You have an active dog that enjoys walking, running, sniffing, chasing balls and generally living life to the max. Then something happens, maybe they have ruptured their cruciate, broken a limb or a multitude of other injuries and now they have to spend the next 4-6 weeks in a cage on strict cage rest. How on earth are you both going to cope?! This is something I get contacted about a lot… So here are my 7 top tips for ensuring you both end the cage rest period with your sanity in tact.
1. Brain games
Think about how your dog would have spent their day prior to cage rest – walking, running, snuffing and using their brain in a myriad of ways. Now, they have not much to think about. Boredom can lead to stress, frustration and a general negative emotional state. So, now we have to think of fun ways to engage their brain.
Start with feeding enrichment. This could be licky mats, Kongs or more traditional puzzle feeders (some nice ones are made by Nina Ottosson, Kong and Buster to name a few). These can keep a dog interested for good periods of time. Just ensure that a) they don’t eat the puzzle (I’m watching you Mr Labrador!!) and b) the puzzle itself doesn’t cause frustration. Start easy and then make it harder over time.
2. Reward calm behaviours
When your dog offers calm – such as lying down and chilling- make sure you reinforce them. A quiet, calm ‘good dog’ might be all you can offer, as for many dogs much more can excite them and they stop relaxing.
3. Make sure the crate is comfortable!
I know this is an obvious one, but it is so important that the dog has a supportive surface to lie on, especially if they are sore after surgery. If in doubt try it out yourself. If they are used to being in the family home, please don’t put them away ‘out of the way’… This will likely cause stress. (You would be surprised how many people crate rest the family cavoodle who is used to sleeping on the bed in the garage!)
4. Do some training
Disclaimer to this one – please clear it with your vet first. Many dogs can still do training when they are being cage rest and enjoy both interacting with you and using their brains! Some simple things to train can include: ‘touch’, ‘chin holds’, face holds, leave it (not with their dinner… another thing that will cause frustration) etc.
5. Do some massage
Lots of dogs enjoy massage / touch. If your dog is one of those, they might enjoy a nice quiet massage session with them to relax.
6. Pheromones and supplements.
Adaptil is a synthetic version of dog appeasement pheromone and can help dogs feel less anxious in lots of situations. Place a diffuser by their crate, ensuring good air circulation.
There are also certain supplements or nutraceuticals which might help some dogs. Always chat to your vet first to ensure these are suitable for your pet.
For some dogs, crating is very stressful and the above just doesn’t help. If your dog is struggling at home, please chat to your Veterinarian. There are many effective anxiolytics that can help them through this tough time!
Good luck! If you need further help, please feel free to contact me. A phone consultation for some troubleshooting or advice may be really helpful!
Dr Julie Ashton, BSc, BVSc (Hons), MANZCVs (Veterinary Behaviour), MRCVS