Care of a Dog After Spinal Surgery

When you bring your dog home after spinal surgery, he's got a long road to recovery, and you've got your work cut out for you. Much depends on your dog's prognosis -- and whether he's expected to walk again. If he is expected to regain that ability, physical therapy is a large part of his recuperation process. Even if it's unlikely he'll regain mobility, physical therapy can improve his quality of life.

Canine Confinement

When your dog returns home, he requires confinement so he can't inadvertently hurt himself. Choose a large cage or crate, and fill it with soft bedding. You'll have to change or wash his bedding daily if he fouls it. You'll have to turn him regularly so that he doesn't develop bedsores. Your dog will likely have to stay confined for at least a month, besides trips outdoors for calls of nature.

Expressing the Bladder

It's possible your dog won't be able to urinate on his own, at least initially. That means you must express his bladder manually several times a day. It's still a good idea to take him outside during these attempts, as he'll know what's expected and try to go on his own.

Your veterinarian will show you how to express the bladder before you take your dog home. It consists of putting firm pressure on his abdomen in front of his rear legs. If you have issues, call the veterinary hospital at once -- your dog's bladder can't remain full. Your vet may prescribe a muscle relaxant for your dog to help you express the bladder. You should also call the vet if your dog's urine smells very bad or is discolored.


  • Your dog should have a bowel movement within three days of his surgery. If he's home and that hasn't happened, contact your vet.

Other Care

Other basic care during your dog's recovery includes:

  • checking the incision for signs of infection
  • administering prescribed medications
  • and feeding the appropriate diet.

It will take longer for an overweight dog to recover, as the excess weight strains his joints and limbs. If your dog is too fat, your vet will recommend a weight-loss diet during the recovery period.

Physical Rehabilitation

While your dog may require visits to a canine physical therapist, much of the work is done at home once you learn the ropes. Early home therapy focuses on getting the dog to stand and balance once more. The therapist may teach you basic exercises, including:

  • massage
  • stretching exercises
  • range-of-motion exercises
  • and sitting to standing exercises.

You will also take your dog to rehab for services a facility can provide. This may include:

  • therapeutic swimming
  • treadmills 
  • laser therapy
  • acupuncture
  • electrical muscle stimulation
  • and poles and obstacle courses for coordination.

As your dog progresses, the therapist will give you additional exercises to work with on your dog at home, including controlled walks. These may include walks on specific surfaces or on hills. With luck, your dog will soon be back to a "new normal," even if he can't do everything he did before his injury or illness.