I am participating in the Caring For Critters Round Robin hosted by Heart Like a Dog. Think of the Round Robin like a relay race, each blogger passes the baton to a fellow blogger, who will then share his or her experience in caring for an ill or injured pet. Kol’s Notes ran ahead of me yesterday and tomorrow SlimDoggy will take the next leg!
We have been lucky with Shiva. In the five years she has lived in our home, her physical health has never faltered. I wish I could say the same for her mental well-being. The Shiva stories are somewhat legendary among those brave enough to cross her zigzagging path. If you dig through this blog’s disorganized archives you will find tales of such bizarre canine decision-making you will wonder how this dog has all of her limbs intact. It is something we ask ourselves every day.
The first thing you need to understand is that Shivas a born without an instinct for self-preservation. Believing themselves invincible, they crash through life, leaping from one distraction to the next. If Shivas lived in a world of factions, they would only ever be members of Dauntless.
This is why our Shiva’s history is made up of tales of near disaster. From scaling cliffs, to climbing trees after porcupines, to throwing herself from walls over six feet tall, Shiva likes to make sure her people are paying attention. Her agility career was filled with episodes of this sort of madness. Why run up the teeter from the ground when it is much more fun to lunge onto the end facing the sky? Why take one jump when it is faster to take three in a single stride? Why wait for a reward when it is funnier to bound over the fence and race through the barn, stealing treats from other dogs?
Outside of the ring, her attitude was, and is, no different. There are so many stories, I have forgotten the details of most of them. Unfortunately, I’ll never forget the time she crashed a wedding. I am still not sure I am ready to share that story. For my own sanity, it is best to pretend I don’t know how many times she has run into the walls of our home, how many stairs she has slid down, how many floors she has met with her face. We have stories of infinite number involving skirmishes with other animals, domestic and wild, desperate attempts to fill her belly with food from the vehicles of strangers, and, of course, her most infamous moment of all, the incident at the drive though. At the dog park, we often joke we know where she is by the trail of screams and laughter Shiva leaves in her frenetic wake.
Sometimes we laugh too. More often, we are horrified.
Given all this, it is stunning Shiva has made it to the approximate age of six with only one trip to the emergency vet. I was so sure during her panicked fight with an agility jump standard, resulting in several long seconds of choking, that her healthy streak would end. Amazingly, the only serious misadventure we’ve experienced together was an actual fluke, one I cannot even blame on her crazy nature. We’ll never know what happened that November evening in the woods, a place Shiva has roamed many an evening before. I will also never be casual about the possibility of serious injury again.
The idea of this post isn’t to recount the near misses of my dog’s past. Rather, it is to reiterate the fact that accidents do happen, no matter how careful we and our dogs may – or may not – be. Most are preventable but sometimes we are blindsided. The only thing we can truly control is our reactions to these often scary incidents.
Have a plan
This might sound painfully obvious but until disaster happens, you may not think about the details. I know I didn’t.
- Do you know the phone number and address for your closest after-hours vet clinic? Looking these things up in the midst of a crisis is no fun. Trust me.
- Do you have money set aside so you can pay up front? Pet insurance is great for reimbursement after the fact, but it doesn’t help if you don’t have the cash or credit on hand. Most clinics won’t even look at your pet unless you prove you can pay.
- Do you know how much you are prepared to spend or how far you will go to save your pet if the worst happens during surgery? These are tough questions but I remember being rendered speechless when the emergency vet asked if we wanted him to resuscitate our dog should she go into hear failure. I was so worried I couldn’t think of any rational response. Breaking down at the clinic did not help me or my family.
Prepare your pet
Following a bad injury and the subsequent surgery, your pet will likely be put on several weeks of crate rest. This is not easy for most dogs. We expected it to be especially hard on Shiva who is used to two long walks day plus hours of play time. Active animals can struggle just as much as humans against sudden restrictions. I know I am a terrible patient. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Shiva turned into the same. Luckily, we had a few things built in to Shiva’s lifestyle that prepared her for the temporary change.
- Shiva has long been accustomed to the routine of a crate. It was nothing to her to sleep inside her enclosure when we had to leave her alone to go to work. She had no difficulty relaxing and giving her body a chance to heal.
- Shiva is used to being carried. Though she is a medium-sized dog of about forty-five pounds, we have spent a lot of time getting her used to being handled. Most of it was in play and for the purpose of fooling around, but because Shiva learned to trust us when we lift her up, she didn’t struggle when we had to carry her up and down the stairs during her convalescence. She accepted that it was just something we were doing and that everything would be okay.
White Coat Syndrome
Shiva is not a fan of the vet. Is any animal? But for a dog who is fearless in the face of coyotes and ten-foot gaps, the emergency vet represents all of her worst nightmares wrapped into one terrifying individual: stranger danger, new environment, small space, and usually someone standing in a doorway. Because we have moved around a lot, Shiva has never seen the same doctor twice. This has prevented her from building a relationship with a health care provider. As we can never predict Shiva’s response to strangers, it is a tricky thing to navigate for us. However, even if your pet is somewhat bonded with a regular vet, when it comes to emergencies, it is unlikely he or she will be attending the usual clinic. It is important to recognize this experience might be even more frightening than usual.
- In all health situations, you are your pet’s advocate. If you know something that might make it less scary for your dog, such as being examined on the ground instead of on the table, or you holding him or her during the examination, instead of an assistant, it is your job to speak up. A caring vet, as most are, will be more than happy to oblige if at all possible. They have your pet’s best interests at heart as well but they don’t know unless you tell them.
I hate to suggest it, even I have an automatically negative response to the word, but muzzles can also be a dog’s safety net during these scary times. When an animal is in pain and thrust into a new place with a stranger prodding him, it is understandable he or she might react. Even if your dog has never bitten anyone before, it is possible her inhibition might be non-existent in an emergency. Any sign of aggression is placing him or her in danger. At the very least it prevents the vet from examining him or her properly.
- While your dog might being upset by a muzzle in an already frightening situation, if you purchase one in advance and treat the tool as something natural and rewarding, it will be much less aggravating. Muzzle training is not just for aggressive dogs. There are some great online resources that detail how to make it a calming experience for your dog.
- It might sound a little like jinxing your pet’s health but I don’t know if it is possible to be too prepared. Your pet doesn’t speak English and has no way of knowing what is to come. If you work to create positive associations with places and smells when your pet is healthy, it will be much less stressful in the event the situation is real.
I hope my experiences have provided some helpful tools. With such an adventure-seeking dog on my hands, I know it is possible another injury is in our future. Maybe next time we will all be more prepared. If there are any suggestions or resources you can add, I would be extremely grateful.
Thank you to Heart Like a Dog for running such a useful blogging event and inviting me to contribute. Don’t forget to check in with SlimDoggy tomorrow to learn more about dealing with Spondylosis deformans (fused spine).