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May 03, 2023 6 min read

Every once in a while, life and art collide in unexpected ways. As I prepared to write about health and wellness for pets, I found myself in the middle of a rather challenging health situation with a senior member of our pack, the redoubtable Lucy the Dachshund. This is not the time for suspense or cliff hangers so let me say right now, the green shoots of recovery are starting to show their optimistic selves and the patient is happily snoozing next to me as I write. But as you might expect, the experience has, as these things are apt to do, taught me a few really valuable things. So this month, let me share those lessons in the hopes that should you find yourself in a similar spot, you may have their benefit. 

1. Be Prepared!

Preparation, as parents, military types, anyone who has taken any kind of test, and anyone who has missed a flight (ahem, it was only once, and that traffic really was unexpected, and anyway, who doesn’t love a spontaneous 9 hr drive to a wedding!) will tell you, really is the key. It’s a great idea to keep a list of local veterinary ERs together with details of your regular vet in a place where all your family members, and any regular pet sitters or walkers, can access. In our case, we made a shared notes page in our iPhones with all the relevant info, including our family vet, our nearest 24/7 ER, the major animal hospital we are lucky enough to live close to, as well as Lucy’s regular medications, and links to her medical notes which our family vet was able to provide. A treasure trove of info on everyone’s phone and it took only minutes to create. 

2. Be Prepared Part 2: The Pet Pack. 

Now this is a little more specific, a little more bespoke to your cat, or dog, or lizard, which are just three of the creatures we saw in the ER we went to in New York City last week. This is the set of tools which will help you ensure a smooth transition from home to doctor to hospital should the need arise. Accordingly, I’ll share ours and encourage you to think of what might help you in similar circumstances!

  • A large, but not too plush towel. We use a Turkish towel, they are BRILLIANT (and not just for emergencies). 
  • A soft, large, cotton bag with a very wide opening and strong shoulder straps*. 
  • A set of oven mitts.
  • A pile of large pee pads, the kind you might use to train a puppy.

The towel goes under your dog to help get her into the bag; if the towel is thinner and less plush, it takes up less space, but any will do! The bag we use is larger than our regular pet carrier, so it’s much easier to get Lucy in - and out of - without discomfort, and it's washable. The oven mitts are worn to protect our own hands from the entirely understandable snaps of a dog in pain, and even the ER vet stood back in awe at this particular piece of genius. The pee pads line the bag to make sure any accidents are easy to manage and easy to magic away.

*Note: pet carriers have ventilation holes, supported bases, etc, so we only recommend using a bigger, soft bag in circumstances where you need extra space and flexibility, and then only for a short time. 

3. Don’t Worry, You’re Doing Great!

There is nothing like an injured or poorly pet to make you begin to doubt yourself as a pet parent. Not 30 minutes before I began to write this, I was racked with guilt about what I could be doing differently, how I could have prevented a 16 ½ year-old dog who is a little prone to back problems from being a 16 ½ year old dog who is a little prone to back problems, and the answer is, stuff happens! It’s totally normal for us all to doubt ourselves, but as my mom just texted me, “you are the one keeping everything going!” So whatever happens, take a minute, or better still, take 10 minutes, to thank and appreciate yourself on your pet’s behalf. Make sure you take time to eat, give yourself permission to have a restorative glass of whatever restores you best, and above all, don’t worry: you’re doing great! 

4. Warm Water (Might) Work Wonders!

Now this we discovered quite by accident after a little accident. It turns out a warm bath was just the thing to soothe the aches in Lucy’s back and neck, and she was as happy as we have seen her in days hanging out in the soapy suds while we very gently washed her fur. Yay! If you are tempted to try some hydrotherapy, a few things to bear in mind. The size of your dog is critical!  You need to be able to lift your dog in and out of the sink or tub, and you need to be able to bear her weight whilst she is in it. A sick or injured pet may not be able to hold herself, so DO NOT attempt this with a dog you cannot easily hold. Furthermore, a sick dog may not feel like getting wet! Ask your family or ER vet, and use your judgment. Hot water works wonders on my own disc injury and accordingly on Lucy’s too, but we called and asked our vet to be sure. Above all, do not turn your back or leave your pet in alone in the water for even one second, and make sure you have plenty of towels on hand as shaking dry may not be an option. We used a blow dryer on its lowest setting so Lucy didn't catch a cold, and now she is fast asleep. Double yay!

5. Medicine Delivery Mechanisms!

As regular readers will know, the delivery of food to Lucy is one of the most anticipated and enjoyable parts of our day. She loves, loves, loves, to eat, and does so with a speed and agility that would make a Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Champion blush! However the onset of her disc injury has somewhat disrupted the regimented relationship between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Lucy, and while it’s fine to feed her when she’s ready, and with only as much as she can manage, she needs to take her medication regularly. What follows are the best - and least - successful - methods of delivery so far: 

Cheese - surprise fail. No amount of mozzarella, American, or cheddar was sufficiently tempting to sneak in her pills.

Yogurt - massive win! She lapped it up, pills and all, and asked for more!

Ham - mixed results. Honey baked, usually a longed-for but forbidden treat, was a hard no. Prosciutto at $25 / pound was a huge yes! Bearing in mind how salty it is, this is I guess predictable and followed with PLENTY of water. 

Frosting - another massive win! Now clearly this is not a regular part of any pet’s diet, but desperate times will occasionally arise and desperate measures may need to be taken. A spoonful of sugar helped Mary Poppins get the medicine to go down and finger dip of frosting did the same for me. PLEASE do not try this if your dog is diabetic or has other health issues where sugar is dangerous and ALWAYS read the label to make sure there is no xylitol which is highly toxic for dogs. Same applies to peanut butter. 

Sorbet - the coolest win of all! As above, this comes under the heading of treats, and the label should be checked for xylitol, but some cooling lemon sorbet has been high on Lucy's will-eat list and we kinda like it too!

6. Pet Insurance

Last but not least, vet bills and ER bills can escalate really quickly, and it is extremely hard to have to think about costs at a time when you are worried or anxious. Pet insurance may not be right for everyone, and we do not recommend or endorse any policy in particular, but for us, it has made a hard time easier. We suggest it is a good idea for pet parents to explore the option of insurance before the occasion arises when it might be needed. There are many options, and your vet should be able to help you with some suggestions.

Above all, we hope that you and your pets are all as happy and healthy as it’s possible to be, but if, like us, you have had a temporary setback, we wish your pet a speedy and comfortable return to full health. Hard stuff happens, but love is a powerful drug, and the care we give our pets is as complete and magical a force as any on earth. Until next time, friends, be well! ❤️‍🩹🩹🐶🐾🏥👩🏾‍⚕️


IMPORTANT NOTE: we are not vets or healthcare professionals, but loving pet parents, and all suggestions must be considered with this in mind. Please consult your vet or pet healthcare professional immediately if your pet is injured or showing signs of being unwell.


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