Your dog, once ready to dash around the park and leap into the sky for a stick or a Frisbee, has been sidelined by a slipped disc. Back surgery has gone well, but now they are headed home to continue their recovery.

You and your pet face a learning curve in recovery: You’ll be monitoring complicated post-operative care, and your pooch will cope – temporarily, in most cases – with limited mobility and restrictions on activity. Luckily, veterinarians have a set of protocols to make this process as easy as it can be.

The Key to Recovery from Back Surgery: Rest

First, provide a comfortable area where your dog can relax for four weeks. (We’re talking only about dogs here. Cats rarely develop slipped discs and need adjustments to these recommendations for their recovery.) Try to keep your dog in an area with a non-slick floor about three times his length by three times his length.

Give him enough room to move around, get a drink, then settle back down in his bedding. Don’t let him wander from room to room, run, jump or roughhouse. A cage, playpen, exercise pen, or small bathroom or laundry room will work, depending on the size of your dog.

Second, get the right kind of bedding – ideally, a padded bed he can step on and off easily — and keep it clean and dry. Dogs with weak hind legs sit on their hips and pelvic bones more. Look daily for redness, hair loss or bed sores, and contact your neurosurgeon if these develop.

Bladder Issues May Arise

Keep the pet on clean, dry bedding such as puppy training pads to prevent a bladder infection or skin problem. Use training pads rather than diapers, if possible, so your dog can move away from urine or feces.

When back legs are weak, the bladder can be weak as well. This can lead to urine dribbling and accidents in the bed. If your pet does not have good bladder control, you will be shown you how to help him empty his bladder. If you see a change in appearance or smell of the urine, contact your family vet or neurosurgeon; dogs with slipped discs can be prone to urinary tract infections.

Rehabilitation After Back Surgery

Based on your dog’s level of function, range-of-motion exercises, massage, cold and warm compresses, and standing/sitting exercises will be demonstrated to you.

When taking your pet for a bathroom break, keep her on a leash and support her back end. Let the paws touch the ground when walking, sending a signal to the brain that she needs to move her legs, but don’t let her fall. You can order products online to support her back end, such as a Help ‘Em Up Harness or GingerLead sling, and your neurology team can help you choose one. Always walk your pet on a leash and/or harness, even in a fenced yard, because a dog risks re-injury by bolting toward a squirrel or a neighbor.

Medications and Incision Care

Your dog will go home with medication to manage pain and inflammation. Anxious dogs may also need an anti-anxiety medication to help them rest. Most dogs stay on these medications for two to three weeks following surgery. You can hide pills in canned dog food, Pill Pockets, cheese or even marshmallows.

You’ll be shown how to monitor the surgical site daily for increased redness, opening of the stitches, swelling or fluid from the incision. If you see these, take a photo and contact your neurosurgeon.

Dealing with Paralysis During Recovery

For most dogs, intense post-operative care occurs in the first few weeks after surgery. A dog that’s paralyzed by a slipped disc, but recovers will typically be able to walk on his own within two weeks, though he’ll probably still wobble. Paralyzed dogs who lose the ability to feel their legs may not fully regain functions and may require some of the therapies mentioned above life-long.

Owners often ask about wheelchairs or back braces. Vets don’t typically recommend a wheelchair for at least six weeks after surgery. While back braces can protect the spine, prolonged use after surgery could lead to muscle loss along the spine which could make him more likely to develop another disc issue in the future.

The long-term goal is always to return your dog to normal activities while minimizing high-impact activity. Keeping a pet fit and at a healthy weight decreases the chance of another slipped disc.

CARE functions as the animal equivalent of a medical center for people, offering all forms of treatment for pets via emergency care 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It also provides board-certified specialty care after a referral from your primary veterinarian. Please take a visual tour of the practice at

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