How to care for paralyzed animals

With the proper care, and lots of love and attention, many paralyzed animals can live long and happy lives.

Paralysis is a scary word. Many people with dogs or cats that become paralyzed in one or more limbs think euthanasia is the only answer. But that’s not the case. True, both you and your animal will have to make some changes and adjustments, but depending on what has caused the problem and how soon it is caught, it’s not a death sentence.

Paralysis can have a variety of causes, from injury and poisoning to infections or intervertebral disc disease and other conditions. Immediate veterinary attention at the first sign of a problem is essential. The sooner your animal is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better his chances of recovery.

Whether or not surgery is an option, your companion will need extra care for several weeks or possibly the rest of his life. Add to that some extra love and attention, and he can stay happy and healthy for years to come. Here’s how to make his life easier:

1. Comfortable environment

A paralyzed dog or cat needs a healing environment. He needs to feel comfortable and relaxed in order to heal. Some prefer a dark room with a radio playing in the background. Many heal better in the living room or kitchen where their people are. Others will need to be kept separate for awhile.

2. Confinement

Your veterinarian may suggest confinement, which involves keeping your animal in a crate or small playpen. You want him to be able to move around a little but not pace. Active animals can hurt themselves further.

3. Sanitary living quarters

A paralyzed animal will often make more mess. He needs bedding that’s easily changed or washed. Keep him in an area where accidents can easily be cleaned up. Tile floors are best, and you may want to put garbage bags or tarps down to protect carpeting.

4. Frequent grooming

Your animal may urinate on himself or sit in his urine. It’s vital to keep him clean to decrease his chances of getting urine scald. Bathe him often. Baby wipes are useful between baths. Puppy pads, sold in pet stores, can be used on top of bedding and are easily changed. Some people prefer to use animal diapers. Sprinkle baby powder on the animal to keep him dry.

5. A comfy bed

Paralyzed animals, like hospitalized humans, can get bedsores. They need extra bedding. It is often helpful to use several towels, blankets or comforters. Plastic bags can be placed over pillows or extra cushioning to keep urine from soaking into the bedding. Another way to alleviate bedsores is to rotate your animal. Some paralyzed animals lie on one side all day long. Move your animal every four to six hours. A paralyzed animal can benefit by sitting up on his chest. Pillows can prop him up so he can stay in that position.

6. Help going to the bathroom

Usually a paralyzed animal will have no control over urination or defecation. Defecation will occur shortly after eating. However, an animal may need help with urination. You might have to learn how to express his bladder. Sometimes, a paralyzed animal may need his bladder catheterized. Your veterinary team will show you how to do both expression and catheterization (in male dogs only).

7. Vitamins

If your animal does not urinate enough, his bladder will not empty. Urinary tract infections are common because the urine sits in the bladder and bacteria grows quickly. The animal may benefit from vitamin C capsules; they change the pH of urine and reduce the growth of bacteria.

8. A healthy diet

Your animal will need to consume more calories than usual. Most people worry about weight gain during periods of immobility, but the healing process actually burns up to three times the normal calories. Feeding an animal too much, however, will upset his stomach. As a rule, a paralyzed animal should be fed every four to six hours, especially at the beginning. A better plan is to feed smaller meals more often.

9. Fresh air

A paralyzed animal should continue to go outside, weather permitting. While not every animal enjoys the outdoors, it’s a good idea to take him outside several times a day. Sometimes he needs a little fresh air. When the weather’s nice, sit outside with him for awhile.

10. Back support

A paralyzed dog will benefit with the help of a towel or sling. A sling is placed under the stomach to support his back end. This allows him to move around a little on his own; he may feel happier for it. Another option is a cart or dog wheelchair. It lets him move around without you having to hold the sling.

11. Physical therapy

Physiotherapy can be very beneficial. Range of motion exercises help keep your animal’s legs from getting stiff. Hydrotherapy or swim therapy allows a dog to regain muscle strength in his legs without having to support his weight. It also offers other benefits such as increased mobility and muscle tone. Atrophy, the degeneration of muscle, usually decreases since your dog will be using his muscles again.

12. A happy lifestyle… and lots of love

Your animal may become depressed while adjusting to his new lifestyle. Some seem to give up and stop improving. A depressed animal may quit eating and/or may lie in the same spot and position all day long. It is your responsibility to help keep him happy. While adjusting, your animal will need a little TLC. He’ll also need to feel stimulated.

A paralyzed dog or cat is not the end of the world. With some extra care and a positive attitude, you can continue sharing your life with a contented and loving companion.