Pet Health, Treatment & Care

Sick Service Dogs: What You Need to Know About Diagnosis and Care

Service dogs provide a number of invaluable services to those who have disabilities. Most famous, seeing-eye dogs help the blind, but service dogs can also help people with other medical conditions. Service dogs can alert diabetics of low or high blood sugar, hear for the deaf, calm and control a child with autism, or provide basic assistance for someone who is wheelchair bound. Some dogs even provide mental-health support for those with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sometimes, those with service dogs can grow to rely entirely on their dog’s dependable, constant companionship. So, it can be shocking and even upsetting when your dog becomes ill. If you have a service dog who helps care for your needs, here’s what you should know about dealing with both mild and severe sickness.

Give Your Dog Time to Recover

Some dogs will be able to continue serving when sick. Dogs can get illnesses similar to the common cold and flu, but these might not affect your dog’s ability to do his or her work. However, many dogs might not be operating at their full potential.

For example, if your dog alerts you for diabetes, he or she does so in part by using an exceptional sense of smell. If your dog has a cold or another illness, that causes excess mucus to build up in the nasal passages, your dog’s smell may not be as sharp. It’s possible he or she could miss an alert when they are not feeling like themselves.

Prepare for these times in advance. All dogs will have an illness every so often, and you will still need to live your life while they recover. Have a back-up plan in place for how you might go without your dog for a few days should he or she require a surgery, hospital stay or extended rest at home.

See the Vet

For simple health problems, many pet owners may not seek veterinary care for their dog. A cold may go away with rest and good hydration. However, if you notice your dog becoming ill, resting more, sneezing, coughing or acting irritable, you should schedule an appointment immediately.

Even though your dog may not have anything serious, you cannot rule it out. You don’t want your dog to get worse or have an undiagnosed condition that will permanently affect their ability to operate as a service dog. A vet can diagnosis the condition and instruct you on the proper treatment and at-home care.

Also, if your dog has something contagious or dangerous to other dogs or people, it’s essential you are aware. Since these dogs go almost everywhere with you, even into hospitals and clinics, you may need to keep your dog on a very short leash or practice special hygiene to maintain the safety of those around you.

Provide for Basic Needs

Your dog spends his or her entire life caring for your needs, so now you have the chance to give back in a meaningful way. Care for your pet by:

  • Providing frequent breaks from the rigor of the day. If you spend a lot of the day on your feet walking around, give your dog time-outs to rest instead of working or keeping up with your normal fast pace.
  • Keeping them occupied. Working dogs find happiness in doing their work, and taking time off from their normal labor can actually be hard for them when they are used to a higher level of stimulation. You can spend some time teaching them gentle tricks that your dog can do while resting, such as shaking a paw.
  • Making sure your dog stays hydrated and is eating. If you notice a significant decrease in appetite or refusal of fluids, let your vet know immediately.

If your veterinarian gives you medication for your service dog, administer it as directed.

Assess the Future

Sometimes, the illness is not something that can be cured with a course of antibiotics or a few days of rest and nutrition at home. Service dogs may seem superhuman (or superdog), but at the end of the day, they can still suffer from major illnesses that may require special treatments.

When these devastating illnesses occur, you might wonder what the path forward is for your own health, as well as the health of your dog. In some cases it may be kinder to allow your service dog to retire from work. You might need to actively begin training with a replacement.

In other cases, extensive treatment is worth the time and money, especially because your service dog provides more than just companionship. These are discussions you will need to have with both your veterinarian and your doctor as you make these decisions.

For more information on keeping your service dog healthy and happy, you can contact us at 1st Pet Veterinary Centers. We can provide the information you need to give yourself peace of mind during any time.