Nursing Care For Your Immobile Pet: What You Need To Know

Dogs and cats, like humans, are sometimes confined to their beds, either by doctor’s orders or an illness or injury that temporarily restricts movement. Strict bed rest is also often required for recovery from orthopedic or neurological conditions, where the patient may or may not be able to move on their own. If your pet is temporarily immobile, there are key steps you must take to ensure their well-being and assist in their recovery.

1. First and foremost, follow your veterinarian’s instructions!

You should receive very specific, printed instructions when your pet is discharged from the hospital. They should include information about your pet’s diagnosis, basic nursing Nursing care for your immobile petcare directions, medication instructions and emergency contact information. Make sure you read through the instructions before leaving the clinic and ask questions. If you get home and do not understand any part of the instructions, call your vet’s office, a veterinary emergency hospital or New England Pet Hospice & Home Care (617) 302-6374.

2. Keep your pet clean and dry!

If your pet is urinating or defecating in their bed, you must clean them and sanitize the area often to keep them healthy. Placing disposable, absorbent ‘chucks’ or ‘pee pads’ underneath your pet can keep bedding dry and make cleanup easier. Urine on your pet’s skin can cause a condition known as urine scald, which will appear as red, painful areas of skin irritation and inflammation. The best way to deal with urine scald is to prevent it by keeping your pet clean and dry and gently bathing them after each urination. If urine scald should occur, call your veterinarian who may suggest using certain topical medications to calm the irritation (never use a medication without a doctor’s approval).

3. Pad them and flip them!

If your pet is confined to lateral recumbency (lying on their side) for their recovery, you will need to provide soft, cushioned bedding and very gently turn them over every 4 hours (but only if directed to do so by your vet!). Lying on one side for long periods of time can cause damage to a pet’s lungs and skin. Certain pressure points, like elbows, can develop decubital ulcers if they are not well padded by plush bedding. Decubital ulcers are painful, open sores which can become infected if left untreated. If you notice any sores on your pet’s skin, prevent your pet from licking or chewing at the area and notify your veterinarian immediately.

4. Elevate for feedings.

You should be provided with instructions on your pet’s dietary needs during their recovery. In most cases, to prevent choking or the aspiration of food into the lungs, you will be asked to gently elevate your pet’s upper body while feeding them and while offering water. Pillows and blankets can be very useful props in this situation. Once you have mastered the art of propping up your pet’s upper body, make sure that their food and water dishes are easy to access. It may be helpful if you hold the food dish up to your pet’s level, instead of making your pet try to bend down towards the dish. In some cases, feeding gruel from a syringe may be easier.

Caring for an immobile pet can be incredibly stressful, both for the owner and the patient. We at New England Pet Hospice & Home Care want to remind you that we are here to help. Our experienced veterinary technicians will come directly into your home to help with your pet’s care, answer questions and provide you with the caring support you need. We are just a click ( or call (617) 302-6374 away.

Michelle SpencerAbout the author: Michelle’s professional experience includes 5 years as a Medical Oncology Technician at New England Veterinary Oncology Group, 5 years as a Critical Care Technician at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital and 1 year in Clinical Research in Breast Oncology at The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

New England Pet Hospice & Home Care supports those caring for ill, elderly and special needs animals at home following the human hospice and palliative care models of interdisciplinary care. Learn more and get your FREE subscription to Wag & Purr: Your Guide to Comfort Care for Pets at

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