Caring for a Paralyzed Dog
Dogs that are paralyzed in the hind legs or all four legs need extra help doing everyday things. But don’t panic! Many dogs can live happy and healthy lives, even with paralysis. Whether a dog has suffered a traumatic injury such as being hit by a car or has a hereditary condition such as IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) they are likely to need hands-on care during recovery, or life-long care if their paralysis is permanent.
Paralysis in Dogs
Paresis is weakness of the limbs, whereas paralysis is the complete inability to move limbs. In a dog, paralysis can be temporary or permanent in the back legs, or temporary or permanent in all four legs. Often, dogs may suffer partial or complete paralysis and recover partially or completely with medical management. However, many dogs need surgery to ensure the best chances of them regaining the ability to walk.
Causes of Paralysis in Dogs
Paralysis can be caused by IVDD (intervertebral disc disease), tumors of the spine or near/pressing on the spine, or FCE (fibrocartilaginous embolism). It can also be caused by trauma, such as falling onto their back or head or being hit by a car. Bacterial infections or immune-mediated diseases causing inflammation of the brain and spine, and even congenital issues that dogs are born with can lead to paralysis in some pets.
Cleanliness and Safety for Paralyzed Dogs
Keep your dog safe in a crate with lots of padding. Be sure to check on them every 3-4 hours to reposition them, make sure they haven’t soiled their bedding, and take them out to go to the bathroom. If they aren’t able to move themselves around, orthopedic dog beds help prevent calloused elbows and painful arthritic joints.
Bring their water and food bowls closer so they have less of a distance to cover.
You can use doggie diapers but be sure to change them often. Always keep your dog’s genital and anal area clean and dry to prevent urine scald and infection. The same goes for the bedding in their crate.
Slings and Support for Your Paralyzed Dog
Slings or a simple towel can be the best way to support your dog while they’re posturing/squatting to urinate and/or defecate. There are a variety of styles of slings on the market, including those with a handle, or even two handles to help larger dogs stand up. Booties can help protect feet from abrasion due to knuckling or dragging and can provide extra traction when learning to regain walking abilities.
If your pet is permanently paralyzed, a doggie wheelchair is a great solution to keep your pet mobile and more independent.
Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy
Rehabilitation and physical therapy are essential for dogs with paralysis and those who have had spinal surgery, to keep flexible muscles and healthy joints in paralyzed limbs. Massage, acupuncture, laser therapy, hydrotherapy, and passive range of motion are all components of rehabilitation and recovery, as well as maintenance of permanently paralyzed dogs.
Urinating and Defecating
Dogs do not need help with defecating, as this happens automatically. However, the urinary bladder may have trouble expressing itself depending on the extent and severity of spinal trauma. Sometimes dogs need their bladders manually expressed by veterinarians and then by their owners for a few days to a week after spinal surgery. Other dogs may never regain their ability to urinate on their own. If a dog permanently loses complete use of their back legs, they will also have lost the ability to urinate on their own permanently.
Emptying the Bladder
Just because you see urine on a dog’s bedding, does not mean that they have urinated successfully and completely emptied their bladder. In fact, it is often overflow due to a full bladder that your dog is unable to empty on their own. A full bladder is very uncomfortable and can cause illness and even death if not attended to.
If your dog cannot urinate on their own, you will need to express their bladder four times a day until they can urinate on their own. If they are just beginning to urinate consciously on their own but only a small stream or trickle is coming out, they still need help expressing their bladder until they can fully void it.
Small dog/one-handed technique:
Place one hand under your dog’s abdomen just in front of their back legs/between the hips and wrap your fingers up one side of the abdomen, while keeping your thumb on the other side of the abdomen. Gently begin to squeeze your fingers and thumb together and press your whole hand toward the tail. Once urine starts to flow, apply steady pressure until the bladder empties completely.
Medium and Large dog/two-handed technique:
Apply pressure gradually and consistently with one hand on either side of the abdomen, just in front of the back legs. Keep both hands flattened and your fingers slightly spread apart while pressing so that the bladder is stabilized and squeezed evenly. Gently begin to squeeze your hands together and press both hands toward the tail. Once urine starts to flow, apply steady pressure until the bladder empties completely.
For additional resources, please check out these links:
Dog wheelchairs: www.k9carts.com
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) in Dogs
Physical Rehabilitation For Your Pet – Really?!?
The Power of Water! Hydrotherapy for Pets
Have more questions about paralysis in dogs?
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