What are Pressure Sores in Dogs?
Pressure sores, also known as decubitus ulcers or bedsores, are the gradual decomposition of flesh due to reduced blood supply. Most pressure sores are caused (either entirely or partially) by being in the same position for long periods.
This condition is quite common in elderly, sick, or debilitated dogs who are unable to get around like they once did. Pressure sores can progress quickly, leading to deep wounds that cause the muscle and bone to become visible. These ulcers tend to develop on areas of the body that protrude, like the elbows, hip bones, knees, or legs.
Symptoms of Pressure Sores in Dogs
The exact symptoms of pressure sores depend on the stage. Below are some common symptoms of pressure sores in dogs:
Causes of Pressure Sores in Dogs
While pressure sores are almost always due to prolonged contact with surfaces, some conditions can predispose dogs to pressure sores. These conditions include:
- Being overweight
- Bony protrusions from the body
- Inability to feel or respond to pain
- Excess moisture on the skin
- Chondrodystrophic degeneration (common in Dachshunds and Pekingeses)
- Orthopedic or systemic illnesses that cause decreased activity
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage
Diagnosis of Pressure Sores in Dogs
Diagnosis of pressure sores is typically based on a visual exam and observations from the pet parent. Your vet will ask about the dog’s activity level when the wound first appeared and if the dog has a history of pressure sores. When making a diagnosis, vets also consider comorbid conditions that can predispose dogs to pressure sores.
Vets will often take pictures of the sore to document the progression or healing of the wound. Once the vet makes a positive diagnosis, the vet will examine the sore and then determine the stage of the ulcer. Determining the stage of the ulcer is crucial to formulating an effective treatment plan.
There are 5 stages of pressure sores in dogs:
Stage 1: Skin redness that does not get lighter when pressure is applied; no wound present
Stage 2: Superficial wound with reddish-pink coloration; a blister may also be present
Stage 3: Deep, open wound; fat may be visible
Stage 4: Complete tissue loss, revealing muscle, bone, and tendons
Unstageable: Complete loss of tissue, with a stringy mucus-like covering (called slough)
Treatment of Pressure Sores in Dogs
Treatment of pressure sores depends on the wound severity. Here are some of the most common treatments vets prescribe for dogs with pressure sores.
Stage 1 ulcers may improve with padding, regular repositioning of the dog, and a quality moisture-wicking dog bed. Vets may instruct pet parents to regularly apply moist dressings to open pressure sores.
It may take a few weeks of home-based care for ulcers to show improvement, and there's always a chance that the wound could worsen, especially if pet parents aren’t consistent in repositioning and bed changes (for incontinent dogs).
Antibiotics may be necessary if the wound is infected or at risk of becoming infected. Antibiotics have minimal risks and a high success rate when used early on.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics work in one of two ways: by damaging essential structures within the bacteria or inhibiting the bacteria from replicating. Side effects from antibiotics are generally mild. Still, vets must use antibiotics cautiously since overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant infections, which are much harder to treat.
More advanced pressure sores may require a technique called debridement. Vets use two main types of debridement: surgical debridement and mechanical debridement.
Surgical debridement involves using surgical tools to scrape away the dead tissue and promote healing.
Mechanical debridement, on the other hand, involves applying a dressing and allowing the damaged tissue to adhere to the dressing.
After some time, the vet will remove the dressing and the tissue along with it. Most vets prefer surgical debridement since it allows more precise removal of unhealthy tissue and leaves the healthy tissue intact.
Though often successful, debridement can cause complications. Risks of debridement include removal of healthy tissue, bacterial infections, slowed wound healing, and blood loss.
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Recovery of Pressure Sores in Dogs
The recovery time for pressure sores depends on the severity of the ulcer. Some sores are able to heal in four to six weeks, whereas sores that require surgical intervention may take longer to fully heal.
Prevention is key when caring for a dog prone to pressure sores. Here are a few ways you can prevent future pressure sores in incapacitated dogs:
- Reposition your dog every 2 hours.
- Invest in a quality memory foam bed.
- Keep Fido dry with absorbent pads, especially if they have urinary incontinence.
- If your dog has bowel incontinence, clean them and their bedding right after a bowel movement.
- Perform passive exercises with the dog.
- Massage the affected area to stimulate blood flow.
- Feed your pet a well-balanced diet.
- Take your dog to the vet at the first sign of a pressure sore.
With prompt veterinary treatment and consistent home support, pressure sores are curable. Pet parents of dogs prone to pressure sores related to immobility should consider their dog’s quality of life. Chronic pressure sores can be very painful for dogs and further limit mobility. Some vets suggest euthanasia for immobile dogs who frequently develop pressure sores.
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