Features August 2014 Issue

Five Things To Do If Your Dog Needs Cage Rest

Few things are worse than hearing the vet say those dreaded words: “Cage Rest.” Most often the consequence of an injury or major surgery, it means your dog must be kept under tight restrictions – in a crate, out to relieve herself on leash only, and then back in her crate. Running, jumping, and playing are strictly prohibited; even excessive walking is frowned upon. To make matters worse, this period of restricted activity is sometimes prescribed for as long as four to six weeks. Most of our dogs barely get enough exercise as it is . . . How do you keep a young, active dog under wraps for a whole month or more? Boredom is your biggest enemy. Here are some suggestions to help you through the dark days:

Prolonged cage rest may be just what your dog’s body needs, but it can be hard on his psyche. Help him cope with these mentally tiring and/or relaxing activities.

1. Mental Exercise. What a fantastic opportunity to do a whole ton of training! When our young Corgi, Lucy, was laid up for six months (yes, you read that right), we had plenty of time to practice non-active behaviors such as Stay, Nose Touch, Paw Touch, Relax, Find It (low-activity version), Hold It, Rest Your Head, Polite Leash Walking, and many more.

You can also keep your dog’s body and brain well exercised with some of the more sedentary puzzle toys (see “A Puzzling Activity,” WDJ June 2008). Challenging mental exercises can be as tiring as physical exertion! Shaping (see “The Shape of Things to Come,” March 2006) and imitation training (see “Copy That,” October 2013) can be particularly good for that brain-drain effect. Careful behavior choices for these options (small, precise behaviors rather than big, active ones) can keep you and your dog playing by the restricted activity rules.

This is also an ideal time to work on the Karen Overall Protocol for Relaxation with your dog (see dogdaysnw.com/doc/OverallRelaxationProtocol.pdf). This protocol is laid out as a 15-day program (although you can take longer if you wish or need to), with your dog learning to calmly sit or lie down in one place for increasing periods of time while you do other things.

2. Cuddle Time. Put on your favorite soothing “Through a Dog’s Ear” CD (see “Keep iCalm,” June 2014), turn the lights down low, and snuggle up with your shut-in. You might also light an aromatherapy lavender candle or employ a diffuser with a calming aromatherapy lavender essential oil. (It’s important to use only therapeutic-quality essential-oil products. To identify them, see “Smell This, you’ll Feel Better,” December 2004 and “Essential Information,” January 2005.) Your dog will likely appreciate the one-on-one time with you – unless she finds snuggling aversive, in which case, skip this step.

3. Massage. Even if your dog’s not a fan of cuddling, she can benefit from some skilled calming massage or TTouch. Get yourself a good book on canine massage, or round up some T-Touch resources, put on your calming music CD, light the lavender candle, and start massaging. Remember that calming massage should be comprised of slow, steady pressure, not fast rubbing and patting. Any talking should also be a low, calm voice, not the high-pitched tones we use to increase canine enthusiasm in training routines.

4. Toys and Bones. Stock up on Kong toys, other similar sturdy stuffables, and raw meaty bones, so you can keep your dog happily engaged when you cannot personally attend to her. Chewing is a great stress-reliever, and can help take some of the angst out of her confinement.

5. Environmental Aids. In addition to the “Through a Dog’s Ear” music, consider using Adaptil spray, which is said to mimic the calming pheromones a mother dog emits when she is nursing her puppies. Nutraceuticals such as Anxitane and Zylkene may also have a calming effect. Calming herbs for dogs such as chamomile (see “Calming Chamomile,” February 2004) can be useful. Commercial herbal calming products include Composure, PetCalm, Quiet Moments, and Dr. Harvey’s Relax. Your vet may also prescribe a short course of sedatives to get your dog through the first couple of weeks, when strict cage rest is likely the most crucial.

Making use of all five of the above suggestions, we survived six months of Lucy on restricted activity with only one bout of OCD tail-chasing. In fact, her healing exceeded the orthopedic veterinarian’s expectations and we were able to cancel her planned second surgery. Here’s wishing you the same success if you and your dog find yourselves in a “cage rest” scenario.

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Pat is also the author of many books on positive training. See page 24 for more information about her dog-training classes, books, and courses.

Comments (3)

This article came just in time. I'm fostering a 1yo Sheltie mix with boundless energy - who is heartworm positive. She is required to be crated or on a leash for four months during her treatment. The article gave me lots of good ideas for keeping her occupied mentally. We're on Day 13 - only 107 to go! Thanks for the help!

Posted by: MHeisel | August 18, 2014 12:20 PM    Report this comment

I had a young shepherd cross that put his front leg through a window. He had major soft tissue damage, including tendons, major blood vessels, muscles and nerves. He was on major rest for a couple of weeks. We did massage, but I also taught him how to play tug laying down. It really helped burn off some of that unused energy. He made a complete recovery.

Posted by: Pat Cagle | July 30, 2014 1:53 PM    Report this comment

I fostered a young dog for two months as he recovered from a badly broken jaw. All the surgeon's office told me was "nothing in his mouth for 6 weeks", and provided a couple of suggestions for feeding. Geez! and just how is one expected to keep everything out of an active young dog's mouth for 6 weeks? Fortunately, I was able to modify several different types of muzzles to allow him to drink, pant, and play under supervision.

Posted by: MadderScientist | July 27, 2014 8:02 PM    Report this comment

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