Have you ever wondered why paralyzed dogs get pressure sores and hygromas? The simple answer is they sit too much. Sitting or lying in one position for too long on a hard surface causes trauma to the skin. It seems like an easy problem to solve, but for many paraplegic pets, pressure sores and hygromas are frustrating and sometime life-threatening conditions.
Before we jump into preventing and treating this problem, let me start with the basics.
What is a pressure sore (decubitus ulcers)?
Pressure sores are caused by chronic injury to the skin. This happens when a dog lies on a hard surface for an extended period of time without changing positions. The pressure from lying in one position decreases blood flow to the area. It slowly causes damage to the tissue. Eventually the skin breaks down to form an open wound. These wounds can form on the surface of the skin or they can grow deep into the bone.
Pressure sores are painful and typically develop over bony areas like the elbows, hips and hocks (lower joint of the leg).
Paralyzed dogs are prone to the problem for several reasons. They have trouble flipping their body from one position to another and their muscle mass and tissue padding atrophy from lack of use. This decrease in muscle mass exposes the bony areas to pressure, making them susceptible to damage.
How pressure sores are treated.
Walkin’ Pets at HandicappedPets.com has an excellent article about how to treat pressure sores and hygromas. It has information every owner of a paralyzed dog should read.
Here are the basic tips:
- Take pressure off the wound. – That might include the use of an orthopedic dog bed or the use a pillow. And inflatable donut works well for hips.
- Make an appointment with your veterinarian. – Your veterinarian will determine the best treatment plan. An open would will probably be treated with a “moist wound care” protocol. It has proven to be the best way to grow new healthy cells. Many veterinarians use Hydroactive® wound dressings and daily cleaning with an antiseptic solution.
- Test for a bacterial infection. – Your veterinarian should determine whether the pressure sore has an underlying infection. These are treated with antibiotics and topical antiseptics.
- Deep wounds may need surgery. – Pressure sores that go deep into the skin or bone might require your veterinarian to debride the wound. Dead or diseased tissue is removed so healthy tissue can grow.
- Be patient. – It takes 2-4 weeks before you will sign of the skin healing. As a pressure sore heals it gets smaller. New healthy tissue grows at the edges and slowly closes the wound.
Do not let your dog stay in one position for more than 2-3 hours.
What is a hygroma?
Hygromas begin in the same way as pressure sores, but instead of the skin breaking down and developing an open wound, the tissues around bony areas become inflamed and fill with fluid.
The swelling of a hygroma is not painful. If it is caught early your veterinarian can treat it by aspirating the area with a needle and pulling out the fluid.
Some hygromas are more serious and can become infected. They need more advanced drainage techniques and sometimes surgery.
When a hygroma grows very large or becomes infected drainage tubes are inserted into the area to decrease the fluid built up.
Other hygromas develop an abscess or sore on top. These require surgery to remove the bad skin and grafts to reconstruct the area with healthy skin. Untreated hygromas can be life-threatening.
The best ways to prevent pressure sores and hygromas:
- Change your dog’s position often – Be sure your dog doesn’t sit or lay in one position for a prolonged period of time. Help them turn to a new position or flip them over to the other side every 2-3 hours.
- Invest in an Orthopedic dog bed – Many manufacturers sell dog beds made of egg-crate foam that evenly distribute your dog’s weight across a mattress. An orthopedic bed is also a great way to treat a dog who is developing a pressure sore of hygroma.
- Do range of motion exercises – Basic physical therapy exercises will keep your paralyzed dog’s joints and muscles flexible and strong. Talk to your veterinarian about the proper way to perform daily range of motion techniques.
- Massage therapy – Learn how to use massage techniques for your paralyzed dog’s hips and limbs. It is a good way to keep blood flowing to the muscles and surrounding tissue.
Symptoms or pressure sores and hygromas:
- Patches of exposed fur; particularly on the hips, elbows and hocks.
- Discoloration to the skin or if the skin is becoming thicker or developing a callous.
- Your dog is licking a particular area of her skin.
Advanced warning signs that call for immediate veterinary care:
- 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.