Today's interview is with Benn from Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Benn has provided a wealth of great information about life with his two dogs Jasper and Daisy. Jasper suffered a herniated disc which has left him paralyzed in the hind legs.
Benn has shared details of their daily routine, and provided some great bathroom tips and helpful product recommendations that will benefit others managing paralyzed dogs. Thanks Benn!
Before I talk about Jasper I want to clarify a common misconception about "disabled" dogs being more work than "able-bodied" dogs. At a bare minimum ANY dog needs to eat, drink, pee and poop. The amount of time spent accommodating your dog for any, or even all of these activities, regardless of their level of independence, takes up only a small portion of any day.
I have two dogs, Daisy and Jasper. I have the same responsibility to both of them to meet their basic physical and mental needs. Yes, Jasper requires specialized attention. But, I don't work much harder to meet his needs than Daisy's. Jasper is a paraplegic and therefore has little to no voluntary use of his rear legs tail or torso. His paralysis was sudden and suspected to be from trauma to his back causing a disc to bulge into his spinal cord.
Jasper cannot express his bowels or bladder voluntarily. Although, he rarely has accidents unless he is very excited or very "full." When his feet or legs are manipulated, sometimes he will do donkey kicks or stretch out his legs. Leg movements rarely last more than a second. Unstimulated movement maxes out at about three seconds during a long stretch. He appears to have developed enough coordination to bend his knees. When he is not in his wheelchair, which is most of the time, this allows him to position his rear legs to the sides like stabilizers while pulling himself around (imagine bent frog legs). When he holds himself or is held in a particular plane sometimes he wags. We have observed sustained unstimulated wagging for more than 10 seconds on multiple occasions. Although, once in awhile, the rare joy of watching him wag is replaced by the realization that he is having a bowel movement.
Could you tell us what a regular day is like with Jasper?
Both dogs sleep in bed with us. Jasper's been reliably accident free overnight for about two months and sleeping without a diaper on a dog blanket over the regular covers. My hours vary, but I rarely sleep in. At some point between 2 am and 5 am I pick Jasper up and empty him on a pee-pad. If daisy bothers waking up, she gets a quick trip out back.
I get ready for work and leave Jasper on a dog bed on the floor where he sometimes stays until daybreak before waking my wife to get on the human bed. My wife will empty him out again at some point mid-morning. Beyond that, my understanding is that both dogs do a little playing and a lot of lounging about until I get home. There are no scheduled feedings. We leave food out all the time, so either dog can graze when the mood strikes.
When I get home, both dogs get a healthy dose of loving for a minute or two. If Jasper hasn't been emptied recently, then that is the second order of business. Otherwise, I load him in his wheelchair and take him and Daisy for a walk. When we get back, it's time for a shower and a nap. Neither dog will pass up an opportunity to sleep in the middle of the day and I've learned a lot from them.
We all get up in time to make dinner for the humans. After dinner, the dogs get walked again. Jasper likes playing fetch indoors in his cart after his walk and sometimes tug-of-war. This is usually his build up to eating his dinner. Eventually, I take him out of the cart and we play on the floor. I use this time to flex his legs/feet and induce muscle contractions. Both dogs usually settle down after 7 pm. So we fit in some TV or computer time before the dogs are emptied again and head to bed.
Weekends are pretty similar to weekdays except the pooches get a long walk mid-morning in addition to afternoon and evening walks. Sometimes we'll go on a "field trip" to visit either my cousin or my mother-in-law who are both in nursing homes.
What products would you recommend to other paralyzed dogs owners?
Immediately after Jasper was paralyzed, I discovered that resources were at best scattered, but usually non-existent. So I commend TheseDogDays.com for attempting to centralize and organize useful information.
Here are a few products, with elaboration, that worked for me:
What is Jasper's bathroom routine?
Emptying Jasper's bladder is pretty simple. I pull his legs up and inward with my thumbs outside his legs and fingers between his legs and torso rolling my knuckles inward until I feel his bladder then squeeze downward. Some people suggest using open palms directly on the torso. For me, using his own legs to compress his body makes it easier to find that internal balloon of urine.
There are plenty of YouTube videos on this and most vet techs or vets can show you. But it will mainly be trial and error until you get the feel of it. If you don't empty you your dogs regularly, it can result in excessive leakage or infection.
To induce a bowel movement I use a baby wipe and push downward or in a circular motion right under his anus with two fingers. This usually induces a contraction which after one or more tries will produce the desired result. This will also require some trial and error. I received no guidance from anyone on bowel movements other than "he will go when he needs to go." Search for "poop on demand" for alternate methods. I express his bowels immediately after his bladder until he produces something, no matter how small, and it has significantly reduced stress in my house.
Jasper wants to make a mess about as much as I want to clean it up. If you can find something that works, everyone will be happier.
Have you tried any rehabilitation or treatment?
Jasper has weekly acupuncture treatments which help stimulate the nerves and muscles. While there is increased functionality in his legs feet and tail since his initial diagnosis, it isn't enough to be useful toward independence. In addition, I have an EMS/TENS unit for use at home to help maintain/promote muscle tone.
While I am hopeful for a more noticeable improvement, I struggle to be realistic about that possibility. I am comfortable with our current lifestyle routines and am glad that he seems to have joy in his life.
What advice would you offer others who are facing life with a paralyzed dog?
You are not alone. There are hundreds of people like us on instagram and other social media outlets. Reading their stories and sharing mine has helped me heal and accept that Jasper is just another dog who likes doing dog things but needs a little more direct attention than average.
My second bit of advice applies to both fully independent and special needs animals. They depend on you. In return for meeting their needs they give you love and often make you smile. Even if it seems things aren't going perfectly or maybe not well at all, they keep their end of the bargain. So, be patient with them and aware of your emotions.