Caring for a Paralyzed Animal

Veterinarian Reviewed on January 30, 2008 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Caring for a Paralyzed Animal

If your pet has sustained spinal damage which has resulted in paralysis then you know you are faced with a number of challenges to care. Often referred to as “downer” animals, paralyzed pets have specialized needs that require a lot of commitment and energy. As a result, many pet owners decide they are unable to care for a paralyzed pet and may choose euthanasia as an alternative. While it may seem cruel, euthanasia often ensures that your pet will not suffer unnecessarily and is a much more manageable option for the average person. Still, if you have the time to devote to your paralyzed pet, there are a number of care considerations you must make.


Because paralysis of animals typically affects their rear two legs, bowel and urinary control is often lost. Grooming becomes very difficult and your pet will rely on you to maintain cleanliness. A paralyzed animal must be bathed frequently in order to ensure that not only your pet but your household remain clean. In addition, urine can cause irritation on your pet’s skin so you should expect to bathe your animal at least once weekly. Some veterinarians will even recommend using baby wipes to regularly clean your pet’s genitals and anus. You will also want to protect the area where your pet sleeps. Because they become incontinent, it is recommended that you lay some kind of protection over your carpeting or flooring in the area where your pet sleeps. Alternatively, there are dog diapers available and you may want to use these to prevent messes.

Skin Irritation and Bed Sores

As with paralyzed humans, paralyzed pets cannot tell if their skin in the paralyzed area is irritated. For this reason, bed sores and skin lesions become a particular risk for the paralyzed animal. In addition, a paralyzed animal will often be able to drag themselves in order to maintain some mobility. This obviously causes heat rashes or carpet burns that can become infected. Your pet’s elbows, ankles, and hips are especially susceptible areas for sores and burns. In order to protect against these sores, you will have to invest in some supplies. There are special harnesses that your dog or cat can wear to protect vulnerable areas. Also, it is recommended that you invest in an orthopaedic bed that is designed to protect the vulnerable pressure points.

Physical Therapy

Again, just with humans, it is important that your paralyzed pet remains active. Paralyzed muscles tend to atrophy because they are not used. As a result, stretching, muscle flexion, and massages are important activities for paralyzed animals. These activities help to maintain blood flow to affected muscles which prevents atrophy. In addition, it is important that your pet exercises healthy limbs. Towel walking is a very common exercise. A towel is placed under your pet’s paralyzed limbs while your pet is encouraged to walk with its healthy limbs. This effectively maintains limb strength as well as giving your pet an opportunity to maintain cardiovascular and respiratory health.

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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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