ASK THE EXPERT: SPECIAL NEEDS – MEDICAL

Rocky before and after

by Mary Janak, volunteer writer

Rocky, a young boxer mix, is one of many animals with special medical needs who today are living miracles, thanks to the Dumb Friends League’s Veterinary Services team.

Rocky was hit full face by a car.

“Rocky came in suffering from very severe head trauma, unable to respond to simple sound and light,” said Dr. Cecily Palamara, League veterinarian. “His face was swollen and he had multiple fractures to his jaw.” Rocky was treated aggressively with pain medications and special medications for his brain injury, and underwent surgery to fix his broken jaw.

After recovering in a foster home, Rocky was adopted on June 8, 2017!

“From a medical point of view, ‘special needs’ means any animal in our shelter with a condition that requires a special medication, supplement, diet, veterinary monitoring, or other therapy to manage the condition and maintain a good quality of life,” Dr. Palamara explains.

Examples of the most common conditions include heart murmurs, ear infections, dry eye, allergies, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and orthopedic conditions such as arthritis, luxating patellas (knee caps popping in and out) and hip dysplasia.

Bladder stones are one of the more serious conditions, because of the risk of urinary obstruction (not being able to urinate) from the stone. Animals often require a special diet and regular check-ups to ensure no additional stones are forming.

Arthritis can also affect quality of life as it progresses and involves more management to ease increasing discomfort, such as additional medications, physical therapy or other exercise.

Luckily, many pets with special medical needs live a long, high-quality life, with proper care—often one or two medications, supplements and/or a special diet, and/or a special activity regimen—combined with frequent, regular check-ups, care and supervision by the family veterinarian.

“We do our best to place only pets whose special medical needs can be managed fairly easily,” Dr. Palamara said. “For instance, dogs with arthritis can often live a very long and comfortable life with medication, diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.”

She advises potential pet parents to plan on giving their pets with medical needs a little more TLC and time than average, knowing they are creating a long-lasting, special and rewarding bond with their pet.

“Special medical needs usually require long-term management, rather than a ‘quick fix,’” Dr. Palamara explained, “so also expect to spend more money on your pet’s care.”

Cost varies significantly, depending on the type and severity of the medical condition. She encourages potential pet parents “to speak with your veterinarian about a pet’s specific condition and the cost of caring for it, prior to adopting, so expectations are reasonable and realistic.”

Rabbits and other small mammals are more difficult to assess medically than dogs and cats, Dr. Palamara said, because “in the wild, other animals hunt them for food, so showing any type of illness or injury increases their chances of becoming a meal.”

“. . . how totally helpless animals are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must that we will be kind and take care of their needs.” – James Herriot, “All Creatures Great and Small”