How to Care for a Paralyzed Dog

Handicapped dog
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Caring for a paralyzed dog can be challenging, but it's easier with the proper tools and information. Many paralyzed dogs can go on to live happily and comfortably with the right care. You may even find it rewarding to care for your paralyzed dog.

What Is Paralysis in Dogs?

A dog is considered paralyzed when one or more of the limbs are unable to move at all. It's more common for dogs to experience rear limb paralysis, but the front limbs may also be affected. Some dogs will have partial paralysis (called paresis) which means they have some motor function in the limbs but not full movement or control. Paralysis and paresis may also affect a dog's bladder and bowel control. In addition, a paralyzed dog's tail may not function normally.

Causes of Paralysis in Dogs

Paralysis and paresis are generally caused by a problem in the spine or brain.

Intervertebral Disc Disease

IVDD is a spinal disease that occurs when one or more of the discs between the vertebrae becomes irritated, displaced, swollen, or ruptured. This can cause damage to the spinal cord that may or may not resolve with surgery. Unfortunately, some dogs with IVDD never fully regain the function of the affected limbs or body parts and need lifelong special care. IVDD is one of the most common causes of paralysis and paresis in dogs.

Spinal Injuries

Trauma can lead to serious injury of the spinal cord, especially if the injury was a spinal fracture. Surgery can lead to full recovery, but not all dogs will regain full motor function and need special assistance.

Tumors

A dog may develop a tumor on or near the spinal cord that affects motor function. In addition, brain tumors may grow in an area of the brain that controls motor function. Some tumors can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. However, the tumor may not be completely eradicated and continue to cause problems for the dog.

Inflammatory Diseases

Infectious diseases and auto-immune issues may cause inflammation of the tissues in the brain and spinal cord. This inflammation may lead to temporary or permanent paralysis or paresis. Medications may help, but some dogs will be left with damage that limits motor function.

Congenital Disorders

Some dogs are born with one or more conditions that impact movement. This is often due to a malformation or abnormal development of the brain and/or spine.

Caring for a Paralyzed Dog

Paralyzed dogs need special care. The degree of care depends on the severity of the dog's paralysis. Your veterinarian is the best source of information about proper care. In general, there are a few things you need to know about caring for a paralyzed dog.

Skin Care and Cleanliness

Cleanliness is perhaps one of the most important parts of caring for paralyzed dogs. Because many dogs with paralysis or paresis cannot fully control urination and defecation, messes can happen frequently. It's important to keep urine from soaking the coat and staying on the skin. The compounds in urine can be very irritating to the skin. Urine that remains on the skin can cause a very uncomfortable rash and even lead to a skin infection. Feces can cause irritation and sores around the anus and even attract insects.

Be sure to keep incontinent dogs on an absorbent pad or in a diaper when not being directly supervised. Use dog diapers for dogs in carts or those with some mobility. Replace diapers and underpads frequently and keep the dog's skin clean and dry. Bathe the dog as needed and use baby wipes between baths. Do not use zinc oxide diaper rash cream as this can be toxic if ingested.

Dogs with limited mobility can easily develop pressure sores from lying in the same place for too long. Be sure to get your dog up and moving as much as possible. when lying down, ensure the dog has ample padding and is turned to a new position regularly. Also bear in mind that a dog may get sores or become dirty from dragging himself along.

Your paralyzed dog may have trouble grooming himself, so be sure to brush his coat frequently in addition to other basic grooming.

Be sure to check your dog several times a day for sores, dirt, urine, or feces. Keeping our dog clean and dry can help prevent skin problems and infections.

Mobility

Many paralyzed dogs can benefit from the use of a special cart, specifically those with rear limb paralysis. Many companies can make a custom-sized mobility cart that can enable a dog to get around on his own. These carts are ideal for dogs that have rear limb paralysis and normal function in the front limbs.

Many owners like to use a type of sling to help their dogs walk. Body harnesses and slings are best for dogs with some motor function. By holding the sling or harness, you can reduce the dog's weight and help him move weakened limbs.

Of course, it's essential to keep carts and slings clean and dry. In addition, dogs should not remain in carts or slings all the time. These devices can rub on the skin and cause pressure sores.

Physical Therapy

All dogs with paralysis or paresis need some form of physical therapy. If the dog is expected to recover partial or full function, then an aggressive physical therapy routine is important. Dogs with permanent paralysis or paresis will still benefit from daily physical therapy as it helps reduce muscle atrophy and stiffness and may help improve range of motion.

Ask your vet for a referral to a canine rehabilitation professional for the best results. You may choose to keep your dog under a professional's care long-term. Or, you may wish to learn exercises, stretches, and massages you can work on at home. A veterinarian, vet tech, or physical therapist can show you how to begin a home physical therapy routine for your dog.

Urination and Defecation

Many paralyzed dogs have little or no control over their bladders and bowels. Some are incontinent, so they will dribble urine and drop stool manually. However, this can simply be overflow from the bladder and not true urination. Some paralyzed dogs have trouble emptying their bladders and will need manual expression. Your veterinarian can show you how to properly express a bladder by placing gentle pressure on the lower abdomen. Be sure a professional demonstrates how to do this properly as incorrect techniques may injure or even rupture the bladder. Paralyzed dogs may need their bladders expressed several times a day to prevent urinary tract infections (which may be caused by old urine sitting in the bladder).

Incontinent dogs may also drop small amounts of stool periodically and can even become constipated. Monitor the dog's food intake versus stool production to make sure he is somewhat regular. Also, keep the rear end clean to prevent stool from drying around the anus and restricting bowel movements. Ask your vet for advice on how to help your dog with bowel movements. Increased dietary fiber can help, but this should only be done if recommended by your vet.

Food and Water

All dogs need proper nutrition and hydration, but this is something you'll need to pay extra attention to your dog's food and water intake.

Make sure you feed a good quality diet and measure the proper amount for your dog's size and activity level. Keep your dog at an optimum weight. Too much extra weight can make it harder for your paralyzed dog to move the parts of him that still function. Being underweight may make your dog weaker than normal. Both overweight and underweight dogs are at a higher risk of developing other health problems.

Your vet may recommend adding fiber to the dog's diet to help move stool through the bowels. Nutritional supplements may also be helpful in some cases. Ask your vet about the best plan for your dog.

Make sure your paralyzed dog has access to fresh water at all times. Replenish water often and keep track of how much your dog drinks. Remember that your dog's restricted mobility might make it harder for him to access water. Dehydration can lead to constipation and major health issues.

Exercise and Play

All dogs need exercise, and a paralyzed dog is no exception. Paralyzed dogs may get bored more easily than other dogs, so exercise and mental stimulation are both essential. Plus, play and exercise time can reinforce the bond between you and your dog.

  • If your dog is in a cart, you can still enjoy a game of fetch or a walk in the park.
  • Try playing a gentle game of tug of war if your dog enjoys it. Just let him stay in place while you gently tug the toy with him.
  • Consider interactive dog toys and puzzles that contain food rewards.
  • If your dog enjoys the water, get him a life vest and take him swimming.

Try out different games and activities. Despite the limitations of a paralyzed dog, you may find yourself surprised at all the things he can do.

Adopting a Paralyzed Dog

Fortunately, many paralyzed dogs can still live happy lives with proper care and attention. Before adopting a disabled dog of any kind, make sure you understand the type of care the dog needs so you can allow time in your life for the dog's needs. Educate yourself about proper techniques before you take the paralyzed dog home. Not everyone has the time and resources needed to care for a dog with special needs. It's better to prepare in advance rather than having to return the poor dog to the adoption group.