Tips for Parents of Differently-abled Pets

I never thought that we would be the owners of four differently-abled animals.  In fact, we did not even know that one of our fur babies was differently-abled until the day that we adopted her.  Adriel, a short-haired Chihuahua, always had her tongue sticking out in every single photo on her Petfinder.com profile page.  I thought it was a bit odd that the photographer managed to capture her in mid-lick each time.

Eagerly, I raced into Petco to officially make Adriel a part of our family.  I completely melted when the adoption coordinator from St. Louis Senior Dog Rescue placed her into my arms.  She was absolutely adorable!  As I proudly walked up and down the aisles of supplies, a woman approached.  She was actually a vet who had volunteered to come out to the adoption event to help answer any questions that new pet parents may have. 

“Oh, looks like this little one doesn’t have any teeth,” she commented.

Adriel remained frozen in my arms as the vet opened her mouth.

“Well, she actually has all of her teeth, but her tongue is longer than her head,” the vet stated.

This explained why her tongue was always sticking out in the photos!  Little did I know that Adriel was to be the gateway pet for our other differently-abled fur babies…

Adriel strikes a pose in her pet bed.

In September of 2011, we adopted our amazing Chiweenie, Penny.  She was born with a severe overbite and a differently-formed front left leg.  The leg looks very similar to a lobster claw and has two “toes.”  Penny loves to wave “the stump” when she gets excited.  We even nicknamed her Peace Sign Penny because she looks like she is flashing the peace sign.

 Penny is one fun-loving tripod!

We then adopted Hope in February of 2014.  She is a mini double dapple Dachshund.  The product of a backyard breeder, Hope was born without eyes and is completely deaf.  She uses her snout to navigate her way through life and has truly earned the nickname of Queen Ween.

Hope loves to play in the sun.

Our final differently-abled animal is our cat, Olaf.  He was found on the streets of St. Louis as a week old kitten.  Apparently, he got scratched across his left eye.  He still has sight in the left eye, but cannot see through the permanent scratch scar.  This doesn’t stop him from racing his kitty sister, Miracle, to the top of the cat tower!

Olaf channels his inner Grumpy Cat.

We have developed quite a passion for rescuing differently-abled animals.  While attending the BarkWorld 2016 expo in Atlanta, GA, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting (and becoming friends with) Alyona DelaCoeur.  She is the owner of the amazing website Why Does My Dog? (www.whydoesmydog.com).

Aly was intrigued by our furry crew and wondered if I had any tips for pet parents in regards to differently-abled animals.  Here are my top 10 tips to enjoying an amazing life with your special needs fur baby:

1. Since Hope is blind, we had a terrible time of her snatching treats from our hand.  We certainly do not want anyone getting bit!  Now, whenever we are about to give Hope a treat, we lightly tap her nose.  This makes her aware of our presence as opposed to simply thrusting a treat in front of her snout where she would be more likely to nip and grab.  Once we have tapped her nose, we have her full attention.  She then eagerly waits for the treat to be given.  Hope now always associates a tap on the snout with being given a treat.  #nomorenip

2. Be very mindful of stairs.  We have stairs that lead from our kitchen down to our basement.  We ALWAYS leave the door closed.  This prevents Hope from accidentally falling down the stairs or worse, getting knocked down the stairs by her overly-active fur siblings.  If you do not have a door by your steps, you might want to consider purchasing a pet or baby gate.  The gates come in all shapes, styles and sizes.  We actually have two, one is wooden and the other is plastic.

Be sure to read all of the instructions that come with each gate to avoid potential injury to your pet.  I also strongly advise placing the gate flush with the floor.  Hope likes to wiggle underneath the gate if given the opportunity.

3.  Avoid placing sharp or pointy items on the floor. This is especially true for any decorations that may be made of wood or metal.  Hope typically navigates the house like a Queen Ween, but she does have bad days where she runs into everything.  And this is even truer if she is excited.  We take great care in making sure that our home decor is pet friendly.  While Hope cannot poke an eye out, she can injure her eye sockets, nose, face, etc.  Any items that could be viewed as hazardous to your pet’s safety should be placed on an elevated surface where your pet cannot reach.

4. If you have multiple dogs like we do, make sure to monitor meal time.  Domino, another cheeky Chihuahua, likes to steal food from Hope if she doesn’t eat fast enough.  This has the potential to create fights.  For this reason, we feed each dog in a separate room of the house.  This way, each dog can take his/her time when eating and will not feel the need to guard his/her dish.

5.  Consider starting your tripod pet on a joint supplement.  Since Penny has a differently-formed paw, she is perpetually off balance.  She places all of her weight on her front right leg (a.k.a. The Super Paw).  This paw is much larger than her back paws because she has to rely on it for stability.  We began giving her a joint supplement because we found out from our vet that tripod animals are more likely to develop arthritis in their hips and other joints.  The supplements come in a variety of forms:  liquid, capsules, chewables, etc.  Penny loves the beef flavor and happily gobbles up her tablet every day.

6. If you have a blind dog, consider purchasing a Muffin’s Halo.  The halo is attached to a harness that the dog wears like a vest.  The halo then acts as a barrier preventing your blind pooch from running into potentially dangerous items.  Wearing the halo can actually re-build the dog’s confidence and help him/her live a happier life.  To learn more about Muffin’s Halo, visit http://www.muffinshalo.com.

7. Purchase a set of pet stairs.  We actually bought a set for our oldest dog, Theo.  He has lost sight in one eye, making jumping onto the couch nearly impossible.  Oddly enough, the first dog to use the pet stairs was Hope!  The stairs are also helpful for Penny.  While she can easily jump onto and off of the furniture, using the pet stairs is easier on her joints.

8.  Consider purchasing custom collars and leashes that easily denote your dog’s condition.  We purchased a leash for Hope that says BLIND DOG.  This alerts others who may want to approach your pet that they should do so with caution.  The leashes come in a variety of colors that also denote if your dog is approachable, shy, etc.  Our leash has proved very useful at the numerous pet events that we attend.  Children usually run up and try to pet our dogs without asking.  When their parents see the leash, they take notice.  We are then able to have the children calmly approach Hope and give her the attention that she craves.

9.  Invest in a Cuddle Cave.  My husband and I discovered the Cuddle Cave at a local pet expo.  The vendor made items specifically for Dachshunds.  She claimed that all doxies love the Cuddle Cave.  I was skeptical, but thought it would be worth a try if it made Hope more comfortable.  She absolutely LOVES her Cuddle Cave!  In fact, she begs to be placed inside.  The Cuddle Cave actually looks like a bag.  The dog enters the cave and then hunkers down, surrounded by the soft, comfy interior.  We have found that the cave provides security for Hope.  She feels safe and protected from our other dogs.  This could be the reason why she always falls asleep in the cave.  Larger versions are available at your local Petsmart, Petco, etc.  You can also search Etsy for more customizable options.

10.  My final tip is to treat your differntly-abled pet like a “normal” pet!  We thought that each of our special fur babies would need extra care and accommodations.  We were wrong!  Penny does not need to be picked up and placed onto the furniture.  She can jump on and off by herself.  Hope does not need to be carried in her special weenie pouch every day.  She wants to explore the world through her own four paws (with a little help from her snout).  Remember, differently-abled does not mean disabled.

I hope that you have found these tips to be helpful.  If you have any additional questions about differently-abled animals, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Send your questions to: theuerkaufstails@gmail.com or simply comment on this post.  Different is Beautiful!

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