You’ve rescued a paraplegic pet. You’ve taken the first steps and been to the vet with your new baby and decided on the best diet. Your routine is falling into place. Now you’re ready to master new skills to ensure that your paraplegic pet is happy and healthy for many years to come.
The next steps take serious dedication and a bit of practice:
1) Master the art of bladder expression. Bladder expression is necessary for pets who do not have full control of their bladder. When Zoey was a kitten, she sustained an injury to her lower spine and, as a result, is unable to control when/where she urinates. Oddly enough, she knows what should happen in the litter box and will reach in and scratch around but the business end is usually not in the litter box. So, I learned early on that should would need to have her bladder expressed manually to maintain her level of comfort and overall health. I’ve written about bladder expression here.
Every bladder is different.
Zoey’s bladder is approximately the shape of an egg but half the size. It has a slippery, slightly rubbery feel to it and, when full, will leak urine when it’s gently palpated. When I am expressing Zoey’s bladder, the urine comes out in a steady stream. I always squeeze/express her bladder using slightly a downward motion to ensure that the urine flows out of her body rather than pushing it back up towards the kidneys.
Every injury or type of paralysis can cause the bladder to function a little differently.
Zoey’s bladder is spastic at times (usually when her rear legs spasm) but, because I regularly express it, she does not typically leak and otherwise has a pretty normal* bladder. I express her bladder at least twice daily with a goal to empty it or to get it as close to empty each time. The body is constantly producing urine (metabolic waste) so it’s critical to express early and often based on your pets needs.
*While writing this post, I consulted a friend of mine who is a veterinarian. She shared a fun, helpful fact with me: a healthy dog/cat produces approximately 1-2 milliliters (mL) of urine per kilogram (kg) (of body weight) per day. For those of you used to thinking in pounds (lbs), 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds. Zoey weighs approximately 9 lbs. or 4 kg.
2) Master the art of stimulating a bowel movement. Having raised Lily and Lucy from tiny kittens, I learned how to stimulate a bowel movement by directly, gently, rubbing a wet cotton ball over the outer rectum. My technique has evolved over time and I use baby wipes instead of cotton balls now. I generally stimulate a bowel movement right after I have expressed Zoey’s bladder. I do both over a small litter box while standing at a changing table. I wrote about my set-up here. I usually switch my stance after expressing her bladder and hold her with my left hand and arm, steadying her against my body, while stimulating her anus with my right hand.
To cleanly stimulate a bowel movement, I drape the baby wipe across my hand and fingers first. I use my index and middle fingers to vigorously – but gently – rub back and forth across the opening of the anus while Zoey dangles (for lack of a better word) from my left arm. When I feel her rectum expand I spread my index and middle finger apart slightly so that I can keep rubbing the sides of the opening while she poops. I keep the baby wipe between my fingers and her body at all times. When she’s done, I set her down next to the litter box and put her in a fresh diaper. Sometimes she likes to bury her poop (like most cats!) before I set her on the ground to run around. Then, I clean-up using a doggie poop bag which goes out to the garbage can outside. I cover her special litter box and, finally, wash my hands thoroughly.
It’s a rapid succession of movements and it does take practice to feel confident. From start to finish – bladder expression to bowel movement to clean-up – it takes us about five minutes. When I was just getting it all figured out (nearly six years ago!) it would take up to ten minutes or so. There are other ways to stimulate a bowel movement so please be sure to figure out what works best for your pet and you.
That’s it! It’s an awesome feeling to know that you’ve had a direct hand (no pun intended) in helping maintain the health of your pet.
Other people don’t always get it when you talk about this kind of stuff…they wonder why you do it, why you would choose to care for a special needs pet? My response has always been along the lines of why not? Zoey has an amazing life and she fills our hearts and home with so much happiness. She’s just different than your average cat and requires a little bit more care. No biggie. It’s become my/our way of life. Simple as that. My hope is that more people choose to experience the rewards of caring for a pet like Zoey. It’s truly a labor of love.
Where there is sunshine, there is a Zoey cat. Zoey wears her Pooch Pants at all times when she’s not in her crate. They protect her delicate areas from dragging on the ground and, although rare, catch any urine leakage.