I received an email yesterday from a woman who has recently rescued a paraplegic kitten and, in her quest for information, stumbled upon my blog! It was one of the best emails I’ve gotten in a while. As I responded to her email, it occurred to me that I should outline some of the critical first steps one should take when bringing a special needs – or any new – pet into their home. Particularly with special needs pets, there are many things to consider as you make your plans to integrate this new pet into your home and family. Though equally unique and challenging, bringing a new pet into your home is very different from learning to live with and care for a recently injured/paralyzed/sick pet who is already an established family member. So, for the sake of simplicity, I will approach this series of posts as if you are looking for information on safely integrating a new paraplegic pet into your home.
1 a) Keep your new pet relatively contained and separate from your other pets to keep everyone safe and healthy throughout the transition.
1 b) Find a veterinarian you trust and make an appointment ASAP. He/she will be able to provide a general health exam as well as conduct tests to assess whether or not your pet has any deep pain response(s) in the affected areas. This is important because some pets sustain injuries that may cause temporary paralysis but can be corrected either surgically or with appropriate treatment. Plus, your trusted veterinarian will be your partner in providing the best care for your new baby.
In addition to a general health exam and the deep pain testing, you may want to consider the following:
- Radiographs: a helpful diagnostic tool, your veterinarian will most likely need these to assess the extent of the injury. Ask for a copy to keep in your files – you never know when you might need them (if you move, go to a different veterinary office, etc.) Many clinics now use digital x-ray equipment and should be able to provide you with a CD for your records.
- Blood work: for cats – an FIV/Leukemia/Heartworm test (especially important if you have other cats in your home), for dogs – a Heartworm/Lyme/Ehrlichia test. You may also want to have an organ function panel and CBC run while you’re there. Always nice to have a baseline!
- Fecal test: this will check for intestinal parasites. While relatively common – and treatable – some of the intestinal parasites that dogs/cats may have are zoonotic meaning that they can be passed between species (dog to cat/cat to dog/pet to human, etc.) A quick fecal test followed by the appropriate de-wormer can make a huge difference. Especially considering that one of the symptoms of (many) intestinal parasites is diarrhea. Trust me when I say that a paraplegic pet with diarrhea is a nightmare come true.
- Get the appropriate flea/tick/heartworm prevention for your pet. Heartworm disease is on the rise in the U.S. and it’s so affordable to prevent…please do it!
2) Partner with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate time to spay/neuter your new pet and do it!
3) Transition your pet to the appropriate food for his/her life stage and health needs. My Zoey eats Hills C/D dry and canned food. It’s what helps us maintain her superior quality of life and minimize FLUTD flare-ups.
4) Ask questions, seek information, and stay positive! Your veterinarian, other veterinarians (specialty hospitals are great resources), the internet, and the library are full of helpful tips and how-to information. Focus on what you need to know or learn so that you don’t get overwhelmed…info overload is scary.
5) Establish your new routine. I think, for the most part, that humans enjoy routines and I know that dogs and cats do too. (I get wake-up calls each morning from my cats!) Find what works for you, your pet(s), and your family. You’ve made an important decision to bring this new pet into your life, so get comfortable and enjoy the experience. It may seem like a lot of work at first but, I promise, you will figure it out and find your rhythm. It’s all worth it!
Initially I housed Zoey in a big dog crate to keep her separated from Lucy and Lily. I was so glad that I did because I learned, shortly after bringing her home, that she had an intestinal parasite that caused sudden, explosive bouts of diarrhea. What a mess! Plus, she liked having her own space to acclimate to the sights and sounds of her new home while safely watching the world go by.