The worst case of urine scald in a paralyzed dog I’ve seen came from a photo sent to me by a pet owner. The skin on the poor dog’s lower belly was red, blistered and looked like it had a bad sunburn. It happened because urine was allowed to stay on the dog’s skin too long.
Urine scald is a common secondary condition many paraplegic dogs develop because of their incontinence. It’s a frustrating and painful problem that causes an injury to the skin comparable to a severe diaper rash in an infant.
But like diaper rash, urine scald can be successfully treated with preventive measures and good hygiene. Here’s what needs to be done.
Be sure to talk with your dog’s veterinarian before starting any of these treatments.
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Why urine burns the skin
The urine in your dog’s body is a made-up of chemicals that are designed to remove liquid waste and impurities. When this substance comes in contact with the delicate skin around a dog’s genitals, the normal bacteria that live on the skin transforms the urine into ammonia.
When ammonia-soaked skin isn’t properly cleaned or if it’s allowed to remain on a dog’s body for a long period of time, it causes irritation and burns.
Paralyzed dogs are prone to the problem as a direct result of the location of their spinal cord injury.
For example, if they had a herniated disc in the middle of their spine or higher, they can develop a condition called excessive bladder tone. These dogs can’t empty their bladder on their own and must be manually expressed 3-5 times a day.
If this doesn’t happen, their bladder eventually becomes too full and overflows onto the skin.
On the other hand, dogs who have injuries or diseases that affect the lower half of their spine are apt to lose tone in their bladder. This causes them to constantly drip and leak urine onto sensitive skin. If the dripping isn’t immediately cleaned, scalding can occur.
How to treat urine scald
The best way urine scald in a paralyzed dog is treated is through prevention. That means practicing good hygiene at all times, to keep the skin clean and dry.
One technique is to rinse irritated skin with warm, clean water and pat it dry with a soft fluffy towel. It’s also a good idea to keep baby wipes on hand for quick cleanups.
If your dog develops a rash on their belly or genitals, the problem can be treated by using prescription salves and over-the-counter barrier creams.
Veterinarians often prescribe an anti-inflammatory, antibiotic ointment that soothes the scalded skin and prevents it from becoming an infection.
There’s also a variety of topical barrier creams pet parents can purchase.
Some of the popular brands are:
Be sure to check with your vet before starting any over-the-counter medication.
One rule to keep in mind is DO NOT use baby diaper rash ointments. Many contain zinc-oxide which is toxic if your dog licks it.
More ways to treat the problem
Dogs with urine scald benefit from gentle and frequent baths to calm their irritated skin. Be sure to use a mild dog shampoo or dry dog shampoo for this treatment.
You can also add a moisturizing rinse to keep the skin soft. These are best purchased through your dog’s vet.
Dog diapers or belly bands, for male dogs, are another option because they pull moisture away from the skin. The trick is to change them often, every 3-4 hours, so they don’t become saturated with urine.
And at night, use of a dog bed with a waterproof cover, waterproof sheet or pee pads will keep your dog dry. There are even raised dog beds that allow urine to drip through a mesh mattress to protect a dog’s delicate skin.
The number one best prevention tool
If you read this blog often, you probably think I sound like a broken record, but the best way to prevent urine scald is by manually expressing your dog’s bladder. The technique puts you in charge rather than leaving it up to mother nature.
So, if you don’t already express your dog, ask your vet for a hands-on lesson. It takes a little practice, but most pet owners go from novice to expert in no-time.
Here’s a video to help you get started.
If you have a good technique to prevent and treat urine scald, please let me know in the comments. I’m always happy to update information.