Coping with dog paralysis
Although sometimes the only option for your dog is an upsetting one, in other cases rehabilitation can take place. Dog paralysis is an inability to use one or more limbs, usually due to a spinal cord injury. This can of course be distressing for you, and you may have to make difficult decisions. Your dog’s treatment and prognosis will depend on the cause of their paralysis and the limbs affected, and your vet will advise you on the chances that your dog will regain use of their limbs again.
Although you always want the best for your loyal friend, looking after a paralysed dog is a big commitment and can at times be difficult. If you work long hours or have a busy family life, you may not be able to provide enough care. Rehabilitation centres are available in some areas; here, your dog will be looked after until they are well enough to be cared for at home. Larger veterinary practises, too, might hospitalise dogs for longer periods.
Living with a paralysed dog
Hind limb paralysis in dogs is often life-changing. You may need to empty your dog’s bladder for them, at least initially, by applying gentle pressure on their abdomen – your vet should show you how to do this, and watch you while you practise. In time some dogs will regain urinary function.
Your paralysed dog should always be kept clean and dry, and moved around regularly to prevent the development of skin ulcers. Your dog’s vet or physiotherapist can advise you on the best bedding for your friend, but you should always remember to check it for signs of soiling or wetness. In some cases, slings or harnesses might keep your pet mobile – various kinds are available.
Physiotherapy is a vital resource; muscle tone and strength needs to be maintained following paralysis in dogs. Physiotherapy should be performed by a trained animal physiotherapist, and you may be given exercises to do at home as well. Some types of pet insurance will provide payment for physiotherapy, so check what’s included in your cover.
Wheelchairs are available for animals with hind limb paralysis, offering a welcome return of movement. In fact, thanks to such inventions, some dogs learn to jog, fetch and play as happily as they did before their injury! Bear in mind that the use of such equipment should be supervised by your vet and doesn’t suit all dogs, usually only lighter, smaller breeds. For disabled dogs that do adapt to wheels, inspired owners can assemble ramps for access to raised porches and other areas, letting their dog explore just as much as before.
Long term paralysis in dogs
In some cases long term paralysis in dogs occurs (often affecting the hind limbs) and if this is the case, certain factors must be considered to make sure your dog is comfortable. Many owners, on considering their dog’s happiness and comfort, choose to have them put to sleep; this is a very personal decision to be talked through carefully with your vet.
Larger disabled dogs may be difficult to move around, and dogs with hind limb paralysis may have varying degrees of urinary or defecation problems that you will need to manage. It is important to carefully consider your dog’s quality of life, not just from your point of view but theirs: euthanasia may be the kindest option in some cases.
In any scenario, if you’re unsure about your paralysed dog’s care, speak to your vet – they’ll know the best way to help, taking yours and your dog’s needs into consideration. Even if it’s not easy, you should always know that you’re just doing the best you can for your friend!