It’s important to keep your dog’s toilet routine as normal as possible following a diagnosis of IVDD. Some of these dogs start to lose control of their bladder and/or bowels, and a regular outdoor routine can help prevent this from becoming a more permanent problem.
These dogs need plenty of rest and must avoid running, jumping and stairs. However, a little walking is safe for toileting purposes. A dog with IVDD should be taken outside on a lead to pee and poo for a few minutes at a time, at least 3 times per day. Some of these dogs need to be taken out more frequently than this. Your vet or surgeon will give you guidelines specific to your dog. You may need to use a sling to support your dog for standing and walking. There’s more information about sling-walking here.
During a bout of IVDD, nerve impulses to and from the bladder may be reduced or cut off so that your dog can no longer choose when to pee. In severe cases, the bladder may fill up until it overflows, typically when your dog tries to get up or when you lift him. If your dog is recovering from IVDD and you find patches or trails of dog pee indoors, then it is most likely not his fault at all so don’t tell him off. Your recovering dog cannot yet control this from happening and might not yet even be able to feel that he is peeing.
Even if nerves to and from the bladder are working okay, your dog may find it really difficult to pee simply because he just can’t stand and squat for as long as he used to. When your dog needs to poo, being unable to stand can feel like even more of a problem to him.
Why should I take my recovering dog outdoors to the toilet?
Some owners query why they need to take their dog outside at all. Might it be safer just to provide an indoor “toilet area” inside the crate or pen? The answer is, “no”. Taking your dog outside to the toilet will improve his chances of recovery.
- If your dog used to be house-trained, then he may initially feel confused or even quite distressed about “making a mess” inside his crate or pen. Bear in mind that, even if he can’t feel when he’s peeing or pooing, his nose and brain are still expected to be working normally. Taking him outdoors won’t prevent indoor “accidents”, but it will make them less likely.
- Setting up an indoor “toilet area” for your dog may eventually train him that indoors, not outdoors, is the place to poo and pee. It’s fine to protect surfaces with an incontinence pad or two but, even if you do this, do continue to take your dog out to a suitable patch of ground for regular toilet attempts.
- Outdoors, there are cues to help your dog learn to pee and poo normally again. These may include the feel of grass against your dog’s feet, and being able to smell where he has been before.
Safety during toilet breaks
Do continue to follow your vet’s safety guidelines during your dog’s toilet breaks. It’s not safe just to “let him out into the garden” for a pee. You will need to keep him on the lead. During recovery from IVDD (surgical or non-surgical), usual safety guidelines are to keep your dog on a fairly short lead, and to ensure no running, no jumping, no steps or stairs. It’s best to carry your dog outdoors to a suitable patch of ground, and then to give him just a short time walking on the lead before bringing him in again. You vet or physiotherapist can advise you on how much walking is safe.
Above: A fixed-length lead and a harness are best for safety. Your dog might also need a hindquarter sling.
Tips for toilet breaks
Set your dog up for success by finding a patch of ground where he’s most likely to want to pee and poo. This might, for example, be an area of grass or bark chips in your garden. Think back to where he used to “do his business” most often. If this was away from your garden, perhaps out on a walk, then consider taking him back there now and again, either in a dog pushchair or by car.
Above: Charlie is out getting some fresh air. Use a pushchair if needed to take your dog to his old favourite “toilet spot”. Photo courtesy of Courtney Baker.
Set your dog up for success by offering outdoor toilet breaks whenever he is most likely to need to pee and poo. This is likely to be first thing in the morning, last thing at night and perhaps after each meal.
As your dog starts to recover, he might need to sniff the ground (to read his “pee-mails”!) before he feels ready to pee and poo. Keep him on the lead, but do let him sniff about a bit.
Once your dog either pees or poos in an appropriate place, then immediately tell him “well done!”. It’s best not to scold him if he goes in the wrong place though (e.g. indoors).
If your dog can’t yet stand unsupported then he may find toileting very difficult. Over days to weeks, exercises to help him learn to stand will help with this. Meanwhile, whenever you take him out to the toilet, do place him onto the ground with all four paws flat and, if needed, use your hands and/or a hindquarter sling to help him hold a standing position.
Above: Frankie practising holding a standing position
If you have a boy dog, then take care that the hindquarter sling doesn’t cover the front of his prepuce, otherwise he won’t be able to pee. A scarf-style sling should not be too wide for boy dogs. It’s width should be a little less then the distance between the front of his thigh and the front of his prepuce. If the sling or scarf is too wide, then you may need to fold it back onto itself at the front to leave space for your boy dog to pee.
Expressing your dog’s bladder
If your dog is not managing to pee on his own, then your vet may need to teach you to express (squeeze out) his bladder. For more information on bladder expression, click here.