Am I Ready to Adopt a Pet - Part V(b)

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Last week, we explored some of the prospective pet owner’s medical conditions that should be considered in adopting a pet.

An honest evaluation of our health is essential in deciding whether we can meet the physical and emotional demands of pet parenting. As we learned, chronic ailments of the pet parent do not necessarily preclude one from fulfilling this special role. We simply need to consider our capabilities and adjust our expectations. In any case, we must choose wisely. No animal should suffer because of our selfishness or lack of foresight.

Now, it’s time to consider the flip side of the medical equation:

What are our prospective pet’s potential medical concerns?

Many of you have undoubtedly met a fellow pet-lover who has spoken about his or her particular pet’s ailments. Over time, we come to learn that specific breeds are vulnerable to certain conditions or spectrum of conditions that may arise or worsen as the pet ages. As pet parents, we must be informed and willing to care for our pet’s hallmark maladies.

For example, our squishy-faced Lilly, the Boston terrier, is quite a “snorty-bug.” Weighing in at a scant 18 pounds, she can nonetheless “saw logs” just like her daddy. Usually, Susan and I find this behavior endearing. Not so much in the dead of night, however, when I get nudged by my wife for snoring like a freight train - and it was our little girl all along.

Brachycephalic respiratory syndrome is common among Bostons. Having a broad, short skull, Lilly is plagued by narrow nasal passages, an elongated soft palate and constriction of the tracheal cartilage. In short, breathing can be a challenge, especially after vigorous activity or a burst of excitement. Patellar luxation is another common condition in Bostons and some other small dogs. Because of an abnormally shallow groove in the knee, the knee cap (patella) can more easily “slip” in and out of position, causing lameness.

Having both hairy and floppy ears, cocker spaniels and standard poodles tend toward ear infections. A regular routine of ear-cleaning, hair trimming and “airing out” of the ear canal is highly recommended. Because of their large frames, both the German shepherd and Grate Dane are prone to hip dysplasia. But the latter breed is also predisposed to gastric dilation and twisting of the stomach, a condition known as volvulus (GDV) which requires immediate surgical intervention. Labs are ravenous and can pack on the pounds just like many humans. Daily exercise and slipping in some raw fruit and vegetable snacks may help keep this retriever lively and trim.

As potential pet parents, it is our responsibility to thoroughly research the potential health issues of the breed/mix we are considering (click here for common conditions arising in dogs and cats). We must then ask ourselves how committed we are to our pet’s individualized plan of care and to what extent we are willing to stretch our financial and emotional resources to ensure the best quality of life for our pet. Ironically, as veterinary medicine improves, companion animals are living longer and some are developing cancer. Treatment options for cancer and favorable outcomes are improving. A good pet insurance policy can bring peace of mind and ease the financial burden.

Some of the bravest and most generous people I’ve ever met have - at one point or another - chosen to foster or adopt a middle-aged or elderly pet who was in the throes of a particular illness. While this charge can tax the spirit, the special bond between these humans and their animal companions more than makes up the cost.

Whether our beloved companion is with us for two months or two decades, the gifts they give us will last a lifetime.


Many rescue groups are devoted to finding homes for aging or special needs pets. Check out Muttville and Frosted Faces.

Learn more about efforts to map and track diseases of companion animals regionally.