people mentioned above. Saving this information online also lets you update it when you think of changes – whether you’re on vacation or remembering a quirk of your pet’s behavior while at work.

Pet owners and pet sitters alike want the best for the animals in their care. Prior planning can help alleviate anxiety and keep everyone on the same page. Our pets thrive on consistency, after all.