Do you know how to properly bathe your paralyzed dog? I think all pet parents know how to bathe an able-bodied dog, but do you know the best way to position a dog that can’t sit or stand on their own? It can be tricky if you don’t know the right techniques.
Even if you routinely take your fur kid to a groomer, a disabled and incontinent dog is likely to have an accident between appointments that requires your immediate attention. Paraplegic dogs are prone to peeing or pooping on themselves or spilling food and water because they can’t control the movement of their bodies. Some of these messes are minor and can quickly be fixed with baby wipes or a towel. But other times you’ll find a more thorough cleaning is necessary.
I know from personal experience there will be accidents. My husband and I called ourselves “the masters of the 2 a.m. shower” because inevitably that would be the time when Sophie would be sleeping so soundly she wouldn’t realize she had rolled into her own mess. We learned the proper way to bathe Sophie through trial and error, but with help from the list below you’ll be prepared to do it better.
More frequent baths for paralyzed dogs
In addition to having accidents, paraplegic dogs in general need more frequent baths. Their coat and paws get dirty from dragging themselves on the ground and their skin needs gentle cleaning to prevent urinary tract infections and urine scald. Most specially-abled dogs adjust well to a new bathing schedule, especially if you make the time fun and never scold them for having an accident. Our 2 a.m. shower time routine was inconvenient, but I would give anything to have those precious moments again with Sophie.
Tips to bathe your paralyzed dog
Products to have on hand:
- Baby Wipes – Wipes are great to have on hand for quick cleanups. If possible buy baby wipes that are fragrance-free, alcohol-free and made for sensitive skin.
- Dry Shampoo – A dry shampoo made especially for a dog can be helpful for spot cleaning. Buy one with the natural ingredients, if possible. Dry shampoos can be found in pet supply stores.
- Fluffy Towels – Have an assortment of clean, soft, fluffy towels designated for your dog’s use only. Be sure to have sizes that range from washcloths for small cleanups to bath towels. Wash the towels after every use with a gentle detergent.
- Dog Shampoo – Make sure you buy a gentle shampoo that is made strictly for a dog’s skin. Look for one with natural ingredients and no preservatives like those from Lucy products. These can be found at pet supply stores or online stores. Some pet parents also recommend the gentle human shampoo Maleseb which is used in nursing homes for the elderly.
- Moisturizing Conditioner – If dry skin becomes a problem due to frequent baths, a moisturizing conditioner made for dog’s skin can be found at your veterinarian’s office or where specialty products are sold.
- Barrier Cream – These are creams commonly used for diaper rash in babies. They can help keep your dog’s skin dry if an accident happens. Be sure the product Does Not Contain – Zinc Oxide which is toxic if licked by a dog.
- Baby Powder – Powders are another way to keep your dog’s skin dry. Be sure to find one made from natural ingredients like cornstarch and Does Not Contain – Talc.
- Wash Tub – If your dog is too small to fit safely in the bathtub, you can wash them in a sink or buy a dog bathtub with a non-slip bottom. Even a small unused litter box can serve as a portable tub.
- Handheld Bathtub Sprayer for Pets– A portable hose that hooks up to the faucet of a tub or sink lets you direct where the bathwater will go. In a pinch you can also use a small plastic bowel or bucket.
The bathing procedure
Gently place your dog into the tub – This might seem like a ridiculous point, but a paralyzed dog’s hind legs are dead weight. Your dog has no way of helping you get them into the bathtub. The bottom of a tub is hard so they can injure their back legs or tail if they are not gently supported and placed into the tub.
Help your dog get into a secure position – Place the dog in a seated position in the bathtub (sink or portable tub). They should be steady and protected from falling into the water. A paralyzed dog may not be able to push their face out of the water if they fall on their side or are allowed to slide down. Some dogs do well with their legs pointed in front of them, some can be seated on their side or lie down and others are most steady when placed in a baby ring or other protective device.
Keep the water temperature tepid and level low – Your paralyzed dog won’t be able to tell you if the water is too hot for their sensitive skin. Paraplegic pets can’t feel the water temperature so it’s up to you to keep it tepid or warm to the touch. Keep the water level low or about to your dog’s hip when he’s seated to prevent a possible drowning.
Start by washing at your dog’s face – Groomers suggest you start the bath time procedure by wetting your dog’s face, without getting too much water on the head or nose, and then gently massage in the shampoo. Move your hands in the same direction as your dog’s fur and work your way over their body. When you come to the belly, hind legs and tail; gently lift the dog to clean the area while supporting their body and then place the dog back down gently into their secure position.
Rinse and remove – Lightly rinse off all of the shampoo using the handheld sprayer and place several fluffy towels on the bathroom floor. Support your dog’s body as you lift them out of the water and onto the towels. Remember your paralyzed dog cannot assist you with this procedure so be sure to hold the body and hind legs until your dog is lying on the ground. Use as many fluffy towels as needed to pat your dog dry.
Update Pet Parent Tip:
Pet mom Carina T. shared this innovative way to bathe, Lola, her paralyzed West Highland terrier.
Carina’s fiancé sits on a step stool in the tub behind Lola. He positions his feet to support Lola just like her wheelchair does. This leaves his hands free to lather and bathe Lola. I think this is a pretty clever technique!
Here’s a helpful video of dog groomer, Renee Bloom, giving a dog a bath. I think it’s beneficial in two ways: 1. It shares good techniques for bathing your dog and 2. It will help you keep in mind the limitations your paralyzed dog has while being bathed.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. I am a pet parent who is sharing my personal experience and the research I have done for this post. Please check with your dog’s personal vet before implementing these bathing techniques.
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