Learning that your dog is paralyzed and may never walk again is an overwhelming and frightening experience. I understand because my dog Sophie suffered from a neurological disease which left her paralyzed for the last 5 years of her life. One of the best ways I have found to relieve stress and fear has been to join a wheelchair dog support group.
These associations are there to help pet owners adapt to their new way of life and teach them how to take care of a disabled animal. I liked the idea so much that it led me to create the Dog Wheelchair LIFE support group.
If you are new to support groups, this article details the essential goals that I believe a group should have.
Here’s how a pet mom named Ann recently put those goals to good 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 her.
Throughout the day, Ann went over the to-do list their vet had given for Bear’s care, but every time she lifted or turned him, she was worried about hurting him. At the end of the day, his 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 would ask questions and send a constant stream of photos about Bear’s recovery.
In return, I received advice, encouragement and above all hope from the members.
A general overview of support groups for pets with disabilities
Here are the 6 major objectives:
- Provide emotional support
- Sharing knowledge
- Teach Skills
- Learn more about daily life products
- Listen to the members
- Offer hope for the future
The exchange of knowledge and information
Education on different mobility issues
There are a multitude of causes for a dog’s paralysis, limb weakness and inability to walk. Groups are good for providing education on each disability. It provides pet owners with the information they need to know about their dog’s specific health issues and prognosis.
Knowledge of 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 come up with a solid treatment plan. It is important for pet owners to understand the purpose of tests such as: MRI, CT scan, X-ray, ultrasound, blood test and more. This way they will know what to expect when their dog undergoes surgery.
An understanding of veterinary specialists
There are many different types of specialists who will be involved in each paralysis case. These include veterinary neurologists, canine therapists, rehabilitation specialists and hydrotherapists. Pet owners should know the role each professional plays in their dog’s treatment.
Canine support groups also help members find veterinary specialists. Many associations have a database or directory to help you.
Surgery and treatment plans can be prohibitively expensive for pet families. Dog support groups are a great resource for financial help. Most have a list of charities that pay for medical procedures and a list of nonprofit organizations that provide free dog wheelchairs.
A source of alternative therapies
Support groups can also direct pet owners to professionals who practice alternative veterinary medicine. These include traditional Chinese medicine, holistic veterinary care, integrative vets, acupuncturists, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
Daily life products
There are many everyday products on the market that make life easier for dogs with disabilities. This is the subject that is most often discussed in groups. A member who wants to know about a better diaper or a new way to protect a dog’s paws just write a quick message, and there’s sure to be someone with a recommendation.
Dog Support Groups Teach Skills
One of the primary purposes of a support group is to provide ongoing education to its members. This sometimes comes in the form of downloadable instruction sheets, checklists, or detailed written guides. Other groups use video tutorials and live classes.
Educational discussion topics range from:
Daily care – How to express a dog’s bladder, how to keep a dog safe in a wheelchair or in home care of urinary tract infections.
Treatments – How therapy works, the different forms of rehabilitation, the benefits of hydrotherapy and chiropractic care.
Home therapies – Home massage techniques, physiotherapy exercises and infrared light treatments for home use.
Clinical tests – Support groups are often notified by universities of upcoming clinical trials. This way they can alert members and help recruit canine participants. It’s a win-win situation. The dogs receive state-of-the-art treatments and they potentially improve the lives of future dogs with mobility issues.
Moral support in a group of wheelchair dogs
Providing moral support to members is a primary goal of a support group. Spinal and neurological diseases can progress, even if a dog is being treated for it. And secondary issues like urinary tract infections and even age can cause a dog’s health to deteriorate.
These constant changes can lead to sadness and frustration for a pet owner. Support groups are there to listen and cheer up members when needed. Unfortunately, the challenges faced by dogs with disabilities are not always understood by friends and family members. Sometimes it takes another parent of a dog in a wheelchair to understand the situation.
Support groups boost morale by being a safe place to chat, celebrate each other’s successes, celebrate our specially disabled dogs, and let off steam when disappointment occurs.
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 on social media sites. Facebook and LinkedIn have nearly a dozen support groups for owners of dogs with disabilities.
The topics they cover range from paralyzed dogs to intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), degenerative myelopathy (DM), amputations and strokes. Some of the groups are open to the public and some are private, where members are accepted after filling out a short application.
Yet other groups are set up to achieve a specific goal, such as the Paralyzed Dog Pet Sitting Network, which pairs paralyzed dogs with local pet sitters.
I am a blogger, professional writer and co-founder of the Heaven Can Wait Animal Society. I’m also a pet mom who 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 the resources to help her live a quality life. My mission is to share these services with other pet owners and teach people how to care for a disabled dog.