Caring for a dog that has had a back injury, such as a broken back, can be intimidating and nerve-racking, since animals are unable to clearly communicate their pain and discomfort. Having an understanding of the mechanics of a dog's spine and the different techniques that can be used to minimize pain and facilitate the healing process can be helpful in caring for your pet and providing the best environment for recovery.
How to Care for a Dog With a Broken Back
Observe the dog for signs of injury, such as limping, shivering or vocally reacting to pain, or difficulty in moving or avoidance of putting weight on certain limbs. Whining, licking the area or nipping if the injured area is touched can also indicate significant pain.
Upon observation of any of the above symptoms, immediately take your dog to a veterinarian for an official diagnosis. A vet may perform a number of tests to obtain an official diagnosis. Most often, X-rays are used when broken limbs are suspected. Sometimes X-rays are unnecessary if the symptoms and behavior of the dog can confirm the injury. An accurate diagnosis allows a vet to prescribe medications that can help alleviate symptoms of serious injury, such as pain or inflammation. However, pet owners must be cautious when using these medications—the dog may feel better once its symptoms are treated, but the injury still exists and mobility and behavior must be limited to ensure recovery rather than re-injury.
Once a broken back is diagnosed, the veterinarian may try to manually limit the mobility of the dog by fitting it with a brace, depending on the location and severity of the injury. Limiting mobility is the most important aspect of the healing process, to ensure that the dog does not re-injure itself. Unlike human braces, a canine brace may not fully limit mobility, and are sometimes not used if they appear to be more of an irritant than an aid to the dog's recovery.
A blanket is often used to assist dogs with standing or moving from a lying-down position. Place the blanket evenly under the dog's belly, and provide consistent pressure as you lift up to uniformly elevate the dog and thereby reduce any pressure on the spine or back.
A kennel is key in reducing a dog's mobility. A kennel represents a dog's "den," or living space. Keeping a dog's mobility limited to its kennel, aside from when the dog urinates or defecates, is critical in the recovery process for a broken back, or any back or joint injury. Allowing the injured area to rest and subsequently applying heat or ice (depending on the recommendations of the veterinarian treating the overall health of the dog) are key components in ensuring that the injury is not re-aggravated or made worse through unnecessary activity. Although it may seem cruel to not allow a dog to play and run, and instead have them confined to an appropriately sized kennel, it is one of the best ways to treat a back injury.