Crate or pen for the IVDD-affected dog

Crate or pen for the IVDD-affected dog

Crate or pen for the IVDD-affected dog

Please read on if your dog has been diagnosed with IVDD, or if your vet suspects that your dog might have IVDD. 

Prepare a safe, comfortable recovery area. This could be a crate if you can get hold of one big enough for your dog. Or it could be an open-topped pen if he definitely won’t jump out.  Many dachshunds do well in an indoor pen. Click here for information on choosing a recovery crate or pen. 

For larger breeds, or for very calm dogs who definitely won’t try to jump onto the sofa, your vet may have advised you to set up a room in your house as a “recovery room” instead of using a crate or pen. If so, the room must have non-slip flooring, and all members of the family will need to take care whenever opening and closing the door so that the dog doesn’t slip out. If your vet has already advised “crate rest” or “room rest” for a certain number of weeks, then do your very best to follow their recommendation. Scroll down for further information on setting up the crate or pen, and you may also like to try the following links for further information:

Crate rest summary
Choosing a recovery crate
Where to put the recovery crate
Room rest summary
Choosing a recovery room

Why does the IVDD-affected dog need a crate/pen?

The aim of the recovery space is to prevent your dog from doing anything risky. This is the case whether he’s recovering from surgery or being treated without surgery.

Whenever your dog is outside the crate or pen, he should be on a lead or in your arms to prevent any risky dashing about. There’s a small risk that dashing about might make your dog suddenly worse. Over-activity also prevents any inflammation of the affected area from settling down.

“The goal of the crate or pen is to improve safety, but not to immobilise the dog.”

Here’s a list of activities to avoid:

  • Running
  • Jumping (e.g. on/off the sofa or bed, or in/out of the car)
  • Going up or down stairs or over steps (NB you may need to lift your dog over a shallow doorstep or raised threshold, especially if your dog is a short-legged breed)
  • Ball games
  • Being let outdoors unsupervised. Safety tip: Keep your dog on the lead for toilet breaks, even in the garden.
  • Rough play/chasing with other dogs or children
  • Rushing over slick surfaces (e.g. tiled or laminate flooring) Safety tip: Place non-slip runners or carry your dog over any slick flooring.

Trotting is generally also not a good idea until later in recovery. 

The crate or pen also help prevent your dog from dragging himself about the house. For dogs that cannot walk normally, this is very important.  If left unconfined,  dragging soon becomes a habit and can make it very difficult for the dog to learn how to walk properly again. We don’t want to immobilise the dog, because this can be distressing and can lead to stiff muscles and joints. 

A little gentle moving around is fine and, if your dog is able to stand and walk, then these are also safe activities. Your dog will tire easily, so the amount of walking he’s allowed to do will be restricted. Exercise-prescription varies from patient to patient, so your vet and/or physiotherapist will assess your dog and advise you.  

Above: A comfortable pen that is suitable either for home recovery after surgery or for non-surgical treatment

It’s essential not to immobilise your dog completely. A little moving around will help him maintain his strength and ability to walk. Here’s a list of safe activities for your recovering dog:

  • Standing (with support if needed)
  • Sitting (with support if needed)
  • Getting up from rest, and moving around gently
  • Resting in any comfortable position 
  • A little gentle walking over non-slip flooring (e.g. carpet), short grass, concrete and other easy surfaces. He should walk for no longer than 5 minutes at a time to start with. Some dogs should walk for less than this (e.g. only 1-2 minutes at a time). Ask your vet to advise you. Keep your dog on a lead whenever outdoors. If he’s likely to run, then he may also need to be carried or on a lead indoors, except when confined in his recovery crate or pen.
  • Relaxing with you on the sofa, but only if he is very safely restrained. Safety tip: Have him wear a harness, and keep your fingers tucked around the harness straps to be sure that he won’t leap off the sofa unexpectedly. 
  • Chewing on toys or filled Kongs (so long as he doesn’t shake them violently or throw and catch them)

Should my dog be in his crate or pen 24/7?

The answer to this question is “no”. Dogs recovering from IVDD need to be taken outdoors regularly for toilet breaks and a little fresh air. Most of these dogs also need a chance to spend time with their owners each day. However, your recovering dog must be kept safe 24 hours per day. Whenever he’s outside the crate or pen, keep him safe using one or more of the following methods:

  • Have him on a harness and lead (with or without hindquarter sling support).
  • Lift and carry him.
  • Sit next to him with your fingers tucked around his harness straps to be sure that he won’t rush off unexpectedly.
  • Secure him safely in a dog pushchair.

While on “crate rest”, your dog should not be wandering about the house off-lead, and should not be let into the garden off the lead.

However, once your dog has almost fully recovered, your vet may tell you to start letting him wander around the house and/or garden unrestrained. Check with your vet as to whether jumping, stairs and slick flooring are yet safe for your dog to manage. You may need to block off any stairs and sofas and cover slick floors with non-slip matting.

How long should I use the crate or pen?

The answer to this question is different for each dog. It depends on how quickly the dog recovers, the dog’s personality (e.g. is he likely to run across the room if the doorbell rings?) and on the layout of the room. If the dog is likely to jump on and off the sofa, and if there are large expanses of slick flooring, then it will be risky to allow him to wander about freely until very late in recovery.

