Caring For Pets While Caring For Yourself

It is the worst when you have the flu or are recuperating from surgery, a broken bone or other injury. All you want to do is lie around and feel sorry for yourself. But if you have a houseful of pets, or even just one, that’s just not possible. Your dog or cat needs you to feed him not just with nutritious food but also with his recommended daily allowance of physical exercise, mental stimulation, and emotional bonding time. What’s a sick or laid-up pet owner to do?

Know your limits. You might be surprised to discover just how difficult some tasks are when you have only one hand available to complete them. Gina Spadafori, who broke her wrist in a fall recently, was able to dish out dog food one-handed, but opening the bins containing dog food and grain for her horses and goats was beyond her.

There’s no shame in asking for—or hiring—help. A pet-loving friend or relative may be willing to stay with you or at least come in daily to help with pet care. Spadafori, who has two horses on her property—one belonging to someone else—arranged for that person to set up all the food for the outdoor animals, which included goats and chickens, so that all she had to do was hand it out at the appropriate time.

When Shannon Gillespie had hip replacement surgery, she was unable to exercise her four Border Collies. So she hired certified canine fitness coach Danielle Hall to come in and work with her dogs.

“She taught them all to treadmill and a lot of core strength and conditioning stuff,” Gillespie says. “She came to the house two times a week and they were always tired after. They absolutely love her.”

Collie owner Rosemary George had a knee replacement last October. She arranged in advance for her four dogs to stay somewhere else during her recovery so she didn’t have to worry that they would run into her and knock her down.

“Tia and Shayna were boarded together at a small kennel run by my obedience instructor,” she says. “They are very bonded to each other, and they were able to stay in a run together, which made the extended kennel stay less stressful for them.”

Her dog Bridget hates kennels so she stayed with a couple who had one of her puppies. And Mick stayed with one of George’s friends. George also hired someone to come in and care for her cats.

“I did not want to be in contact with cat litter while my incision was healing,” she says.

Tracy Weber is recuperating from a broken collarbone. That’s a problem for her high-energy German Shepherd, Ana, only 18 months old and approximately 92 pounds. Ana is used to being able to cuddle, but right now that’s not possible because she keeps knocking into Weber’s shoulder. She’s a little confused about why she’s not allowed to get close, Weber says. Ana spends a lot of time trying to get her attention to make up for the lack of physical closeness. It’s a challenge for both of them, but clicker training and puzzle toys are helping to keep Ana occupied.

Spadafori says it took about a week for her to realize she needed to ask for help as well as to recognize that her dogs were just as in need as she was.

“I think even though you are trying to recuperate, you have to think about how it’s affecting them and make some plans to have some enrichment exercises for them, especially if your pets are used to a lot of activity,” she says. “I had to pay attention to their mental health as well as mine during the recovery.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.