Pet Care Tips

How to Prepare for Your Dog’s Illness While They Are Still Healthy

Having a sick dog is never something any pet owner wants to think about, but unfortunately it is the reality of having these four-legged friends in our life. Toby’s knee issues and 18-month battle with lymphoma was a really unfortunate lesson in learning to take care of an ill dog.

But, if anything good came out of it, it taught me a lot. When we had to rush Maddux to the emergency vet in pain, I was surprisingly calm and confident I could handle whatever take-home instructions they threw at me.

It wasn’t always this way. Lots of phone calls to may aunt, vets, friends who had been through this more times than me, Googling into all hours of the night and a good amount of trial and error. Most of this was done in a panic because I was in the middle of the crisis.

The following tips are some of what I’ve learned through the process and what made when Maddux got unexpectedly ill, a little easier to handle, because I was already prepared and not running around looking for items I might need.


If you take one thing away from this article it would be this: Please properly crate-train your dog, and continue to use the crate throughout their daily life. Having a dog on long-term crate rest can be a pain in the you-know-where. But, having a dog who likes their crate, doesn’t see it as a punishment and is comfortable in it during healthy times will make things so much easier when they are forced to be confined in there when something happens.

When buying a crate, look for one with a top or side opening in addition to a front opening. If you have a small dog, a top opening is good so you can reach in and pick them up if you need to. If you have a large dog, the side opening will be useful in a similar way. In both cases those additional ways of opening the crate can help with changing food and water without disrupting your four-legged friend.

(Tip: Buy these when you don’t need them. Look for sales, clearance events, keep an eye out at garage sales or in online groups. Wire crates fold up, so having an extra one, or two in various sizes, won’t take up much space even in the smallest apartments.)

prepare for a dog's illness

Get an x-pen

Every pet owner should have an x-pen or exercise pen. These are an investment that just keeps repaying for itself. A good, sturdy x-pen can be used in a variety of ways – way more than I can list here.

It can be used to separate an ill dog from others, to give the dog a littleextra room to roam outside of their crate or for dogs who are eating a special diet different than other dogs, it’s a way to monitor their food. I use mine all the time, and not just when a dog is sick.

(Tip: Buy a larger x-pen than you actually need. A taller x-pen can help with dogs who like to jump. Plus, you can always fold the panels to make it smaller. It’s better to have extra panels than not enough.)

preparing for a sick dog



For small dogs, having a sling or a carrier of some sort that your dog is already well adjusted to is very beneficial, as introducing a new mode of transportation to an ill dog is not the best idea. Plus, finding something that your dog fits into is not always the easiest.

For example, when Maddux hurt his foot two years ago, I went everywhere searching for something to carry him in. It was so difficult to find. When Toby wasn’t allowed to be nose-to-nose with other dogs, having him already adjusted to me carrying him around in a sling, made it very easy to take him more places without much of a fuss.

(Tip: This is another instance where you should shop around, look for sales and buy it when you don’t need it. Cruise the pet area of discount stores for unique items that may work for you. For example, I came across a dog backpack/carrier that at TJ Maxx for $50 than it normally sold for. I purchased it, and have been randomly carrying Maddux around in it just in case we need it one day. While I hope I never need to use it, there may come a day when he can’t hike with me, but knowing that he loves the outdoors, this would be a way for him to still come with me.)


dog in a sling michelle maskaly

Prepare for comfortability

Having an extra dog bed, not just crate mat, that fits into a crate, blankets and other comfort items already available is a good investment to have. Think about it, if you had to spend two weeks on bed rest, you would want to be super comfortable. Same goes for your pet.

(Tip: Purchase a basic elevated food and water dish that fits into a crate. This way, the dog can have easy access to all the necessities. Again, shop around and watch for sales at discount stores. Choose a functional one with common size stainless steel dishes so that it’s easy to replace them or buy extras if you need it.)


For most pet owners, giving medications to their dog can quickly become a nightmare. But, if you work with them when they are not ill – playing with their ears, their teeth, their paws while also sitting and staying – it can make things a bit easier.

Specifically, when it comes to giving pills, get yourself a decent pill splitter. This tool could arguably have been one of the most important parts of Toby’s take-home care when he was on prednisone. Getting an even pill split can be so important to adhering to your veterinarian’s take-home instructions.

Also, if your dog hates when you put a pill down their throat, don’t stress them out by pushing them. There are tons of treats out there that you can stuff a pill into.

(Tip: Instead of buying treats, make a batch of dog-friendly meatballs and stuff the pill into a piece of them. You can freeze the meatballs and take them out to defrost when you need them. Here are some easy recipes.)

Share some of your tips, or lessons learned, below in the comments!

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