In a perfect world all dogs would be healthy and happy and nothing bad would ever happen to anybody, ever. Unfortunately, this is a world that can sometimes be rife with peril and bad things occasionally happen. There was a time when a disability meant a death sentence for poor Fido. Fortunately today, with advances in technology and veterinary care, a disabled dog can live a happy and relatively normal life.
Anytime light is unable to get into the retina, a dog’s vision will become impaired. Blindness can be difficult to determine as it is a condition that is not always self-evident by observing the eye itself. A dog with a visual impairment may be more cautious, bump into objects, and sniff more.
If you suspect your dog may be blind, you can test by rearranging the furniture, turning off the light and monitoring how your dog is able to navigate the area. Turn on the lights and repeat the same test. A dog with some vision will show more confidence with the lights on. A completely blind dog will perform the test the exact same way.
Tests like that can be indicative of blindness, but only a veterinary examination can tell you the degree.
Note: You cannot test for blindness in dogs by shining a light into the eyes as the pupil may constrict from light reflex.
Elderly dogs, dogs who’ve been injured about the eyes, head or neck, and certain breeds are more prone to blindness. Schnauzers, poodles, Norwegian elkhounds, Irish setters, collies and cocker spaniels may be prone to retinal atrophy. Retinal dysplasia is common in beagles and Labrador retrievers. Collie eye anomaly is common in Collies and the American cocker spaniels, basset hounds, Chow chows and Labrador retrievers are predisposed to glaucoma.
Blindness in dogs is not the end of the world, dogs rely more on their sense of smell and hearing than they do their eyesight, so this is a relatively minor impairment. They will simply use their other senses more, which will in turn, make those senses even more sharp.
This does not mean that a blind or visually impaired dog will have no problems. One still needs to take precautions. Blind dogs should never be off lead in unfamiliar territory. Exercise your dog in a safe, fenced in area or walk him on leash. Don’t rearrange your furniture, as your dog will have the area mapped out in his head and moving things unnecessarily can confuse him and may cause him harm. If you have stairs, place a mat at the top and bottom of the stairs so your dog knows when he is near them, this will prevent accidental trips or falls. Use rugs to create textures in different rooms so your dog will know where he is. Keep food and water bowls in the same place for easy access. Dogs rely on visual cues to understand people and other dogs. Be very aware of different tones of voice you use to help make things easier for him to understand.
A properly trained blind dog is a safe dog. Dogs who know the commands “Stop”, “wait”, “stay”, “come,” “right” or “left” can still be kept safe. Have friends and strangers speak, cough, or otherwise make their presence known before they pet your dog. This will keep him from getting startled and possibly biting. (The old adage “let sleeping dogs lie” can sometimes apply to blind dogs as well.)
Your dog may also benefit from a hoop harness. These are specially fitted harnesses with a loop that goes around their head. These are usually made with aluminum or plastic. This acts as a kind of walking stick for dogs. It will let them know that they are near furniture, walls, or other obstacles in plenty of time to avoid them.
The good news is that with very little lifestyle changes your blind dog can still enjoy a high standard of living.
Deafness in dogs can be congenital, or caused by untreated ear infections, old age, or injuries. If you suspect your dog may be deaf you can test this by loudly clapping while he is asleep. When he is awake, hide and make different ranges of sounds; whistle, clap your hands loudly and speak or hum in a very low tone. A vet can determine the extent of your dogs hearing loss or impairment. The vet may perform a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER). During this procedure, your vet will place electrodes under your dog’s scalp to read the brain’s response to a series of clicks directed in each ear.
Some dogs are born deaf. Dalmatians are at high risk for congenital deafness, but bull terriers, English setters, Australian cattle dogs, Catahoula Leopard dogs, whippets, and Parson Russell terriers (Jack Russell terriers) are also more likely to be born or become deaf. Poodles, with their narrow ear canals are more likely to develop infections due to wax buildup. Left unchecked, this can lead to deafness later in life. Dogs with white or nearly white heads are more likely to be born deaf as the lack of pigment on the head causes the pigment cells in the inner ear to fail to develop. If there is unpigmented skin in the inner ear, the nerve endings atrophy and die within the first few weeks of the puppy’s life. You cannot tell the colour of the hairs in the inner ear by looking at any visible part of the dog’s ears.
Only walk your deaf dog on leash and exercise them in a fenced in yard. Putting the words “deaf dog” on their tags could be helpful should they get lost. Remember, your dog can’t hear you when you call him, and he cannot hear traffic, so never let him off lead, and it is imperative to teach them their boundaries so they know not to cross them.
Being owned by a deaf dog is not for lazy people. For example; if your dog is raiding the garbage bins he cannot hear the “leave it” command, so you will have to physically stand up, walk over and move him away from it.
To keep him from getting startled if you have to wake him, stomp your feet when you approach, the vibrations will wake him up. If he is in a bed, simply bump the bed. If you have a deaf puppy, wake him up repeatedly and give him a tasty treat. Soon being awakened will have positive connotations.
Since dogs don’t speak English, training a deaf dog is usually easier than training a dog who can hear, since neither of you will be hung up on the verbal cues. Using hand signals instead of verbal commands, a deaf dog can be trained to do almost anything a hearing dog can do.
Movement depends on the brain, spine, nerves and muscles to communicate. The nerves in the brain and spinal cord make up the dog’s central nervous system. Trauma to any part of the nerve’s path will create a miscommunication or total lack of communication which will cause the dog to lose his ability to move. The spinal column consists of 24 bones (vertabrae) which are separated by intervertebral discs. These help protect the spine. Trauma to the vertebrae or discs make the nerves vulnerable which has the potential to lead to further damage.
