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Caring for a Paralyzed Dog

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


|May 2014

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Spinal cord injury (SCI) after disc herniation is a common cause of spinal dysfunction in dogs. Dogs that do not recover pain perception after 3 weeks have a poor prognosis for full recovery, and many are euthanized because of owner concerns regarding nursing care. Owners of 26 dogs with clinically complete SCI (ie, lack of pain sensation, lack of voluntary movement, urinary and fecal incontinence for >9 months) quantified the time spent caring for their pet and how it affected family life. Time spent on total care per week varied (2–44 hours). Time spent per week on mobility management was 1–30 hours, on management of incontinence 0–16 hours. Median time requirement for managing bladder, bowel, and pressure sore problems was 30 min/day. Many owners (73%) reported not considering euthanizing the pet; 20/26 reported the effort was worthwhile, and 16/20 said it had enhanced their bond with their dog. Three owners reported adverse affects on their quality of life and/or family life.


Owners need to be aware of the time commitment involved in the long-term care of a paralyzed dog. Urinary and fecal incontinence and pressure sores are common in plegic animals with loss of pain perception. Even if most owners would not euthanize their pet if given the benefit of hindsight, a few owners reported that their quality of life, social life, and family interactions had declined while caring for their paralyzed dog.—Helena Rylander, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology)


Time requirement and effect on owners of home-based management of dogs with severe chronic spinal cord injury. Freeman PM, Holmes MA, Jeffery ND, Granger N. J VET BEHAV 8:439-443, 2013.

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