the challenges of cage rest
Just as humans are occasionally put on bed rest for medical reasons, our pets can be subject to cage rest, too! Whether recovering from orthopedic surgery or just trying to heal an injury or mild case of intervertebral disc disease, cage rest is exactly what it sounds like.
What is cage rest?
While we don’t go so far as to require the use of a bedpan, veterinarians who recommend cage rest are serious about the “rest” part - the only time a pet is out of the crate is to step outside to use the bathroom. If not in a crate, the pet (be it dog or cat) should be leashed to avoid further injury.
The amount of time pets spend on cage rest is highly variable. Mild cases of strained muscles or ligaments can clear up in a week or two, while more severe injuries will require six to eight weeks of strict cage rest. Being cooped up that long can take a toll on a pet’s sanity (as well as our own!), so I thought of a few tips to help you both cope.
How to prepare for cage rest
If surgery is planned ahead of time (as is usually the case with cruciate ligament repairs), take the time to prepare your dog for the change of pace. Teach your dog how to calm down or “settle” by practicing long “downs.” Three times a week, put your dog in a “down” and have her hold it for 30 minutes. She is allowed to shift her weight, but any time she comes out of a down, gently place her back down. After 30 minutes, calmly release her with very little excitement. The time to praise or treat a dog is while she is in her “down,” but be sure to do it calmly.
The point of the exercise is for your dog to find her “inner zen.” Post-operatively, you will need your dog to contain her excitement at the doorbell, the squirrel in the yard or whatever piques her interest so that she doesn’t exacerbate her condition. Consider the use of herbal calming agents like Rescue Remedy or use pheromone diffusers to soothe your pet, such as those in Feliway (for cats) and D.A.P. (for dogs).
What if you can't prepare your pet?
We’re not always lucky enough to be able to predict cage rest. In these cases, staving off boredom in the crate is key. Interactive food toys are a good way to keep the mind exercised while the body rests. These types of toys exist for both dogs and cats and may have your pet busily trying to coax treats out for hours, depending on how clever they are (or aren’t)!
What about bathroom breaks?
Assess your house in terms of slippery pathways, and if you have hardwood floors, be sure the path from the crate to the potty break door is covered with rugs or non-slip pads to prevent injury. Feed your pet on a regular schedule to make potty breaks more predictable. Keep piddle pads in the crate if your pet is prone to accidents. If your cat is crated with a litter box, be diligent about keeping it clean—scoop it twice a day.
Pamper your pet
Make your pet’s crate a comfortable oasis. A nice, foam bed beats an old worn-out towel any day of the week. Consider covering the crate on three sides with a blanket to make it more den-like. Some pets prefer this, but others don’t so use your best judgment. Look for water bowls that you can attach to the crate to limit spillage, which could make your pet uncomfortable if left all day while you’re at work. If your pet can be trusted to be calm out of the crate, have him lie next to you for a full body massage every day or two (taking care to avoid the surgical site, of course). If your dog likes being groomed, now is a good time to brush him or otherwise shower him with affection.
Don’t forget physical therapy exercises. If your veterinarian didn’t prescribe physical therapy, call to make sure it wasn’t an oversight. Many veterinarians refer patients to outpatient rehab facilities, but there are often exercises that you can do at home with your pet as well.