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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Do You Care For Pets When You Need Care?

Several years ago I had abdominal surgery.  I was fortunate enough to know well ahead of time that the surgery was going to happen.
At the time, I lived with a 50 pound senior dog who sometimes had trouble getting up.

In preparation for the surgery, I stocked up on groceries (my driving would be restricted for a while), I purchased one of those grabber thingies,  and I scheduled a 2 week boarding session for my dog.

After 3 days, I missed my dog so I asked a neighbor to help me bring him home.  I had Cisco wear a lifting harness all the time. Whenever he had trouble getting up, I'd lean against a wall and pull him up by his harness.  My doctors wouldn't have been pleased since I wasn't supposed lift anything heavier than 10 pounds.  But the wall and harness gave me the leverage I needed.

I've recently developed arthritis in my elbows, knees and hips - some of it probably from age and heredity.. but I believe I sped up the process by walking a bunch of big strong dogs as a shelter volunteer for 8 years.
I had to give up walking dogs as a volunteer, but I still want to keep my own dogs moving.  I found some weird shoes that really help with the pain. And I've discovered that walking one dog at a time is much easier on my joints than trying to walk 2 or 3 at a time (I live with 4 dogs now).  So although I have to go on more walks, the walks are less painful.

Of course many people face many more challenges that I do:
During our regular morning walks, I often see a lady walking her two dogs on leash while she is using a walker. I can't tell if the dogs are tethered to her walker or if she is holding the leashes.  Today, I saw her sit down (on her walker) to take a break for a couple of minutes, then continue on.  She doesn't move very fast, but the dogs appear to be happy to be out.

Some folks might not be able to walk their pets at all - might have trouble taking care of their pets' basic needs.  Here are some options to consider.

1. Speak with a social worker. He or she might have some contacts with charitable agencies who can assist with in-home pet care. Or use Internet search engines to see what is available.

2. Occupational therapists or physical therapists might be able to help with the skills needed for pet care.

3. Think small.  Although large bags of pet food and litter can be economical, smaller bags can be much easier to handle. Or buy large bags and have someone help divide the supplies into smaller containers.

4. If you have a temporary injury that might make it difficult to change cat litter, put out a bunch of litter pans.  Or set up a safe outdoor enclosure so cats can go outside. (I suggest triple redundancy)

5. Teach your pets how to be service animals. Large dogs, or small ponies or other strong pets can pull wheelchairs, allow their guardians to use them for stability, open and close doors, etc..  Small pets (dogs, cats, etc..) can fetch things for us, help with personal hygiene, etc..
Pets can even detect medical problems (such as seizures) before humans know they are about to happen.  Do some independent research on service animals, then look for a reputable agency who uses only positive reinforcement in their training program.  More on hiring trainers here.

Note:  If you want your pet to also accompany you when you are out and about, make sure the pet is well-trained to ignore humans, noises, cars, other pets, etc..
Animals who wear service vests while lunging, growling, barking, snapping, eliminating indoors, etc.. can make things more difficult for those who need to use service animals.

6. Some home health care providers might be willing to help with simple pet tasks such as picking up food bowls or scooping litter pans. Some might want a little extra cash on the side.

7.  Hiring non health care helpers might also be a possibility - reputable neighborhood kids (with parents permission), handy people, personal assistants, etc..

8. If money is an issue, talk to social workers about how to get assistance. Also Google phrases like "[your city] rental assistance", "[your city] utility assistance", etc.. Look into food banks.  Contact various animal charities and other assistance charities.

9. Physical limitations might make it harder to stop pets who might try to slip out of doors or gates.  Air locks might slow down bolting pets. Set up air locks inside and outside. Redundant fencing should also be considered (for those who have yards)

For more ideas, see Dog Care When You Are Down from the Whole Dog Journal

Have you overcome any challenges when caring for your pets?  How have your pets helped you through difficult times?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Email general questions or comments to Replies might be shared on this blog but names will be changed or left out.


  1. They say dogs know and care, I'm not sure...

    I once had an excrutiating kidney stone and I was doubled over in pain while packing a bag to go to the ER. My dog was all excited when I got the keys because he thought he was going for a ride!

    He does make me laugh and go out and play with him (sunshine, fresh air, moving around), though, which is probably exactly what I need.

    When I'm sick in bed for a day or two, though, he's usually more than happy just to hang out and sleep.

    1. I feel bad because I laughed out loud thinking about your dog getting all excited.

      My late 50 pound dog head butted me so hard once that I literally saw red stars . As I stood there holding my head and moaning, he continued jumping up and down (excited about going out).

      One the other hand, one day we were playing and I felt a wave of nausea and had to sit down. He immediately stopped playing and laid next to me looking sad.

  2. Six Million Dollar ManSeptember 5, 2013 at 7:04 AM

    As someone who has had a lot of surgery, this is a fantastic article - you hit on everything.

    I would just reiterate to prepare as much as possible in advance (shopping, help, etc.), and try not to let the dogs/cats jump on your belly (or painful areas). Also, screen any hired help (from Craigslist, etc) appropriately. Walking is usually good and encouraged, being pulled can be rough - so it's good to have a dog(s) with leash manners.

    Great post - thank you!