Gretel was diagnosed with Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) 7 weeks ago. Except for the controlled activities prescribed by the rehab vet, she’s been confined to the crate for all of those days.
Going into this, I knew a lot about treatment for IVDD because of the stories and experiences of people in the 500+ member Dachshund club I organize. I knew that one of the biggest mistakes people make in treating their IVDD dog is letting their dog out of the crate early.
People usually let their dog out of the crate before the recommended rest period is over because it looks like their dog is feeling better, they feel bad, or the dog starts “complaining”. Failing to complete the recommended crate rest leads to improper healing and a greater chance of re-injury.
I was NOT going to let that happen to us. I was dedicated to crate rest. I can be really driven when I set my mind to something. Gretel was NOT coming out of that thing no matter what.
Gretel has been so good about it. She was already used to spending time in the crate when we’re gone but she didn’t make any big fusses about being in it while we were home. I thought my dedication, and her relative ease with it, was going to make the crate rest period a breeze. Nope.
I needed to find a whole new daily routine. The first week of us carrying her outside to go potty, giving her water in her crate, feeding her in her crate, figuring out how she could maintain her daily routine as much as possible from behind bars, and coordinating her care with my hubby was a challenge.
She did start to get fussy too. She rarely whined in the crate but her increasing energy level made things harder and harder. When we walked around the house she started sitting up or rustling around in her crate to make sure we noticed her. She tried to run out the door when I opened the crate unless food was going inside with her.
After about a week or so, we settled into a new routine that worked for us and felt as natural as her old one. But then there were more challenges. I wanted to share what I learned in hopes of helping others through crate rest with their dog.
Tips for Getting Through a Period of Crate Rest With Your Dog
Your dog might be prescribed crate rest by a veterinarian for several reasons. The two most common reasons I see are because of ACL tears or surgery, back surgery, or as conservative treatment for IVDD. In our case, it was Gretel’s back issue that landed her in the clink.
Here are my tips for you if your dog has to be on crate rest:
Make sure your dog is crate trained early on
This is pretty much the #1 tool for surviving a period of crate rest. If your dog is not at least used to being in a crate some of the time, keeping your dog confined to a crate will be miserable for both of you, if not impossible.
Give your dog something to help keep them stay calm
My vet and I agreed to avoid sedatives if we could. Gretel is a high energy girl though so I needed to give her something to calm her down. I tried a few different natural remedies but settled on Vetoquinol Zylkene* for her nerves (although I had to give her enough for a 30-lb dog twice a day), Hemp CBD Oil from Pet Releaf, and Melatonin* to make her a tad sleepy.
Some people have tried calming herbal sprays, essential oil diffusers, or other “relaxing” herbal remedies with some success. Those didn’t do anything for Gretel. Someone suggested giving her chamomile tea but I never tried it.
*note: links marked with “*” are affiliate links. I’ll get a few pennies to keep this blog going if you order anything… so you are helping keep this blog going.
The crate rest period might not be a good time to have the family visit or have guests over. Also, put a sign on the front door asking people not to knock. Gretel wouldn’t tolerate this but some dogs do better with a sheet covering their crate. You can also help drown out noises with music.
Keep a leash and harness on at all times
This will help you keep them from darting out of the cage past you and jumping on the couch. Keeping your dog on a short leash also helps keep them from making sudden moves that they shouldn’t when out in the yard to potty. The leash also allows me piece of mind when I was sleeping with Gretel or laying on the couch with her. I tucked the leash underneath me so she could’t jump off.
Keeping the leash and harness on all of the time is easier than putting it on and taking it off. Pick a harness that is loose fitting and comfortable and keep an eye out for chafing and hair breakage. Gretel has been wearing her VelPro Mesh Choke-Free Mesh Harness for 7 weeks straight with no issues. However, you might want to consider switching between 2 or 3 harnesses to keep your dog from getting hot spots. Your pet is unlikely to mind having it on all of the time, really.
Stick with a routine
Try to keep your dog’s routine as normal as possible. Gretel’s normal daily routine was sleeping our bed, eating breakfast, going potty, licking Chester’s bowl clean, laying in her bed in my office until late afternoon, eating dinner, etc. I put a second crate in my office and put her bed in it. After I carried her in from going potty in the morning, I held her leash and let her lick Chester’s bowl as normal. Then I put her in the crate in my office. The location of her bed may have changed, but her routine was very similar.
Break up the time inside of the crate
When Gretel started to get really restless in the crate, I would introduce something new.
I started training Gretel the touch command where I asked her to touch her nose to my hand and then gave her a treat. It’s something she could do in the crate that was both human contact and mentally stimulating. Sometimes, before she was able to walk on her own, I would take her for walks in her stroller for a change of scenery and to get some fresh air. Several times I strapped her into her car seat and took her for a little drive.
I also, with permission from her veterinarian, sat with her on the couch in the evening. It was allowed as long as I always had one hand on her harness so there was no way she could jump up quickly, or off the couch. She was allowed to sleep in bed with me at night too as long as I had her on a short leash that was attached to me (she’s not one to wiggle or get out of bed in the middle of the night so the risk was low).
Remember that a stuffed treat toy is your friend. I tried not to use this trick too often because I didn’t want her to eat too much and gain weight but a stuffed PetSafe Waggle (affiliate link) kept her busy for a good 15 minutes or more.
Find out what your dog CAN do
Ask for rehab exercises and plan – this will help you resist letting your dog do things they shouldn’t by focusing on things they CAN do safely outside of the crate.
In the first couple of week of Gretel’s crate rest, I focused on massage and stretching exercises while we were snuggling on the couch. Eventually, she was allowed a couple of 5 minute walks a day. Later we moved to longer walks plus conditioning exercises on our DogTread K9 FitBone (affiliate link) and cavaletti rails.
Mark your calendar
It’s easy to get caught up in the crate rest process and lose track of time. Setting weekly milestones helps you remember how long it’s been and gives you a weekly reason to celebrate your dedication to your dog and their progress.
Has your dog ever been prescribed crate rest? How did you get through it?