Animal hospice care: toileting with dignity

Walter – aging with dignity and style.
Photo by Janneine Neilson

After my senior dog Louie had a stroke he was unable to get up on his feet or even stand when assisted. That made toileting a challenge. This article covers things I wish I knew then.

It all happened so sudden, it was like being thrown into the deep end. I felt so out of my depth. Louie had very little control over his body – he could only lie on his side, he was unable to lift his head, he sometimes was able to move his right foreleg a bit, at all other times – just like the remaining three legs – it was stiff as a broom handle. And even though he didn’t eat or drink for four days he still peed once or twice every 24 hours.

Simply putting a folded towel under the backend of his body was not a satisfactory solution as his urine would seep through the rest of the bedding as well. Not only had I never been faced with this kind of situation before we also were in stage 4 pandemic lockdown, options were very limited. I did a quick research and there seemed to be two good options. Absorbent sheets and nappies.

I went to the local pharmacy that didn’t have any sheets but disposal adult nappies. I had read online that people made them work for their dogs by cutting a hole for their dog’s tail in it. What transpired in front of the nappy shelf was rather comical. I explained what I was looking for to the first shop assistant that offered me her help. As we were wondering what size would fit a Kelpie another shop assistant joined us, followed by two more. None of them had ever been asked this question. We tended towards the medium size though one of the assistants cautioned that they were generously sized and that the small size might be more suitable. I ended up going home with one medium sized nappy from an open package they let me take to try on Louie. Well, let me tell you, Louie’s anatomy was nothing like a humans! There was no way I could make that work other than perhaps with a lot of duct tape.

Lenny modelling a belly band, a male dog nappy.

I looked into nappies for dogs and found out that male dogs usually wear what’s called a belly band, females have panties similar to humans (but suitable for dog anatomy!). There are disposable ones and reusable ones. The latter being the more environmentally friendly option. I ordered online, keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that despite the pandemic literal snail mail delivery conditions my order wouldn’t take too long to arrive. I made my choices according to reviews but also considering which ones had the shortest expected delivery times. And last but not least the cost played a role too taking into account that I thought I needed at least 5 or 6 reusable nappies to make this work.

If my budget was unlimited I would have ordered from Dundies. Australian made and with attractive designs, however, one of them would have cost me as much as the six I ended up ordering plus shipping. I ordered through Amazon Australia, a three pack by Paw Legend and another three pack by CuteBone. I liked the Paw Legend ones slightly better, perhaps because they arrived first. But also their lining is black which is prettier too look at than a used white lining. I read in one review that the black lining makes it hard to know whether or not your dog has peed but I found that not to be true because just like with a baby nappy you can feel it when they are full.

Dog nappies are designed to receive pee only, a nappy wearing dog’s poop dispenser is not covered. Therefore it makes sense to have a towel or sheet underneath that area for easy clean up.

Dog towel backed with waterproof material, helpful and reusable.

While waiting for the nappies to arrive I still needed a better solution. Louie was recovering and peed every five hours or so, that was a lot of bedding to wash. I asked my local sewing wizz if she could back some of my dog towels with a waterproof layer. That turned out to be a great solution. She also gave me her leftover disposable puppy pads (like these). It was good to have them on hand as a backup but I prefer using reusable products. Someone who had heard about Louie’s stroke and loss of mobility offered me bed protector sheets her children didn’t need anymore. These were very helpful as well.

Once I understood Louie’s signs letting me know he had to go, I would carry him outside and put him onto a hammock bed to toilet. If he had to pee it would trickle through the mesh material into the grass. For cleaning up “number two” I used dog poo bags.

Especially in the beginning this method of toileting proofed messy sometimes, making Louie’s coat smelly and a bath was needed. To do so I put him onto a clean hammock bed and used a bucket of warm water, a cloth and dog shampoo to clean the necessary areas. I’d rinse with warm water poured from the watering can and then transfer him to a dry bed to towel him.

Because it became so easy for me to know when Louie had to toilet, I’d only put a belly band on him when I was doing things where I could miss his communication because my attention was elsewhere. At this stage in his life he didn’t seem to have the same capacity to hold his bladder than he used to and when he let me know he needed to go it meant straight away. There was the occasional accident but they were rare and caught by the waterproof sheet. He much preferred to toilet outside via the hammock bed.

Even though Louie was unable to get up for the last seven weeks of his life to do it himself I found a good system to help him toilet so he could live to the end with dignity. Losing the ability to get up and walk doesn’t need to mean euthanasia is the only option. Good quality of life is still possible.

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