You can learn to cope with a paralyzed dog in diapers. We did.

By Susan Posted in Dog Paralysis /

Even though you love your dog, you feel devoted and loyal, and you know your dog is giving you unconditional love and devotion in return, you can still be a stupid dog owner.

Let me explain.

You MUST be aware of what your dog is communicating. Is she telling you something is wrong? Is there some nuance that is different today than yesterday? Does it mean anything?

Let me tell you the story of Isabel, my paralyzed Belgium sheep dog.

Isabel today 300x247 You can learn to cope with a paralyzed dog in diapers. We did.

Isabel, my paralyzed Belgium Sheep dog

This is her picture, Our Precious Belgian Sheepdog

At the time, Isabel was 5 years old. She was fast as lightning and loved running. Just for the sake of running, for the sake of speed. She also loved chasing the squirrels. She did not catch any, thank God, but she loved to give them a run for their money. Every day she ran and ran.

Jim and Isabel Oct. 2006 300x293 You can learn to cope with a paralyzed dog in diapers. We did.

Isabel and Jim on their daily walk

She also loved her daily walks. She lived for those walks. She and my husband, Jim would leave each day and be gone anywhere from 30-60 minutes. Jim allowed her to sniff the mailboxes and visit with every clump of grass that called to her. That takes time.

We had friends visiting us from England. I am using this as the excuse for this terrible incident to be allowed to occur. I consider myself to be an excellent dog owner, sensitive, alert and dedicated to their care and love.

Like I said, we had friends visiting from England. We live in the USA, in the northern state of Michigan. It was a wonderful visit. Nothing changed for Isabel, she still had her daily walks, and she still ran and ran in the backyard, chasing squirrels. This one day we were going to show our friends around a bit, and we left the house for the afternoon. Isabel had already had her run and walk and she was going to be staying home. We were gone until early evening, and then I began preparing supper. I first went up to feed the cat and realized Isabel was not with me. She ALWAYS came up the stairs to beg for the cat food can. I went to the top of the stairs to see where she was and she was sitting at the bottom of the stairs looking forlorn. I asked her what was she doing, why wasn’t she coming for her can. She stood up and came up the stairs and happily got her can.

I continued on with dinner preparation, entertaining our guests and enjoying the evening. Isabel started to come into the kitchen and I noticed she was walking funny, her left back leg was sort of uncoordinated and faltering. I went to her and started checking her over for what could be the problem. I called to Jim to have him take a look and we couldn’t find anything, but Jim recalled that she had not been very enthusiastic about their walk earlier that day. She just didn’t seem herself, he said.

She continued on to her destination of the water bowl and seemed to be doing okay at the time. So we thought maybe with all her running she had strained something, we would keep an eye on her, but we went back to our guests.

We were all sitting around the dining room table having our meal, when Jim realized Isabel had come under the table and had wedged herself up against his legs and she was whimpering. We immediately, went into action and realized she was in trouble AND she was in pain. We tried to call her out from under the table, but she could not move herself. It was about midnight now, we called the emergency vet clinic and described what we were seeing and the day’s events, (which were startling clear in hindsight). They said we needed to rush her into the clinic immediately, we were dealing with a spinal cord injury.

We placed her big soft pillow in the back of the van and we carried her out to the van, and we had her to the vet clinic in about 15 minutes. She cried when we lifted her and it was so obvious the pain she was in. I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Our house guests were long forgotten.

The Veterinarian at the clinic examined Isabel right away, she had neurological deficits that were frightening and worsening quickly, they said the injury could be traveling up her spine toward her heart and lungs, she could die. They did a myelogram and Ct Scan of her spine. They found she had a severely ruptured disc in her spine and she had a lot of damage in her spinal column. They recommended immediate surgery to save her life. We did not even hesitate, DO THE SURGERY!

We did not understand that she might be paralyzed, we did not know how to care for a dog with this circumstance, we didn’t think about anything but saving her life. She survived the surgery and then they said it would be another 48 hours to see if the damage traveling up her spine would stop and she would indeed survive. She stayed in the hospital for 3 more days with IV’s and pain medicines and antibiotics, She was shaved on both sides of her spine and she was drugged and weak and she was the most beautiful sight to our eyes.