Paralysis in all four legs is known as tetraplegia. In cases where there is miscommunication between the brain and spine, (but not total lack of communication) the dog will appear to be weak but able to move her legs–with great difficulty. This is called paresis (partial paralysis). A dog may have movement in some of her legs, but not all. Paralysis in the rear legs is known as paraplegia. This depends on where the trauma has occurred in the brain, spine, muscles or nerves.
Welsh corgis, boxers, German shepherd dogs, Chesapeake Bay retrievers and Irish Setters are genetically predisposed to degenerative myelopathy, a disease that attacks the nerves of older dogs, eventually leading to hind leg paralysis.
Dachshunds, basset hounds, pekingese, corgis and other dogs with long backs and short legs are at greater risk of intervertabral disc disease, a condition caused by a ruptured vertabral disc that puts pressure on the spinal cord.
In rare occasions, paralysis can be treated. If your dog is in pain, your vet will give her pain medication. If the cause of paralysis is a slipped disc, your vet can treat it surgically, medically, or with therapy. If it is caused by tumors or blockages, this may be treated surgically depending on how vulnerable the location is.
Your veterinarian will help you make a plan for caring for your dog at home. It is crucial that you follow all of the instructions to the letter so that your dog can fully recover. If your vet has prescribed medication, use all of it, even if your dog appears to have recovered. Consult your vet about any drug you give your dog since some don’t mix well with others.
If paralysis cannot be treated, but your dog is otherwise healthy, she may be outfitted with a special wheelchair to help her navigate her environment.
Paraplegia in the rear legs is not uncommon. It requires management and commitment. The paralyzed dog will usually suffer from urinary and fecal incontinence and will not be able to groom beyond the point of the spinal injury. It may be necessary to bathe her every few days to prevent urine scald. A moisturizing rinse can be obtained from your vet to keep your dog from suffering from dry skin. If frequent baths aren’t as necessary, you can get pet wipes or dry shampoo to spot clean as needed. If your dog is incontinent, you can buy diapers at most pet supply stores or even online.
As long as your dog does not suffer from tetrapalegia, she should be able to drag herself a little or shift positions. Check often to ensure that she doesn’t develop sores. Pad or bandage as needed. Remember that your dog cannot feel her hind legs. If she does drag herself around too much, she will become vulnerable to scraped skin, or other damage.
You can buy an orthopedic bed at any pet supply store, online or through your vet. The orthopedic bed is necessary to prevent bedsores on pressure points.
We are very lucky that we live in a time of such modern convenience. It was not too long ago that a paralysis meant a death sentence for your dog. A dog who is fully or partially paralyzed can still maintain a high quality of life and because of the extra TLC you must give her, the bond between human and dog is often stronger.
A tripod is a dog with three legs. Dogs can lose their legs from cancer, accidents or congenital deformities. Luckily for dogs, there is not the stigma attached to missing limbs like there is for humans. Dogs (and other animals) bounce back pretty quickly seemingly without missing the limb at all. In some cases the amputated limb was painful for a long time and the dog is already used to not using that leg. When they finally get it removed they are free of pain, they can run around again and be free. The missing limb gives them a new found outlook in life.
Dogs who lose their limb due to trauma have to relearn proprioception (an awareness of the position of ones body), they have get a new idea of where there body is and learn how to balance. This they do pretty quickly and smoothly. Young and small dogs have an easy time adjusting to their new body. Older and large dogs have a more difficult time learning how to move around on a missing limb, but they still manage to figure it out remarkably well.
If dogs could speak English, the tripod dogs would likely take offense at being labeled under the banner ‘disabled’ as most three legged dogs are highly functioning and run and jump around with the ease of their four legged counterparts. Still, if your dog is missing her limb, there are some steps you want to take to keep her healthy.
Weight management: An overweight dog is often an unhealthy dog and this is doubly true for tripods. Too much weight can put undue stress on the remaining joints and limbs. Make sure that your dog is getting plenty of exercise. Walks are good and water therapy is better as it doesn’t put any stress on the other limbs. Conversely, too much exercise will put undue stress on the limbs as well, exercise your dog, but don’t over do it.
Tripods are prone to arthritis due to the extra wear and tear on the joints. Prevention is always best; keep your dog slim, and monitor her activity level. Speak to your vet about glucosamine supplements, fish oils or other anti-inflammatory supplements.
Protect the remaining limbs. Place a pad on her elbow to prevent callouses and pressure sores. Keep an eye out for elbow hygroma, a condition which occurs when the elbow bone causes trauma to the soft tissue around it. Orthopedic dog beds or elevated mesh beds can help with this problem.
Maintain the foot pads. Keep the bottom of the feet trimmed, if the fur grows too long it can cause slips and falls. Keep her nails trimmed as nails that are allowed to grow too long can cause extreme discomfort when dogs walk. Because each leg now has to support more weight, the foot pads may develop cracks, you can purchase protective cream at a pet supply store, through your vet or online.
Elevate her food: Raised food and water dishes will allow your dog to keep her balance easier.
Place mats or rugs on slick surfaces. While three legged dogs learn to balance fairly well, they don’t have quite the same grip as four legged dogs. If you have tile, laminate or hardwood floors, place rugs, mats or runners to make navigation easier.
Bionic doggie: If your vet was able to salvage part of your dog’s limb, prosthetics or orthotics can be of great help. Your dog will be able to run around as if she never lost a leg in the first place.
Invest in a wheelchair if necessary. Some older dogs, or dogs with other health or mobility problems, may not be able to walk independently. Making or buying a wheelchair can really help dogs who would not otherwise be able to walk.
With very few modifications a tripod dog can live as fun and fulfilling a life as any other dog. Relax, have fun and let your little angel be the dog she was meant to be.