Over the past five years I have been asked this question at least a hundred times. Because Zoey is quite the spectacle to watch – a line-backer of a little kitty dragging her back legs behind her and wearing a diaper – people are usually first surprised/shocked by the sight and then, as their brains begin to process what they are witnessing, the flood gate of questions starting with “how,” “why,” and “when” opens and I am left to give my elevator speech.
“Zoey was attacked by a dog when she was very young…she does not feel any pain in her rear legs…as a result of her injuries, she has permanent paralysis in her rear legs…meaning she is paraplegic…she wears the diaper to protect her delicate areas as well as the floor…she can use the litter box but, instead, I help her out by expressing her bladder at least twice each day…while I am doing that, I also stimulate a bowel movement to keep things clean and organized…”
When you choose to care for a paraplegic (or any potentially incontinent or special needs) pet, you open yourself up to questions that, while you’re glad someone has asked, you’re initially surprised and weirdly embarrassed by the fact that you do these things for your pet. It takes patience and a little bit of pride to accept that, yes in fact, you are one of the chosen ones – magical and mystical – and able to do things that many other human beings might not ever consider doing for their cat or dog. Suddenly you’re equally a pariah and a saint. I choose to believe that I am a sensible, compassionate individual who has chosen to adopt an animal, in my case: Zoey, with special needs and I just don’t mind the “dirty work” that accompanies that decision. And, in fact, it’s one of the best decisions I have made in my nearly 33 years.
So, with that, I take you to my explanation of bladder expression.
I have always used what Handicapped Pets refers to as the “ragdoll” method of bladder expression. I hold Zoey above a small litter box on the changing table; her rear legs dangle down while I support her weight and body with my right hand and arm. I use the four fingers of my left hand to locate and stimulate her bladder while balancing, and almost holding, her bladder in place from the left side with my thumb so that I can gently squeeze it to begin the process of emptying it of urine. Zoey weighs in at about 9 lbs. and her bladder is about the size of an oblong golf ball. The organ is smooth with an almost rubbery quality to it – but be careful and don’t squeeze too hard. It really doesn’t take much pressure to express a bladder and an incontinent pet will have a full, ready bladder!
Zoey’s bladder is almost always distinctly on the right side of her body (some pets will be a little more to the center or left of the lower abdomen) and I am able to find it quickly. When you’re first looking for the bladder on your pet, you might want to hold them like I have described, or if they are larger, have them lie on their side and palpate the abdomen/belly and give gentle pushes. You’ll know you’ve hit pay dirt when you get a little trickle of urine. You can also search for feline or canine anatomy online to get some great visual aides.
Once you’ve located the bladder, you’re ready to begin. Gather your equipment (wipes, towel, litter box, etc.) and get comfortable. Prepare to be patient while you learn and consider doing more frequent expressions to ensure that you are emptying the bladder completely. Now that I have been doing this awhile, we’ve found our ideal balance of two good expressions each day and Zoey has virtually no leakage.
I hold Zoey snugly to support her weight and simultaneously give a gentle but consistent squeeze to the bladder, focusing my squeeze in a slightly downward motion to ensure that the pressure is pushing the urine out of the body rather than up. As I feel her bladder empty beneath my fingers, I lighten the pressure and massage around the organ to ensure that it’s relatively empty. Remember – be gentle, you’re trying to empty it, not pop it.
When I am done, I give Zoey’s external urethra/vulva area a quick wipe with a baby wipe and move on to stimulating a bowel movement.
I recommend doing lots of research when preparing to embark upon the bladder expression journey so that you build up your confidence with knowledge. There’s a lot more info on the web today than there was five and a half years ago when I was first looking. A great place to start is on the Handicapped Pets website. Also, fellow blogger, Abby, mom of Sophie, a paraplegic dog shares her experiences dealing with incontinence as well as bladder and bowel expression in one of my favorite blogs: Our Dachshund Sophie.
I’d love to know how you’re taking care of “business” for your pet and welcome your comments and questions.