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What is Recumbency?

This term is often employed when discussing how to position animals who are to be anesthetized for surgery but can also refer to animals who are unable to stand due to loss of consciousness, pain, or inability to control their bodies.

Dogs who experience sudden recumbency should be evaluated by a veterinarian as quickly as possible and situations in which the animal collapses, loses consciousness, or experiences extreme lethargy should be treated as an emergency.

Recumbency, when used as a medical term, is generally referring to an individual who is unable to get up from a lying down or reclining position.


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Symptoms of Recumbency in Dogs

Recumbency is a symptom of many differing conditions that can afflict dogs. As there is such a wide range of possible illnesses or disorders that can interfere with your dog’s ability to stand, it is important to note if any additional symptoms are occurring, such as yelping in pain, loss of appetite, or extreme lethargy, as this information may help your veterinarian to accurately diagnose and treat the issue.  

  • Lying on back
  • Lying on side
  • Lying on stomach


Differing types of recumbency are categorized by the position the animal is lying in.

  • Dorsal recumbency - Recumbency, while the animal is positioned on their backs, is referred to as dorsal recumbency; this is an unusual position for most dogs to get stuck in on their own (however, it is a common position for canines to be placed in for certain types of surgery)
  • Lateral recumbency - When an animal is unable to rise from lying on their sides it is known as lateral recumbency and is usually specified as either right or left lateral recumbency
  • Sternal recumbency - Also known as ventral recumbency, sternal recumbency is when the dog is unable to rise when lying on the stomach and chest area

Causes of Recumbency in Dogs

There are many conditions and disorders that can make it difficult for your dog to rise. Some of these conditions may cause sudden recumbency while other disorders cause a degenerative and chronic recumbency. Some common causes may include:

  • Arthritis - One of the more common causes of chronic pain in older canines, and when severe can cause recumbency 
  • Heart failure - Canine cardiovascular disorders can cause severe lethargy and muscle weakness, making it difficult for the patient to rise 
  • Hip dysplasia-  Although all dogs are subject to the possibility of developing hip dysplasia, it is most frequently seen in large or giant breed dogs; advanced cases of dysplasia can make it difficult if not impossible for the animal to rise
  • Injury - Dogs who experience physical trauma may end up with injuries that may make it difficult to get up due to pain, or they may experience internal bleeding that causes them to be too weak to get up 
  • Neurological disorders - Neurological damage or illness, as may occur due to conditions like strokes and seizures

Diagnosis of Recumbency in Dogs

A thorough physical examination will be performed by your veterinarian in order to evaluate the patient’s general health and to assist the examiner determining if any physical trauma may be responsible for your animal’s inability to stand. The veterinarian will evaluate your dog’s heart sounds and standard diagnostic tests, such as a biochemistry profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis will also be requested to reveal if any infections or imbalances may be contributing to the inability to rise. 

In some cases, full body x-ray imaging and ultrasound technology will be utilized to help visualize internal organs, and get a clearer picture of the bones and joints.This may help uncover conditions such as hip dysplasia, arthritis, or internal injuries. If arthritis is suspected, the veterinarian who is examining your dog may also choose to take a sample of the synovial fluid that lubricates the joint capsule to evaluate. In some cases, an evaluation of your dog's neurological functionality may also be recommended to rule out any neurological damage or disease.

Treatment of Recumbency in Dogs

Treatment for those conditions that cause recumbency will depend on which underlying condition is triggering the immobility. If your canine companion is in obvious distress, an IV drip may be started to provide fluids and to assist in adjusting for any imbalances that are discovered. Some of these conditions, such as severe heart disease, hip dysplasia, and even in some severe cases of arthritis, may necessitate surgical intervention. Surgery may not be effective in other cases, and alternate treatment methods will be used to help increase the patient’s ability to rise and move. 

Therapeutic methods that may be utilized can include hydrotherapy, therapeutic massage, and acupuncture or acupressure. Many of these methods can be particularly helpful in managing pain caused by disorders like arthritis and hip dysplasia as well as benefiting dogs that have developed any neurological conditions. Some of the disorders that cause recumbency can be managed through the use of medications like anti-inflammatory, corticosteroid, or anti-seizure drugs.

Recovery of Recumbency in Dogs

Dogs who develop long-term or chronic recumbency, either due to some form of neurological disorder, paralysis, or a period of forced immobility for healing purposes, will require specialized care. It is important to move or rotate your dog every two to four hours and ensure that thick, dry bedding is used to cushion the animal and prevent bedsores. It is also important to follow your veterinarian's instructions with regards to eating, elimination procedures, and mobility recommendations as this can be very different from one situation to the next. Dogs that are immobile are more susceptible to fluctuations in temperature and may also require manual manipulation to ensure that proper circulation, lymphatic drainage, and muscle tone is maintained.

Recumbency Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Shiba Inu
13 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Dorsal Recumbency

Recently diagnosed with idiopathic vestibular disease. Sometimes called "Old rolling dog" syndrome/disease. He was sent home to recover and has made progress at home. He is walking with an effected gait this usually happens when laying down.
Every once in a while when rolling he gets 'stuck' or stalls on his back, flailing reaching with his limbs and I have to roll him the rest of the way. Can this be harmful if left in this position for an extended period of time?
Ive tried putting cushions and blankets around him to keep him centered sort of like a "V" of padding but no combination seems to help. He just winds up between the stacks on his back unable to flip himself over and I panic and rush over to turn him right-side up.

My dog has a similar problem. I can't find any adaptive equipment to help. It seems like a cushioned coat that is angled to keep them on the side would help.

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1 Year
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


My 1year old retriever has inflammatory brain disease. He has been recumbent for the past 2 weeks... he is not in pain and receiving chemo to reduce the swelling. The stiffness in his limbs and neck is becoming more flacid day by day so I am seeing minor improvements. However I feel very cruel leaving him in that position... 2 weeks in recumbeny is very long. What should I do? Should I give up at this point?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Improvement is always positive, but he still not make a satisfactory recovery; two weeks is not that long of a time to be dealing with an inflammatory brain disease. You can continue to treat as prescribed and continue to monitor for improvement for the time being, but any thoughts of euthanasia should be discussed with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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