Even if your dog is very mildly affected and returns to normal within days, it’s wise to avoid running for at least 3 weeks. This  allows any inflammation to start settling down. Keep him on the lead during this time, and use the crate or pen as necessary to prevent any jumping or chasing about. It’s important to step his exercise up gradually before letting him run, so build up the lead-walking gradually (on the advice of your vet or physiotherapist) before letting him off the lead. Follow your vet’s advice if a longer recovery period is recommended.

If your dog has difficulty walking, then do continue to use the crate or pen at least until he is walking well. This helps prevent accidental injury and, very importantly, prevents him from dragging himself about the house. Dogs learn to drag themselves about as a habit, and this can make it much more difficult to learn how to walk normally again. For dogs showing more severe signs (symptoms) of IVDD, the crate or pen may need to stay set up for about 6 weeks to several months depending on how long your dog takes to get good at walking. This does not mean confining him 24 hours per day. He’ll need to be taken out of the crate or pen (well-restrained as explained above) to spend time with you, and for physio exercises and on-lead toilet breaks. Again, it’s essential not to start off-lead exercise suddenly. Build up exercises and lead-walks gradually (on the advice of your vet or physiotherapist) before letting your dog off the lead.

Keeping your dog comfortable during IVDD recovery

For good recovery, your dog needs to be as comfortable as possible in their recovery space. For a start, the crate or pen must be large enough for your dog to lie fully stretched out, and to sit, stand and turn around easily, and it should offer enough space for your dog to eat and drink as well as to lie down.

Above: Tiggy in her recovery pen. Toys and soft bedding are important, and take care to block off any draughts coming through the pen or crate. Some dachshunds like to hide in a fabric pouch. Following spinal surgery, ask the surgeon as to whether it’s okay to provide one of these.  Photo courtesy of Michelle Randall.  

It is a good idea to introduce your dog’s recovery area gradually if at all possible. It is also important to set the recovery space up as a pleasant area before your dog even sees it.

Remember to include soft bedding, food, water and something good to chew on. You may find the following links useful:

Introducing your dog to the recovery crate or pen
Keeping your recovering dog calm and content
Crate rest: Bedding
Toys for recovering dogs

Safety outside the recovery crate or room

You’ll need to take special care to keep your recovering dog safe whenever he is outside the recovery crate or pen. Whenever your dog is outside their crate or pen, they should be on a lead or in your arms to prevent any risky dashing about. It’s sensible to get hold of a fixed-length lead and a chest harness. These will be very useful for your dog’s balance when he’s walking or learning to walk. The lead is important for his safety (it’s surprising how fast some dogs try to move, even when their hind legs are not working). You’re also likely to need a hindquarter sling if your dog cannot walk. Click here for advice on sling-walking your dog.

Outside the crate or pen, your recovering dog should only by stood or walked over non-slip surfaces. Carpet, rugs or floor mats are generally fine, whereas laminate flooring, slick tiles, and most wooden floors are too slippery. It’s a good idea to place non-slip rubber-backed floor matting if your floors are slick. 

You will of course need to take your dog outside on the lead for regular “toilet breaks”. It’s important to follow your vet’s guidelines regarding how often to take your dog outdoors and on how long these outdoor sessions can be. In the absence of any advice, a good starting point is typically 3-5 toilet breaks per day, with each outdoor session being no longer than 5 minutes. Some IVDD-affected dogs need to be given more frequent outdoor chances to pee, e.g. up to 7 toilet break sessions per day (each up to 5 mins long, and carry your dog part of the way if required).

Watch your dog for signs of tiredness while you’re outside with him. Early in recovery, his legs may get tired long before the designated outdoor time is up. If your dog is getting increasingly weak and wobbly, then pick him up or put him in a dog pushchair to give him a break.

All walking should be slow. Even if your dog wants to use his front paws to rush ahead, use the lead to encourage him to move slowly. This will give his weak hind legs are chance to learn to step. It will also help avoid his front end getting worn out. 

 The following links offer more information on keeping your dog safe through the recovery period:

Keeping your dog safe outside the recovery crate
Keeping your dog safe outside the recovery room
Harness for recovering dogs
Choosing a lead for recovery
Walking with your recovering dog

Above: It is essential to keep your recovering dog on the lead whenever outdoors.

The recovery routine

A regular routine is important during recovery. Recovering dogs cope better once they learn when to expect meal times, toilet breaks, and any quality time spent with the owner. It is also helpful to set aside quiet times during which your dog should expect no interaction from you (especially during the night, of course). For details on the daily routine during recovery, try the following links:

Crate rest daily routine
Room rest daily routine

Keeping your recovering dog content

Some dogs do take a little while to accept their recovery crate or pen. Here are some tips on helping your dog to settle down:

  • Be sure that the crate or pen is set up comfortably. It should be at a comfortable room temperature and, at the very least, always contain soft bedding and a water bowl.
  • Check for draughts low down at dog-level. If needed, add a cot bumper, rolled blankets or other fabric to keep the crate or pen cosy.
  • Provide a regular daily routine for your dog.
  • Be sure to take your dog outdoors for regular toilet breaks on the lead (with support from a hindquarter sling if needed). Regular opportunity to try to pee and poo outdoors is important even if the dog cannot walk.
  • Provide toys such as food-dispensing Kongs.
  • For long term recovery, consider having several pens in different rooms of the house so that your dog can move about the house with you during the day.
  • Time outside in a dog pushchair can cheer up some recovering dogs (and their owners). 

If your confined dog won’t stop crying then there’s further advice for you here.

 Above: Trips out in a dog stroller can improve quality of life for both dog and owner. Be sure to strap your dog in safely. Photo courtesy of J.Austin.

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