Sophie was lucky when it came to dealing with the problem of pressure sores. During the majority of the five years she was paralyzed, Sophie was able to flip her body over so it was never in any one position for a long time. For many paralyzed and disabled dogs pressure sores (also known as decubitus ulcers) are a frustrating and sometimes life-threatening condition.
Pressure sores are caused by chronic trauma to the skin when an animal (or human) lies on a hard surface for an extended period of time without turning and changing positions. The pressure of lying in one constant place decreases the blood flow to the area and damages the tissue. Most pressure sores happen in bony areas such as the elbows, hips and hocks (lower joint of the leg).
Eventually as the skin breaks down an open wound develops or a fluid-filled sac called a Hygroma grows under the skin. If this happens, immediate treatment is needed to stop an infection from developing. An untreated infection can seep into a dog’s bones or spread to the entire body.
Paralyzed dogs are particularly prone to pressure sores because as their limbs lose the ability to move, they lose muscle mass and normal tissue padding, which in turn exposes more bony areas on their bodies.
The good news is there are lots of ways to prevent pressure sores:
- Be sure that your dog doesn’t sit in a single position for a prolonged time. Help them turn to a new position, preferably by flipping over to the other side every 2-3 hours.
- Take the pressure off the bony areas by having your dog sit and sleep in a thick, well-padded, soft bed. Many manufacturers offer beds made of egg-crate foam that evenly distributes the weight of your dog across the mattress. (This type of bed is also helpful for the treatment of a pressure sore if your dog already has one.)
- Exercise your dog’s paralyzed legs every day. Ask your veterinarian how to flex your dog’s joints and perform full range of motion techniques.
- Massage your dog’s hips and limbs to keep the blood flowing to the affected areas.
If you think your dog might be getting a pressure sore, here are some warning signs:
- Look for patches of exposed fur; particularly in on the hips, elbows and hocks.
- Look for any discoloration to the skin or if the skin is becoming thicker.
- Watch to see if your dog is licking a particular area of her skin.
- Here are some advanced warning signs that call for an immediate veterinary appointment:
- The color of the exposed skin is red or purple.
- There is an open wound on the skin.
- The wound is seeping yellow or green fluid or pus.
- There is a foul smell coming from the wound.
- The wound is swollen, tender to the touch or warm.
- Your dog is in pain.
When pressure sores get to this point they are called ulcers and need immediate attention. Your veterinarian will probably put your dog on an oral antibiotic for 4 to 6 weeks to keep the infection from spreading to the bones or the entire body. Pet owners must also keep the site of the sore wrapped in a padded bandage and bathe and dry the affected skin daily.
Dogs with fluid-filled hygromas will receive an additional treatment of draining and flushing the affected skin.
The ulcers and hygromas are hard to treat and do not clear up quickly so it is very important to keep a watchful eye on your paralyzed dog to catch a problem early. Dogs With Disabilities also recommends using an inflatable donut to relieve even more pressure from a wound that is trying to heal. The product (designed for humans) can be bought at most pharmacies.
Near the end of Sophie’s illness her body flipping technique went a little haywire. She would get her upper torso turned to a new position, but her paralyzed legs wouldn’t always make it to the other side. It left her in some pretty interesting positions with one half of her body flipped and her legs tangled together in the opposite direction.
My husband and I got good at quickly reaching down from whatever we were doing to untangle her legs and help her complete the flip. Sophie would often look up at us with a big smile after we performed this acrobatic act gone wild. I think she found it very funny!
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