By Shawn Smith, Director of Education
There are numerous diseases and injuries that can affect your pet’s ability to move around normally, as well as their ability to care for themselves. When this does occur, pet owners are sometimes faced with the decision of whether or not to care for their dog or cat at home. This can be a demanding task, but it is not impossible. It requires much dedication on the part of the pet owner.
Just as with human beings, immobility results in a number of potential health issues. Skin, wound, bowel and bladder care, and hygiene are common concerns and must be taken seriously. Have a plan in place before taking your pet home. Make the work of caring for your pet as easy on yourself as possible.
Inability to move and reposition causes excessive pressure to skin, especially in the areas over the bony prominences, such as hips, elbows and shoulders. Unrelieved pressure to these areas results in diminished circulation, resulting in decubitus ulcers, or bed sores. Immobile pets should be turned frequently, from side to side, and to the chest. Use rolled towels and pillows to help your pet maintain position. To improve circulation over bony prominences, massage the skin gently and reposition your pet every few hours. If your pet develops a bed sore, notify your veterinarian. Untreated bed sores become infected.
Do not allow your pet to drag themselves around the house. Such activity results in skin tears and abrasions which hinder recovery as much as bed sores. Confine your pet to a small area such as a playpen so that they have a limited space. Allow your pet to lay quietly with you when you are watching TV.
Other issues that result from immobility are bowel and bladder problems. If your pet’s injury is neurologic (spinal cord), he or she may not be able to urinate on their own. It is vitally important that your pet’s bladder is emptied on a regular basis, or urinary tract infections will result. The bladder should be expressed three to four times daily. You will be instructed in expressing your pet’s bladder prior to discharge from the hospital.
Constipation can also result, and can easily be treated at home. A small amount of fiber can be added to food from a commercial source, or canned pumpkin can be used. Giving these for a few days will usually provide normal bowel movements. Notify the veterinarian if your pet develops diarrhea.
Your pet should always have clean, fresh water available, and be fed a good quality dog food, but avoid overfeeding. Excessive body weight makes your pet more difficult to care for, and adds to health problems.
Incontinence of bowel and bladder requires frequent attention to keep your pet clean and dry. Mild soap and water will do the job. Keep pet’s hair coat free of contaminants, using the same techniques you would apply to an infant. If your pet has short hair, baby wipes can be used. It is helpful to have our nursing staff clip hair away from the perineal area to facilitate cleaning. Skin barriers such as diaper rash cream and talc provide some protection from wetness. They should be reapplied after cleaning or bathing. Frequent baths in the tub are also beneficial, not only for cleanliness but for rehabilitation. Warm water baths improve circulation and lymph drainage. Set up an area within your home, or build one to make the job easy. A table height that allows you to clean your pet, and is easy on your back will makes this task more enjoyable for both of you.
The pet owner who is determined to assist their pet through this difficult time must be dedicated to the pet’s care. When appropriate, pet cart’s or wheels are available to allow your pet some mobility. These can be ordered online, made to the specific size of your pet. Many pet’s do well with their wheels and can enjoy being in the home with their family for many years to come.