To many of us, our dogs are cherished family members, and we spare no effort to make them as comfortable and happy as possible while they are with us. But what happens when your dog becomes sick or injured? Suddenly there are decisions to be made and inner strength to find. How can you be calm when your beloved dog is in horrible pain? Having a plan now may save you a lot of stress and anguish later.
This past weekend my bullmastiff, Mr. Muscles, developed a traumatic injury to his neck. Muscles is eight years old, and has rather severe arthritis in his neck and upper spine. He has had painful flare-ups before, which we have managed with medication and alternative therapies such as Reiki. But it had been a long time since his last episode, and quite frankly, I was busy obsessing about his other health issue, an inoperable tumor in his neck the size of a small cantaloupe. So when Muscles developed a stiff neck on Saturday afternoon I didn’t think too much of it, just fluffed his bed to make sure he was supported and called it good.
Early Sunday morning I woke to find him circling and crying in pain. To say I was taken off guard is an understatement.
Okay, I have a confession: I may have over twenty years of experience in animal related fields- I am known for being calm, cool and collected in an emergency for my clients- but seeing my own baby in the midst of an emergency is enough to make me dissolve into a puddle of horrified tears and anxiety. Thank goodness my husband was there to make me breath, center, and think. We assessed the situation, and decided we could try to manage his pain for the day with the arthritis meds we had on hand, and get him to the vet when they opened Monday morning.
It was touch and go there for a moment. It turns out Muscles ruptured one or more discs in his neck. We decided against an MRI and costly surgery might not be successful. Instead the doctor (who was wonderful, by the way- Shout out to the awesome crew at Cape Vet in Southern Maine!) prescribed a cocktail of medication- muscle relaxers, three kinds of pain pills, anti-inflammatories. We weren’t sure the meds were going to kick in, or if we were going to have to make that horrible decision to stop his pain. I am happy to report, three days later, Muscles has made great strides towards healing! He is still on all the drugs and very, very lame. I am watching him like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t reinjure himself, but we are cautiously optimistic that everything is going to be okay. (Knock on wood!)
I’ve made the following list of things that I feel can greatly reduce the stress of an emergency with your pet:
- Don’t Panic!! Or, rather, STOP panicking. I get it- believe me. There is nothing more horrible than seeing your beloved pet in crisis. But you losing your mind is going to accomplish nothing, except perhaps make your dog stress out even more. Take a deep breath, and then another. This is one of those moments where you need to open a well of cool, calm competence in order to help the one you love. Assess the situation. Is the injury/illness life threatening? Is there something you could do immediately to make things better? It’s okay if the only thing you can do is call the vet. They can help you assess and manage things if you need.
- Keep phone numbers to your vet hospital as well as the local Animal Emergency Clinic in a handy spot so you don’t have to fumble for them in a panic. Have directions to find them as well, or their address so you can plug it into your GPS.
- Call ahead to let them know you are coming. This way they will be prepared for the kind of emergency you are bringing, which can sometimes shorten up the time between your arrival and when your pet actually sees the vet. It could also save you an unnecessary trip. Sometimes a problem can be solved over the phone. BE SAFE AND DO NOT CALL WHILE DRIVING! You are bound to be too distracted. Call before you go, or have someone else call for you from home or the passenger seat.
- Have an emergency fund set aside for your pets. Once you get to the vet, depending on the diagnosis, you may have some decisions to make, some of them quite costly. This is another instance when prior planning can ease your stress tremendously. The problem with emergencies is that are always a surprise. So the best way to be prepared is to expect them. Have a certain amount of money squirreled away so that if you need to get unexpected vet care, you are not helpless because you haven’t got the funds.
- Have an idea of what kinds of medical procedures you are willing to put your dog through before an emergency happens. I am not saying that you should know exactly what you would do in any situation. However, it is a good idea to think about this stuff occasionally, just so you aren’t blindsided if it happens. For example, my Pomeranians are all young, healthy dogs. I think, given the circumstances, they would hold up against most life-saving procedures, God forbid. However, a dog who is very old, possibly with pre—existing conditions may not be able to take extreme procedures and have any quality of life on the other end. I am not saying to limit what you will do for your dog. Go to the ends of the earth to get him better if you can! But keep in mind that sometimes keeping them around for us, is not the kindest thing for them.
- Once you are home caring for your dog, make sure you take care of yourself, too! Once we got Muscles home to convalesce, things got real. Here I am with a 95lb bull mastiff who can barely stand on his own, who needs twenty-four hour care and four different kinds of meds all staggered out over the day and night for who knows how long. I feel like a new mother again, at the beck and call of this creature that I love and who is depending on me to get him, literally, back on his feet. Luckily I work at home and I can monitor him without too much trouble, but still I’ve been up all night giving him his meds and trying to help him outside occasionally. Also staring at him while he snores in a drugged-up stupor and willing his pain to stop, hugging him repeatedly (and gently!), while apologizing for the agony he’s endured. Oh, and praying to all the Gods and bargaining for his health, and ugly crying every time he shifts and yelps. You know, just the usual stuff. If you ever find yourself in the same situation, make sure you have a support system so you don’t give up your own peace of mind and health! My kids are old enough to do the dishes and make their own lunch, and my husband is taking care of Muscles when he’s home while I take a shower and get some sleep. My phone has a great alarm clock that I can program so I can sleep between his nightly medication doses. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself, right?
So, bottom line, emergencies that involve your dog- or cat- or llama, really suck. But you can greatly reduce the amount of stress you feel in an unexpected situation with just a little planning!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this important topic. If you have any other helpful tips for getting through an emergency, let me know in the comments! And if you want to follow along Muscle’s journey back to health, you can like the Shiny Healthy Dog facebook page, where I will be doing updates! Also, don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates about our journey to find a shiny healthy life. Cheers!