Both Jim and I would crawl into her very large cage and sit on her blankets with her. She had a bladder catheter in place and they were worried she wasn’t making enough urine. Also she wouldn’t eat or drink so they couldn’t remove the IV. I asked them to let us try and we gave her mushed up food and water and she took it gratefully with that look that every animal lover recognizes. “why did you wait so long”.

So from then on we went there every day to give her food and water, she was able to get the IV out and to get off the strong pain medicines. She got her catheter out the last day. That is when we were told she was incontinent (couldn’t control the function of) her bowel and bladder. She was paralyzed and we would need to assume these functions.


They showed us how to sling walk her, using a strap under her belly and we had to be extremely careful due to the newness of her incisions and surgery. We also had to express her bladder to make her urinate and we had to keep her clean from the stools. We had to make sure her bladder was empty or she would develop urinary tract infections. And we were taught how to perform physical therapy on her so she could keep her muscles in good shape for when and if she ever walked again.

They told us it could take up to two years, but she had all her reflexes, so they were hopeful she would walk again. So off we go to our home with our baby and all the determination to be the best caregivers on the planet and terrified of what we were undertaking.

Well to bring this story to a close, let me just tell you that as of today’s writing it has been 3 years, 2 months and 12 days. She is not walking. BUT…who cares?

She is the best dog in the world. She is happy and well adjusted. And she has the best parents alive. We love her. It is just simply all okay. We have mastered the art of diapering a dog, well enough that we rarely if hardly ever have an accident outside the diaper. We got her the wheels to enable her to be independently ambulatory. And she is the talk of the neighborhood.

Isabel on her wheels 300x263 You can learn to cope with a paralyzed dog in diapers. We did.

Isabel on her wheels

Jim loves to tell the story of how when Isabel was ambulatory, we knew our two next door neighbors and the people across the street. Now…we know the entire neighborhood. As Isabel on her wheels and Jim walk by people will actually come out of their homes to speak with them and pet Isabel and make remarks about how wonderful it is and what a great person Jim is and how sweet Isabel is. All of that is correct of course.

Also before the accident, Isabel was very shy and standoffish. She would even hide behind Jim’s legs when people or kids would approach. Now she is the one to say hello first and she knows she is the pride of the neighborhood. It is truly remarkable.

She is totally the wrong breed, it should not have happened to her. It is those short little dachshunds that are prone to these injuries, not a herding dog. But it happened. We theorize that it happened because of all that running and jumping and twisting and she just landed wrong one time.

We have forgiven ourselves for ignoring the subtle symptoms in our dog that we missed because we were too distracted with our out of town guests to notice. We love our Isabel and would not change a thing. We know she is not going to be one of the dogs that regains the ability to walk, but we don’t care. Our lives have nicely settled into a routine that works for us all. We can deal with it.

Isabel is a dog, despite the fact that she is so remarkable. She lives in the moment, she has no idea anything is any different than it is supposed to be. She is happy and well loved. When people express their sympathy and sadness over her paralysis, I like to say, “hey don’t feel sorry for her, it’s me that changes her diapers”… Life is good.

If you take anything at all away from this…Love your dog and pay attention to what they are saying to you. And forgive yourself if you miss one now and then.

If you would like to see more pictures of Isabel you can visit the Squidoo lens I created for her.  You would be welcome.

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10 Responses to “You can learn to cope with a paralyzed dog in diapers. We did.”

  1. sts Says: April 25th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    I think you are talented writer, keep us posting

