For most pet owners the day your dog becomes paralyzed is filled with anxiety and fear. You find yourself rushing to the veterinarian in a state of shock because your dog suddenly can’t walk. No matter the cause, you are in no condition to ask questions about your dog’s future. But thanks to some very special pet parents, we put together a list of the 9 important questions you need to ask your veterinarian about your newly paralyzed dog.
The questions don’t have to be answered right away, but print them and keep the list handy. Because soon, you’ll want to have a heart-to-heart talk with your veterinarian about your dog’s health. This list will make sure you ask the most important questions.
My personal experience wasn’t what I expected
The onset of Sophie’s paralysis was the opposite of what commonly happens. She gradually lost the ability to walk. At first, I noticed her hind legs slip out from under her for no apparent reason. Then her rear paws began to knuckle under. We went to the veterinarian many times, but it wasn’t until Sophie was fully paralyzed that I realized my questions were being ignored.
After nearly 6 months, I asked my vet to tell me her philosophy about paralyzed dogs. I found out she didn’t believe in keeping a “down” dog alive. These were her exact words. And that was the reason she hadn’t answered my questions about her future care or interventions that might have been helpful.
I learned that day to always ask the tough questions when it comes to the health of my fur kids.
We’re lucky this doesn’t happen often
The vast majority of veterinarians don’t feel the way my vet did. They are happy to share their knowledge and prepare you for the day your dog comes home. Most veterinarians care about the health of your pet as much as you do. So, please don’t expect to have an experience like I did. Instead focus on what to ask your vet so that your dog can have the best life possible.
I went to experienced pet owners for their important questions
There are a lot of dedicated pet owners who have successfully navigated their way from being a novice caretaker for their paralyzed dog to an expert. I asked them to share the “best question” they asked their veterinarian and the “one question they wished they had asked.” Here are their answers.
The 9 important questions you need to ask your veterinarian
1. How much experience does your veterinarian have in treating paralyzed pets?
This question is extremely important. You need a veterinarian who understands your animal’s condition and can offer you support, education about daily living, and explain what the future looks like for your dog.
Ana R. rescued a dog from Puerto Rico who became paralyzed after being hit by a car. Her veterinarian was not experienced with the ongoing care of paraplegic pets. Ana had questions, but the only advice she received was to take her dog home and give him a quality life. It’s taken her a long time to figure this out on her own.
Pet mom Renee B. had the opposite experience when her dog was diagnosed with Degenerative Myelopathy. Her veterinarian became her mentor. He gave her encouragement, answered her questions and was there at the end for both of them.
2. What expenses can you expect for ongoing care or future surgeries?
Diagnostic tests like MRIs and CT scans are expensive. So are surgeries, canine rehab, wheelchairs and even diapers. Basically, life with a paraplegic pet will test any financial plan you have. It’s important your veterinarian can give you an honest idea about the costs you’ll likely incur for your paralyzed dog. Each pet’s medical condition is different and the expenses will vary, but it’s helpful to have an estimate. (Please note: This is not meant to deter you. Lots of us have happily been our dogs’ caretakers for years, but it’s better to be prepared rather than surprised.)
Denise S. said this is the question she wished she had asked. After her Schnauzer had an FCE stroke Denise would’ve appreciated if her veterinarian had prepared her for the expenses her family faced for the dog’s treatment.
3. Can your veterinarian explain what life will be like when you take your dog home?
This needs to be clearly explained for your dog’s specific health problems. For instance, will your dog be confined to crate rest due to a surgery or injury or will you need to immediately find a wheelchair so your dog can exercise? Every situation is different. You’ll want your veterinarian to paint a detailed picture for you.
4. Is your veterinarian willing to teach you one-on-one how to express your dog’s bladder?
This is by far the task that causes the most anxiety for pet owners. People are afraid they will do it wrong and hurt their dog or the worry they won’t be able to do it at all. You need a veterinarian who can give you hands-on training using a technique that works for you and your dog.
Missy B. ran into this problem when she wanted to learn how to express her dog’s bladder. Her veterinarian explained the method to her, but did not show how to express her dog. It was a problem when she took her dog home.
“No one said you needed to fully empty the bladder so your dog doesn’t get a urinary tract infection. And they didn’t tell me it’s possible to express your dog too much.”
Ultimately Missy’s veterinarian realized the confusion and told her to schedule specific times to express her dog at intervals of at least 3-4 hours. Other pet parents have been told to watch a video online. But the best way to be sure you are doing the job well is with hands on training.
5. Should your dog be examined by a neurologist?
Many pet owners think a consult with a veterinary neurologist absolutely must happen if your pet is having mobility problems. So it is something you need to consider. If your veterinarian makes this recommendation, it is important to ask what you can expect to learn from the exam, the costs involved and if the neurologist will provide ongoing treatment. Some specialists are there for the initial workup while others provide a pet with continuous care.
6. How many spine surgeries has your veterinarian performed?
Carina T said this was the most important question she wished she had asked before her dog’s surgery. A veterinarian who specializes in spine surgeries and performs many of them is more likely to have a better outcome for a patient. Carina also recommends asking about the surgeon’s success rate.
7. How familiar is your vet with alternative/holistic therapies for your paraplegic pet?
Pets with spine problems are lucky today. There are lots of holistic treatments to improve their quality of life. Be sure to check how familiar your veterinarian is with: canine rehab, water therapy, acupuncture, stem cell therapy, laser therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and other alternative care.
Ish R. wrote, “Ask what else you can do to help rehab your pup. I found out about water therapy years after my dog became paralyzed.”
Marianne B. wanted to know if acupuncture would benefit her dog with IVDD, but her veterinarian wasn’t able to answer her question.
8. Is your veterinarian up-to-date on clinical trials?
Many forms of paralysis in pets are currently being studied in Veterinary schools. Ask if an appropriate clinical trial is being conducted nearby. Your dog might benefit from the treatment and the results could help dogs in the future.
9. Will your veterinarian support you to the end?
No one wants to think about those final days, but it is important to know that your veterinarian will be there at the end.
Renee B explained how important the decision was for her veterinarian to support her when she wanted to care for her dog to the end. She appreciated how her vet let her “steer the caregiving” to the end, but was there as her mentor.
I hope your found our list of 9 important questions you need to ask your veterinarian helpful. I appreciate all of the pet owners who shared their experiences and made this story possible.
If you have an important question you asked your vet, I’d love to read about it in the comment section below.
My favorite bed for incontinent dogs.