Nursing Care for Your Dog
Dr. Amy Wolff
Nursing care is often an essential component to your pet's recovery from an illness, accident or surgery. The success, speed of recovery and return to a normal lifestyle is many times enhanced by the care you provide for your pet in comfortable and familiar surroundings. Nursing a convalescing pet can be every bit as time consuming as that for a person, so it is best to be prepared to meet the special needs of your pet. Take time before you bring your pet home to talk to your veterinarian about what will be required. 7:00am – Supervised walk outside. Note urine/feces.
What is Nursing Care?
Caring for a sick or injured pet involves many aspects that you may not expect. It is easy to overlook how independently our pets live until you are asked to meet their most basic needs. When caring for a sick or recovering pet, it is typical to be asked to keep your pet in a safe and confined environment. Special temperature requirements may be necessary, and may involve keeping a pet warmer or cooler than normal. You will learn to observe appetite, activity and eliminations and perhaps administer medications or simple medical treatments. You should have a complete understanding of everything that will be required before your pet leaves the hospital to make the transition to home care as smooth as possible. Have a plan on hand in the event something unexpected arises or an emergency occurs.
Which Pets Require Nursing Care?
Many situations arise that require some level of extended care. Your pet may have had an accident resulting in an injury or may need to recover from a surgical procedure. Some medical conditions require days to weeks of nursing support before your pet returns to normal. Home care is often the next step after a hospital stay. Upon initial diagnosis, your veterinarian may suggest admittance to the animal hospital until a condition is treated and stabilized. Once your pet gets to the point where hospitalization has resulted in significant improvement, full recovery often comes much faster in familiar surroundings. Your pet's attitude and appetite may improve quickly while receiving your special attention and love.
Nursing Care 101
Just how do you go about convalescing a sick pet? It helps to have a plan and a routine just as it occurs in a veterinary hospital. Having a written plan will help insure that treatments, medications and feedings get done on schedule. It will also help prevent you from over or under medicating your pet. This is common when more than one person in the home is caring for the pet and not entirely sure of who's doing what. A sample routine may look like this, although your plan will be tailored to your pet's specific needs.
Sample Nursing Schedule
7:30am – Give medications (if any)
8:00am – Feed. Note appetite and water consumption.
8:30am – Attend to special needs, like grooming, bathing, range of motion exercises, check wounds or surgical sites.
9:00 to 11:00am – Observations. Note any specific problems or concerns and call your veterinarian if needed.
11:00am – Supervised walk; note any eliminations
11:30am to 3:30pm – Monitor
3:30 - 4:30pm – Scheduled medications and supervised walk. Attend to special needs.
5:30pm – Feed. Note appetite and water consumption.
6:00 to 10:00pm – Monitor
10:00pm – Supervised walk
11:30pm – Medications
Does every pet need such a regimented schedule? Of course not. Each pet will require a tailor-made nursing plan. Some will be quite easy and take minimal effort. The important thing is to write down on a daily basis the needs of your pet and any observations or problems that arise. It will be much easier to communicate with your veterinarian if you have kept a few notes on your pet's recovery.
If your pet has a need for more monitoring than you can manage during your hours away from home, ask a friend or neighbor to drop by or talk to your veterinarian about taking your pet to the clinic to be watched for the day.
The Newborn Patient (Birth to 6 weeks)
Newborns are challenging patients. Unable to fend for themselves, they require feeding, stimulation for eliminations, and a controlled warm environment. If you are caring for a sick newborn, be prepared with milk replacements, cotton balls, lots of towels and a safe reliable heat source. A heating pad is a poor choice, even if covered, as young animals often burrow under towels and find themselves directly on a heat pad. You will find that being a surrogate mother is time consuming. These patients require attention and feeding every 3 to 4 hours. Other treatments or medications prescribed may increase your efforts. Have your veterinarian demonstrate the proper way to feed a newborn and stimulate urinations and defecations.
The Pediatric Patient (Six weeks to 6 months)
The age range for a pediatric patient is large because, for the most part, these pets will need a more sophisticated form of confinement. A crate or kennel is often necessary to contain a pet. Usually by this time, pets are eating on their own and eliminating frequently. Keeping sick pets clean becomes a bigger issue at this age as they can produce astounding amounts of urine, feces and vomit. In order to avoid soiling areas of the house you wish to protect, be prepared to confine a young dog to a place where nursing care can be easily managed.
The Geriatric Patient
Caring for a convalescing older pet often requires much of the same care as the pediatric pet. Older dogs and cats often need to be confined to areas so they will not mistakenly soil the house. Often extra padding is needed for beds to comfort pains from arthritis or degenerative joint disease. You may need to hand feed your pet for a time, and assist him with rising, walking, and lying down. This can be a difficult chore in larger dogs; your veterinarian can demonstrate how to assist your large dog without injuring yourself. For those pets unable to walk for elimination, plenty of towels or even absorbent pads are needed to contain voids. Lots of attention will be needed to insure your pet stays clean. You may want to consider clipping any long fur around your pet's rear end to keep feces from contaminating the coat (have your vet do this for you). If you are asked to do any medical or therapeutic procedures at home, don't be shy about asking to have them demonstrated. Once you've seen it done, you can try it yourself with your veterinarian's supervision. This will make you feel more confident once you're home.
A Word To The Wise
Before the weekend arrives, make sure you have all medications, special foods or supplies you may need to see your pet through the weekend. Nothing is more frustrating (or scary) than running out of an essential medicine on Saturday night. Check your supplies at the end of the week so you can get more if needed.