Caring For Your Recumbent Pet

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Filed Under: Neurology




Your Pet may be recumbent for some time.  During this period, there are several important problems that may occur and may directly influence your Pet’s comfort and recovery.  If you are aware of these potential complications, you can try to prevent them, and in many cases, help your Pet recover more quickly.

Bedsores are deep wounds that develop during long periods of recumbency (greater than a few days).  These usually occur over pressure points, or bony prominences.  The most common sites for bedsores to develop are the hips and elbows, especially in large breed dogs.  Once they develop, bedsores can be very difficult to treat, and can lead to other problems, such as systemic infections.  The use of thick, padded bedding or a waterbed (available in most Pet catalogs) helps to redistribute weight more evenly and prevent bedsores.  In addition, turning your Pet frequently (ever 2-4 hours), keeping the skin and hair dry and gentle massage over these pressure points will help prevent bedsores.

Urine scald occurs when urine is in contact with the skin and hair coat for a prolonged period of time.  Redness, sores, and even wounds can develop quickly, especially in the perineal area and skin over the abdomen.  Keeping your Pet clean and dry will prevent this, but may be a challenge.  In incontinent Pets that must be cleaned frequently, cornstarch or baby powder on clean skin may help to keep the skin dry and slow the development of urine scald.


Muscle wasting or atrophy will occur within several weeks from disuse.  As your Pet recovers, weak, atrophied muscles will be more difficult to stand and walk on.  Physical therapy is invaluable for minimizing muscle loss. There are two forms of physical therapy: passive, which involves flexion, extension, and range of motion exercises, and active, which is usually in the form of walking (with support) and swimming. Massage therapy may also help slow muscle wasting by increasing blood flow to the massaged areas.


Pneumonia is one of the most serious, life-threatening complications of recumbency.  When an animal lies on one side, the lung on the down side does not receive as much blood or oxygen as it should.  If this continues, bacterial pneumonia may occur in the down lung.  Turning your Pet every 2-4 hours helps to prevent the development of pneumonia.  Encouraging the Pet to sit upright will also help; pillows may be used to help prop an animal in the position.  Early signs of pneumonia include depression, fever, loss of appetite, coughing, and labored breathing.  If any of these signs are seen, Veterinary attention should be sought immediately.


Urinary tract infection may occur in any recumbent animal, but is especially likely in an incontinent Pet.  Constant contact of the perineal area with the ground or bedding encourages bacteria to colonize the urinary tract.  An animal that cannot completely empty its bladder is also at increased risk of infection.  When the animal is unable to stand or walk to urinate it may be difficult to detect signs of a urinary tract infection.  A foul order or a sudden change in the odor or color of the urine can be signs of a urinary tract infection, and should be investigated promptly.  Urinary tract infections that are left untreated can lead to life-threatening kidney and/or systemic infections.


If at any time you are concerned about your Pet’s health or have questions regarding any of these problems or others, please do not hesitate to contact us or your Primary Veterinarian.