Whether minor or serious, it’s scary to see your dog injured and the recovery process can be confusing and distressing. One minute you have a happy and healthy dog, and the next your normal routine is turned upside down, caring for a patient that requires extensive care and rehabilitation. It’s one thing to discuss the recovery process with your veterinarian, but another to bring your dog home and know how to care for them. So where do you start?
Here’s six key steps you should consider when getting your dog onto the road to recovery. Remember that injuries come in all shapes and sizes. The recovery process is individual to each case, so always follow your veterinarians’ instructions first and foremost!
1. Know Your Team
Rehabilitating your dog can seem like a lonely process. However, it’s important to remember that there are a whole host of professionals at your disposal, specially trained to get you and your dog back to doing what you love best.
Your team should not only consist of you, but also your dog’s primary medical care giver (their vet) and rehabilitation providers such as veterinary physiotherapists who will work alongside the vet to get your dog back to full health as quickly as possible! As a team, they will decide and guide you through the best rehabilitation process to suit both you and your pup.
The term ‘veterinary physiotherapist’ is not a protected term. Even without proper qualifications, there are no laws preventing anyone from calling themselves one. Your vet should be able to recommend a reputable physiotherapist to help get your dog back to full health as quickly as possible.
2. Get Prepared!
Preparing to meet the needs of your injured dog is key for a smooth recovery process.
Inevitably, your dog’s recovery will consist of some form of reduced physical activity. Most likely, this means that your dog will be kept in a much smaller area than they may be used to for much of the day, providing opportunity for healing and preventing worsening of the injury.
The best solution is a crate that is big enough for your dog to sit, stand, turn and for a water bowl and bedding. In some cases, confining to a single room is also a good solution. You will also need to be able to take your dog outside for toilet breaks or walks, so consider how your dog will safely access this space.
Slippery surfaces such as floorboards and tiles are not ideal for even the uninjured dog. Injured dogs should not be kept on such surfaces as slipping and sliding places tremendous strain on recovering tissues. Placing mats or carpet off cuts in the areas that your dog will be walking is a simple solution. Confining your dog to a carpeted room is another alternative solution.
It’s important to ensure that your dog can easily get in and out of their bed to prevent further injury. This means that high sided, elevated or very cushioned beds should be removed during recovery. A flat, firm bed is ideal, providing support for healing tissues.
3. Manage Your Dog’s Pain
Minimising pain and controlling inflammation is key for a successful recovery. If these two factors are not managed, use of the affected area will be impaired, tissues will be less flexible, rehabilitation will be slow or incomplete and reinjury risk is increased. Dogs don’t easily let us know when they are in pain, so be sure to avoid things that cause it and use techniques known to reduce it.
- Pain medication: Anti-inflammatories will usually be prescribed by your vet to keep your dog comfortable. Ensure that you closely follow your vets’ instructions regarding dosage so that your animal fully benefits and consult your vet if you still feel that your animal is in pain.
- Activity restriction: Dogs don’t always know when to stop. Injured dogs are no different. Pain can increase if your dog is moving around too much, so strict exercise restriction is essential to limiting your dog’s pain.
- Icing: Applying ice using an ice pack wrapped in a towel is an easy way to manage pain and inflammation by reducing local blood flow and nerve activity. Icing isn’t suitable in all cases so be sure to consult your dog’s veterinarian or physiotherapist.
4. Stimulate Their Brain
Prolonged periods of confinement and exercise restriction during the rehabilitation process can cause excessive boredom, destructive behaviours, anxiety and even depression in dogs. It doesn’t have to be this way. By providing mental stimulation we can help our dogs keep boredom at bay. Just be sure that they do not breach your dog’s physical restrictions.
- Location: Placing your dog’s crate in a central and busy location in the house is a great way to reduce their boredom, by providing plenty of mental stimulation. You can also move your dog’s crate around the house to provide different sights.
- Food: Break up your dog’s day and activate their brain with a variety of food releasing toys such as puzzles or treat balls.
- Scenting: Creating scenting challenges in controlled spaces such as hiding treats under boxes is great mental stimulation for your dog and a great way to spend time bonding that adheres to exercise restrictions.
5. Exercise and Rehabilitation
Unlike in the past, where rehabilitation consisted of rest only, controlled exercises are considered essential for the full recovery of your dog so be prepared to put the time and effort in for the best results! Controlled exercise allows increased muscle strength and function, improved quality of tissue healing and maintains joint mobility.
Rehabilitation starts from day one. Usually, your dog’s physiotherapist will devise a rehabilitation plan with your veterinarian. With regular visits they will assess your dog, carry out some manual therapy techniques and give you exercises to complete with your dog until their next visit.
In the early stages of rehabilitation, exercises may include,
- Passively moving your dogs’ joints through their range of motion to maintain joint and muscle health during exercise restriction.
- Slow lead walking to encourage blood flow, maintain muscle health and encourage weight bearing.
As your dog progresses through his rehabilitation programme exercises will become more physically demanding to build muscle, improve proprioceptive ability and aid the correct healing of tissues to prevent future problems.
During rehabilitation, running and jumping activities should be eliminated. After recovery, these activities should be reintroduced gradually and progressively under professional guidance.
6. Be Patient!
Of course, you want your dog pain free and back to its normal self as quickly as possible, but recovery takes time, so patience is key. Rushing or missing steps can lead to incomplete or poor healing, resulting in a high risk of re-injury.