When you’re dealing with deformed dogs, health care is an uphill battle.
I take good care of Nala. She gets premium food when she isn’t getting homecooked food; she is up-to-date on important vaccines and gets her annual exam; she’s lost 7 extra pounds that were making her a bit chunky.
Still, there are issues she was born with that, no matter what I do, will impact her health.
Take Nala’s deformed toe. On one of her back paws, she has a pinky toe that never touches the ground. So instead of distributing her weight across four toes, like on her three “normal” paws, she distributes it across three on that one, leading to a different kind of wear-and-tear on that leg’s joints. The vet told me that my young dog’s occasional limp on that leg is probably because of that, and that the deformity will likely cause arthritis in that leg. If that wasn’t enough, it will likely appear earlier and worse than the arthritis that is so common in big dogs already. Even though Nala has lost weight to reduce the impact on her joints, there’s nothing we can do about that deformed toe. Nature 1, nurture 0.
Nala has a couple other issues like that and it’s pretty disheartening. Her toe is the only plainly obvious one; the others introduced themselves by way of x-ray. As a responsible and loving dog owner, I want to do everything I can to ensure my dog’s long, healthy life but there’s only so much nurture can change. Nature got its start on this dog before she was even born.
But that’s no excuse not to do everything else I possibly can to keep Nala healthy. It would be terribly unfair to shrug my shoulders and give up just because we’ve been thrown a few obstacles. If she has any strange illnesses or symptoms, I take Nala to the vet pretty quickly, both so that it doesn’t progress to something worse and in case it’s a sign of something more serious. She gets great food that is easier on her allergies, better for her skin and coat, and includes glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. She gets exercise so she stays energetic, healthy and trim.
I’m her mom, and it’s my job to take care of Nala. So that’s what I’m doing, even if nature has decided to give us extra challenges. We can handle it. The weight loss I mentioned earlier? It's virtually eliminated the limp on her deformed leg. New score: nature 1, nurture 1! It will continue to impact her, but I can try to keep that impact as low as possible.
As responsible dog owners, it’s our duty to do whatever we can for our dogs. It’s sweet to shower them with affection, but true love means doing the hard work to give them the best lives possible. Deformed dogs take a little extra work, but it’s well worth it for all they do to make our lives wonderful.
And that’s just what I’m doing for my girl – deformed toe or not.
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Photo credit: Alika Kumar