  2. Susan Kaul Says: June 11th, 2010 at 1:55 am

    thanks so much, really appreciate it

  3. Greg Says: July 22nd, 2011 at 2:09 am

    Wow. Our French Bulldog,Dodger, is in the same boat. He had his rupture and his back surgery about a month ago. Vets say he has only a small chance of ever walking again based on the severity of the spinal damage from the rupture. Our stories are similar. Company visiting us … noticed a slight limp … rushed him to the vet and then the emergency vet … emergency disk surgery … and then the realization that Dodger would not be walking anytime soon (if ever). We are good about keeping his bedding and diapers clean. However, we have not found the right brand or style of diaper that will effectively stay up on him snugly. Being a boy, his diaper fit has little room for error before it will slip back too far to be effective. He is doing some physical therapy and they are outfitting him with a loaner wheelchair tomorrow. Any recommendations on a good brand/website for the permanent chair we will be buying him in the next couple of weeks? What kind of diapers do you use? I must say that this whole experience has been one of the worst of my life. I try to keep a positive face on for Dodger, but the tears and the guilt and the anxiety push to the surface more often than I would like to admit. I would give anything to have things back the way they were before. I never imagined that we would find ourselves in this situation. All I ever wanted for Dodger and his sister Emma was a long, healthy, and joy-filled life. I feel like we have missed that boat by a mile. I wish I could be more positive, but my dog can’t walk. He can’t hold his urine. He is as shocked as I am when he poops. When he drags himself a few feet … I feel like someone is tearing my heart out. We are doing everything we can for him and we love him every bit as much as we did before. But, I would do anything to go back to that day his disk ruptured and undo that 15 minutes he spent unsupervised in our fenced in back yard while I got our guests settled in. My boy can’t even wiggle his toes, let alone standup. Every doctor visit or therapy session I hope that they will give me some miraculous news about Dodger having feeling in his legs, but no such news yet. I know that things can only get better and that Dodger will adjust to all of this. He soon won’t even remember that things were different than they are now. But, I remember… and at the moment I am heartbroken enough for all of us.

  4. Susan Kaul Says: August 7th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Oh Greg, Your story is heartbreaking and bringing back a lot of memories for me. I am so sorry for your Dodger. Maybe I can say a couple of things that will help. First, remember that dogs live in the moment. He doesn’t even think about his legs or his walking or anything, but he is very very aware of you and what you are going through and your sadness and your anxiety. If you want a happy boy, be happy yourself. Now I understand the adjustment you are going through, but eventually you’ll get there, we did.

    Second there is no place online or off that I would recommend other than Eddie’s Wheels.
    I promise I have no affiliation with them, other than I bought our wheel’s there after a lot of research. I am a nurse and I understand the necessary precautions in these situations and every other place utilized the skin of the dog to stabalize the cart. That will lead to skin sores and tears and it just wasn’t good. Eddie’s talks about the body mechanics and precautions they go through. And they make the cart exactly to your specifications. They are really terrific “real” people. Also the cart is like a therapy cart. It gives a nice gentle exercise as your cart moves while your dog walks. I highly recommend them.

    Third, it takes up to two years for a spinal injury to heal. There is still hope. It has been five for Isabel and she will never walk. But I swear to you. She could care less. She is living the life of Riley. She has everything a four leg walking dog has. I tell people, don’t you dare feel sorry for her, I’m the one changing her diapers. It usually gets a laugh. We also have never never never regretted our decision to have that surgery. She is an amazing animal. I’m sure your Dodger is too.

    I use the huggie diapers. Isabel is 50 pounds, the size 6 fits her perfectly. but please that is not enough. I also line the part that she will pee in with Poise pads and then I put her in Depends over the top of all that. It works well. I get all of it at Costco. I’d never be able to afford it otherwise. Don’t bother with the pet store or online pet shops for their stuff. I wasted so much money on all that junk. Also in your case, since he is a boy. I would get those rubber pants made for little boys learning to potty train and have the tight elastic legs to hold everything together. That might take the place of the Depends which is not tight around the legs. The plastic would prevent a leak if it should happen. I also use the underpads that you may have seen used in hospitals, for patients. Or training pads for puppies. I do all changes on one of them. Just to be sure. There is usually always a problem. And usually it is my fault for being careless.

    Also be sure to stimulate peeing and pooping at least twice a day. Keep him clean and dry as much as possible to avoid urinary tract infections.

    I hope all this helps. You can contact me or comment her again if you need other help. Good luck to you and Dodger.

