“Your dog is confined to crate rest.” These are dreaded words you never want your veterinarian to say. The task of keeping a dog in a small space is incredibly hard, especially if the pup is young and energetic. It is even more challenging if your pet needs to stay in their crate for many weeks due to a surgery or injury.
But do not fear, there are steps you can take to get your dog through the ordeal. The two key elements are to understand your dog’s needs and establish a good routine.
The medical reasons dogs are confined to their crate
There are lots of reasons your dog could be placed on crate rest, but here are the most common:
- Recovery from spine surgery
- Recovery from knee surgery
- Recuperation due to a tear in the cruciate ligament in the knee
- Recovery from an injury or accident
- Conservative treatment for an IVDD episode (Intervertebral Disc Disease). This includes recovery from a bulging or ruptured disc.
Dogs with these conditions can be placed on restricted movement for up to 6 – 8 weeks. During that time, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s orders. You will be tempted to open the gates early when you see your fur baby’s sweet face peering out from behind the bars, but resist the urge. Letting them out too soon is the number #1 cause of reinjury.
Instead of freeing your dog; your goal should be to make their temporary home as calm, comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
How to pick the best crate style.
Crates come in a variety of styles, but before we discuss them, here is an important rule to remember. Choose a crate that is big enough for your pup to stand up, turn around in a small circle, and lie down comfortably.
Here is a breakdown of the different dog crate styles:
- Metal crates – These are sturdy wire enclosures that have a solid floor for your dog to rest. They are easy to clean, provide good protection and usually fold up when you no longer needs them.
- Wood crates – This type of crate is built to look like a piece of furniture. It is comfy and provides good protection. It is a great choice if your dog needs ongoing confinement or might require recurring periods of crate rest.
- X-pens or playpens – These are durable metal wire pens that give dogs more room than the typical wire crate. They do not have a floor or a top covering so owners need to be sure the walls are tall enough so your dog cannot jump or climb out. X-pens give your dog more room while still being safely confined. They are great for big dogs. The pen folds up when you no longer need it.
- Soft-sided crates – These are not my first choice for extended use, but if you have a small dog and limited space, they can be a good choice. The crate is made of a soft material top and floor with mesh side walls. They are lightweight and easily transportable.
How to set up the perfect crate
- Make sure the crate allows for plenty of circulation and air flow.
- Check the temperature in the room where the crate is located so it isn’t too hot or too cold.
- Add a blanket or crate mat if you think the flooring or room temperature might get cold.
- Add an orthopedic dog bed to prevent pressure sores from developing.
- Put down puppy pads in case of an accident.
- Ensure all padding and bedding is Vet-approved and properly aligned.
- Place the crate in an area where it won’t get bumped. Corners are great for this.
- If time allows, introduce your pet gradually, in short periods.
- Give clear instruction to all family members and visitors about your pet’s needs. Post a sign outside the crate as a reminder.
- Post a Be Quiet sign at your front door. A ringing doorbell can cause your dog to jump and bark.
- Remove any correction collars that might get caught in the wires of the crate.
- Soothe your pet by staying with them until they become acclimated. According to Petfinder: “A dog who panics when left alone in a crate could do damage to the crate and, more seriously, to himself.”
- Add toys that will entertain and stimulate your dog’s mind. Sturdy chew toys and food dispensing toys are great ways keep a dog from getting bored.
Special instructions after surgery
You might receive special instructions if your dog is recuperating from surgery. Dodgerslist, for dogs with IVDD recommends, “Your Veterinarian may require a flat, always horizontal and firm surface” with no bedding and minimal contact.
Other veterinary instructions might include:
- No play whatsoever during the pet’s recuperation
- No toys that promote tugging or pulling activities
- Strict guidelines for feeding and rest periods
- Rules about whether your dog can walk to bathroom breaks or needs to be carried
- Directions how to lift your dog
Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on a weekly basis about activities you can add to their routine. As they become more mobile, you may be able to move your dog from a small space to a larger “Recovery Suite” like an ex-pen. Or maybe light rehab exercises can be added. Some veterinarians also prescribe herbs to keep dogs calm or suggest a diffuser that sends calming scents into the crate.
Set a good daily routine
It is important to set a daily routine. If your veterinarian allows your dog to go outdoors, schedule 3 – 5 bathroom breaks each day. They should be as soon as your dog wakes up in the morning, after each meal and before bedtime. Dogs can be carried or walked outside on a lead. Keep each break to no more than 5 minutes of outside time, especially during the first few weeks of rest.
Schedule regular mealtimes. If your dog is well enough, serve one meal in the morning and the second meal at dinnertime. Meals should be served inside the crate.
Another important part of the daily routine are regular rest periods. These are in addition to the time your dog sleeps during the night. Rest periods should be a time when your dog is left alone to settle down and relax without you being by their side.
The final part of your routine should include scheduled “fun time” where you interact with your dog. It is easy to see yourself solely as the caretaker and your pet as the patient. Setting aside a quality activity will remind both of you of the bond you share.
Keep your dog engaged in life
During rehabilitation, a dog’s mind needs to stay active to keep boredom at bay. Simply spending time on their level, speaking to them and reminding them ‘this too shall pass’, will ease their worries.
Dogs are like people, when hurt they want to feel someone is watching out for them and empathizing with their pain. Keeping them engaged in life, will give them a sense of security and peace.
The key to successful crate rest is to put yourself in your dog’s paws. Imagine going from rambunctious playtime in the backyard to being told you are in ‘time out’. Not so fun. Treat your pet as you would wish to be treated after surgery or a trauma and I promise the road to recovery will go smoothly.
This post contains some affiliate links to crates described in this post that are available on Amazon. If you make a purchase this blog receives a small fee at no additional cost to you.
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