Spinal (disc) surgery:post-surgical considerations

There are four factors that influence a pets recovery from spinal surgery:

  • 1. The amount of permanent damage that has occurred to the spinal cord before surgery was performed.
  • 2. The success of the surgery in removing the pressure from the spinal cord.
  • 3. The motivation of your pet to make the effort to relearn to walk.
  • 4. Your persistence in performing physical therapy and enhancing the pets motivation.

The items which have been marked should be taken to maximise your pets chances of having a full recovery.

  • 1. Bathe areas of the skin. This may be necessary as often as three times per day. Baby shampoos are usually suitable but the pH of the pets skin is different from ours, and it is better to discuss the type of shampoo with your veterinary surgeon.
  • 2. If your pet has no urinary control, we will show you how to empty the bladder. Please follow the instructions carefully.
  • 3. The bowels should move when they are full, even if your pet has no conscious control. If no bowel movement occurs for 48 hours, please call.
  • 4. Since the spinal cord has been decompressed with surgery, exercise and movement will not cause further damage. Your pet should be allowed to drag itself around the house on carpeted surfaces. However care should be taken that drag lesions are not caused. This is important in creating a desire to walk. Cage confinement kills the desire to walk so we do not encourage that except for times when no one is home. Good judgement should be used in preventing situations that might result in a fall, i.e. on furniture, stairs, etc.
  • 5. IF YOUR DOG LIKES TO SWIM, place it in a tub of water about 2-4 inches over its head. Allow it to swim while you support it. Your support is essential in preventing drowning.
  • 6. To increase motivation: Make a sling from a bath towel by folding the towel lengthways until it is about 6″ wide. Support your pet by placing this sling under the belly and holding the ends of the towel above. Use it to assist walking for 5 minutes 2-3 times per day.
  • 7. If skin abrasions occur on the feet or legs due to dragging, cover them with socks or a bandage. If they are not covered, apply an antibiotic ointment 3 times per day to promote healing and prevent infection. (If the feet are covered, be careful not to get the tape so tight so as to affect circulation.)
  • 8. If a soft swelling occurs under the incision, please make an appointment for us to check it. This usually means a seroma has formed. A seroma is a collection of fluid under the skin at the site of the wound. Even though it may be up to 2″ wide and the entire length of the incision, it is not an emergency, but it will require drainage.
  • 9. Your pets appetite should be good. If not, please let us know
  • 10 To understand how walking will return, you should understand some basic aspects of how the spinal cord works.

There are 3 levels of function of the spinal cord:

Proprioception:This represents the dog’s awareness of where the limbs are located in space.

Motor:movement of the muscles


Proprioception is the first function lost and the last to return. Conversely, sensation (feeling) is the last function lost and the first to return. Walking is a complicated feat requiring muscle control, feeling, coordination, and proprioception. When ALL of these are present, walking can occur. Until proprioception is regained, your pet cannot walk. When proprioception is regained, walking returns in an all-of-a-sudden fashion. This is much like a baby learning to walk. The baby will be developing the functions needed to walk for several months. When they all come together, the baby walks. Do not be discouraged; your pet may go several days or weeks without walking.

  • 1. Improvement should occur in several ways prior to actual walking. An increase in muscle tone during physical therapy is the most easily observed one. The rate of improvement probably will not be noticeable from one day to the next. If you can detect improvement over a 3 day period, you should remain very optimistic. If 5 days go by without improvement, please return for a recheck so that we may assess progress and your efforts.
  • 2. Pets that have been paralysed are prone to bladder infections. If your pet develops an unusually strong odour to its urine, or appears to strain, please let us know so that we can check for a bladder infection.
  • 3. Because your pet is doing so well, it may want to resume normal activity immediately. If this happens, it may have a set back in 1-2 days. Do not encourage or allow running or jumping.
  • 4. Keep your pet away from other active dogs to prevent the possibility of being injured.
  • 5. Your pet is overweight, this reduces the chances of recovery.
  • 6. The purpose of physical therapy is to prevent the muscles in the legs from becoming weak or atrophied (wasted away). Perform physical therapy, as demonstrated by your veterinarian. This is very important in keeping muscle tone present.

Get in touch with us

Four great Veterinary locations in Sydney Australia
  • Alexandria
  • Dee Why
  • Kingsford
  • Marrickville

Shop 1/138 Botany Rd
Alexandria NSW 2017
Phone: (02) 9698 4120
Fax: (02) 9698 4125
Email: Alexandria@amsvet.com.au

815 Pittwater Rd
Dee Why NSW 2099
Phone: (02) 9972 2044
Fax: (02) 9982 2307
Email: Deewhy@amsvet.com.au

70 Gardeners Rd
Kingsford NSW 2032
Phone: (02) 9662 6703
Fax: Fax: (02) 9662 8829
Email: Kingsford@amsvet.com.au

402 Illawarra Road
Marrickville NSW 2204
Phone: (02) 9558 2500
Fax: (02) 9559 3410
Email: Marrickville@amsvet.com.au

  • Alexandria
  • Dee Why
  • Kingsford
  • Marrickville


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