  5. Sherri Says: September 9th, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Susan and Greg,

    I’m with you both!!!! Our beautiful little cocker spaniel Bella had the same experience at age 3; so we’ve been dealing with the paralysis for two years. Like Isabel, Bella had a obsession with chasing squirrels and that’s what caused her injury; she ran off the deck to chase those buggers and that’s all it took. An hour later she began posturing where her legs came out from under her…we took her to the emergency vet also (don’t these things ALWAYS happen on a Sunday at 8pm when no other vet clinics are open?!)
    Anyhow, like your dogs, she underwent surgery immediately that night. They gave her a 90% chance of walking again, but, during the surgery, she developed a blood clot, so we were told her chances had deteriorated. Well, like your dogs, there was lots of healing time, then therapy, including water therapy and acupuncture. Bella still has to be expressed, and can’t help but have accidents in the house. We just ordered some new diapers for her, so I can let you know how they work out! The disposables would never stay on…she moves around and wiggles throughout the house at a pretty rapid rate! (: Bella also got wheels, and I agree with Susan on the choice of wheelchair companies. Eddies Wheels is where we got her chair, and it came all ready for Bella…my dad did a little adjusting on the chair, but really it’s been great. Bella was the hit of the 4th of July parade this year in Norway, Michigan! She made it the entire route with no problem! As much as we wish Bella was able to walk, we accept and love her for the sweet, wonderful pet she is, and we wouldn’t have made any other choice, either. Amazing what ‘puppy love’ can do, isn’t it?!! Good luck to you both, and let’s stay in touch!! Sherri in Wisconsin

  6. Susan Kaul Says: September 13th, 2011 at 1:08 am

    Oh Sherri, your story is very encouraging. thank you for sharing it with us. I hope Greg is getting some answers. We have done very well with Isabel wearing diapers. We use human baby diapers size 6 huggies, she is 55 pounds and they work great. We just cut a hole for her tail. Your baby sounds very precious. I am glad you have found your way too. Our “kids” are very special. And I have never been sorry about any decisions we have made. Thanks for commenting and letting us know your progress too.

  7. Diane Giese Says: December 27th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Just thought I’d post a tip. Our dachshund is semi-incontinent. We use size 3 pampers cruisers with a hole cut in the tail. To help hold it on she wears a size 24 month onesie. I sewed a piece of bias tape at the top back around the neck and put in a ribbon to pull it up tighter to fit (elastic would work too). Cute and does the trick to help hold it on. Rarely a leak! She had surgery 2 months ago and literally walked out of the Vet’s office. However, she ruptured another disk and the surgeon advised against another surgery. We’re coping and Punkin is her usual self. Hard to keep her contained sometimes. She doesn’t know she’s supposed to be resting :) I am hoping to find or make an alternative to the Pampers. They are working well but get a bit expensive. I tired cheaper ones, but they kept sliding off.

  8. Susan Says: January 4th, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Thanks so much for your comment. How terrific that your little dachshund is doing so well due to your willingness to find a solution. thank you for the tips and help. and I hope you’ll have many more years with your Punkin.

  9. His name is Pablo Says: March 14th, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    The threads on this site brought tears to my eyes. We have a little guy- Pablo, french bulldog who had 3 herniated discs rupture one late morning in the fall of 2010. We rushed him to the emergency room and there he was- listless, with his big brown eyes. He had lost movement in his back legs at home so you can just imagine how we felt.

    Susan, your story about Isabel hits home because even though we like to say that we are the greatest parents in the world we thrived on Pablo’s love for the outdoors. Running around, jumping, and ruffing it out with his daddy…… somewhere- we missed his signs of pain. Pablo is such a bully and well, masked it very well.

    He too has Eddie’s Wheels. I can’t tell you how lucky we are. They really helped us give Pablo a second chance as we had tried other wheels from other companies and they gave him awful contact sores.

    Today- Pablo has been on his wheels for almost a year. He loves going outside and he is like the mayor of our neighborhood- Everybody loves Pablo. We do express his bladder and he just had his first UTI. Now we just have to follow more precautions…..

    Despite how depressed I became things happen for a reason. I never thought that I could love him more than I already did. There is a different type of appreciation that comes with taking care of a frenchie on wheels. It teaches you about humans and their intentions as well as the resilient nature of our pets. They do anything and everything to please us. So even though these little precious souls got short changed in life- think about it this way- they still continue to teach us about their unconditional love and indifference.

    At the end of the day, they are just happy to see us “on” wheels. It took me a long time to come to terms that he may never walk but that is just part of my selfish nature as a human being. He is happy. He is not in pain. He hasn’t skipped a meal and gets all the attention in the world. And he is still with me. Hopefully, for many years to come. That is what is important. (He does have strong reflexes- can’t lose sight of hope).

  10. Susan Says: March 14th, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Oh I am so thrilled that you commented. You have given so much encouragement to all the people that are confused by what to do about their pets that they suddenly find in this situation of being paralyzed. I am so happy your little Pablo is doing so well and that you have adjusted so well. You are a shining example of what true love and happiness with a pet can be. Thank you so much. And NEVER give up hope. Susan

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