Dogs are incredibly resilient creatures. Many dogs who have lost limbs, there are times and conditions when dogs cannot manage to get around easily on their own. Whether it’s an older dog with joint issues, or a younger dog who’s paralyzed, mobility issues don’t have to slow dogs down or shorten their lifespan thanks to the help of dog wheelchairs.
Why Would My Pet Need a Dog Wheelchair?
Whether your dog is getting older or has suffered from an injury, a dog wheelchair can be a lifesaver for a dog with mobility issues. Here are some of the common health conditions for dogs using wheelchairs:
- Paralysismay be the first though that comes to mind when thinking about a dog needing a wheelchair. Young and old dogs alike can suffer from rear leg paralysis due to accidents or other conditions. A dog wheelchair, combined with slings for the rear legs so they don’t drag the ground, can act as the rear legs and allow plenty of mobility for running and playing.
- Thoracolumbar Disc Degenerative Disease, also known a slipped disc, is the most common condition for dogs using wheelchairs. Like with people, as dogs get older, their spinal discs deteriorate and so does their ability to cushion the spine. A disc “slips” in one of two ways: through disc extrusion, which is when the disc slips out of the fibrous ring, or through disc protrusion, which is when the disk material thickens and compresses against the spinal cord. Both types of slipped disks can be painful and lead to spinal cord injuries. Signs of a slipped disc can over time, and may include weakness in the back legs, an arched back or tight abdominal muscles due to spinal pain, or even complete back-leg paralysis.
- Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) is a progressive disease that affects the spinal cord in older dogs. DM impacts the hind legs first, causing the dog to lose strength and coordination. Warning signs may start out as your dog wobbling when walking, but can eventually lead to dragging the rear legs. The disease’s progression typically occurs over the course of six months to a year. The good news is that this condition is not painful. However, it often eventually travels to the front legs as well. A dog wheelchair can remove the strain off your dog’s legs, keeping your dog mobile and happy for as long as possible.
- Paralysis. Young and old dogs alike can suffer with rear leg paralysis from accidents or other conditions. A dog wheelchair, combined with slings for the rear legs so they don’t drag the ground, can act as the rear legs and allow plenty of mobility.
- Arthritis and knee issues. Whether these are chronic conditions or temporary, a dog wheelchair can be used to take some of the stress off of your dog’s limbs.
Is a Dog Wheelchair Right for My Dog?
While a dog wheelchair can greatly increase a dog’s mobility and quality of life, it may not be right for every dog, or every owner. Here are some factors to consider:
- What is your dog’s attitude?Your dog is going to have to want to stay mobile for a dog wheelchair to work. Is your dog happy more often than not? Is your dog still excited to see you? Does your dog have more good moments than bad? Does your dog still seem energized? If your dog still seems to enjoy life and time with your family, then a wheelchair can be a great way to add months or even years to its life.
- How strong are your dog’s front legs?Depending on your dog’s situation and the type of wheelchair used, your dog will need to rely on its front legs for mobility and steering. You can test your dog’s front-leg strength out by using a towel test. For small dogs, you’ll need to find an old towel and cut two holes that will comfortably fit around your dog’s back legs. Larger dogs may require two towels with a hole in each. Place your dog’s back legs through the holes, then hold the towel(s) like a sling, keeping your dog’s back level. See if your dog can walk normally. This resembles what walking with a dog wheelchair will be like.
- Do you have enough room for your dog to use a wheelchair?Dog wheelchairs can be used indoors or outdoors, and can usually go across a variety of terrain. However, your dog is going to need room to maneuver with the wheelchair. If your house is cluttered or your yard is tiny, a wheelchair may not be a viable option.
- Are you willing to put in the extra effort with your dog?If the dog is mentally and physically capable of using a wheelchair, there’s a good chance your dog will learn to love the added mobility it provides. However, the amount of success will also rely on you and the amount of effort you are willing to put into training and caring for your disabled dog.
Choosing a Dog Wheelchair
Not all dog wheelchairs are alike, and you’’ll want to pick one that best fits your dog’s specific needs. Here are some things to consider:
- Types of Dog Wheelchairs:There are two primary types of dog wheelchairs: rear support and full support. Rear-support wheelchairs are designed for dogs whose back legs are either weakened or paralyzed. These help your dog stabilize and balance while supporting your dog from underneath. If your dog is paralyzed, the rear stirrups can elevate your dog’s rear paws so they do not drag along the ground.
Full-support wheelchairs help dogs whose front and back legs are weakened, such as with degenerative myelopathy (DM). For a full-support wheelchair to work, however, your dog must still have enough strength in its front limbs to steer and pull the wheelchair.
Some wheelchair designs can transition from a rear support to a full support chair. These provide added flexibility, particularly in degenerative diseases where the amount of needed support may change over time.
- Types of Wheelchair Tires.In addition to the type of wheelchair you choose – i.e., either rear or full support – you’ll also want to make sure you have the right wheels. Foam wheels, which are solid and robust, are the most popular because they cannot be punctured and will not go flat. Because they are so durable, they can handle a variety of types of terrain. Air-filled tires provide better suspension but can be punctured and go flat.
- Dog Wheelchair Size.Like dogs, wheelchairs come in difference sizes: mini, small, medium, and large. Having a fully-collapsible wheelchair is particularly important if you have a large dog since the wheelchair will take up quite a bit of room when your dog is not using it or you are transporting your dog in your vehicle.
- Adjustability. Be sure to select a wheelchair that allows you to adjust for the appropriate height, length, width, and the angle of the wheels. This will help ensure that the wheelchair is correctly fitted to your dog’s specific needs and lead to better results.
Helping Your Dog Adjust to a Wheelchair
While most dogs adapt quickly and enjoy their enhanced mobility, it can take a while for some dogs to get used to using the wheelchair. Your encouragement, patience, and possibly some training, are key to your dog’s wheelchair success.
First, let your dog sniff the wheelchair and get used to having it around so it’s not as scary when you actually use it. Next, you’ll want your dog to get used to the harness. When it’s time to actually try the wheelchair, make sure it’s is comfortable by adjusting it to fit your dog’s height, weight, length, as well as the angle of the wheels.
When adjusting, there are some things to watch for. If your dog’s middle back appears to be sagging, you may need to add a belly strap to help with weak abdominal muscles. If your dog goes downward on its front paws, the yoke may be pressing down on its neck, or your dog’s front legs may not be strong enough. The same hold true if your dog’s front paws appear to be hyper extended. In both of these cases, a full wheelchair may be better than a rear wheelchair because it takes some of the weight off your dog’s front legs. Finally, make sure that the chest strap is loose enough that your pet can stretch out.
Now it’s time to start learning to use the wheelchair. You’ll want make the experience positive by providing your dog with plenty of praise and staying calm. Remember, your dog will sense if you are stressed. If you wait until your dog is hungry then use treats as rewards, your dog will be more eager to comply.
If you dog still has use of its back legs, it can be more difficult to train your dog than if its hind legs are paralyzed. Your best bet is to distract your dog and try to motivate using something it really wants, like a high-quality treat. You can also start by taking your dog for a walk while pulling the wheelchair behind you, then attaching the chair later after your dog is worn down.
If your dog is not paralyzed, its best to leave its hind legs down. You can adjust the wheelchair so that your dog’s rear feet still touch the ground, but the chair takes on the actual weight. That way your dog feels the ground, which not only helps it feel more in control, but can help it get more traction.
Start out with brief training sessions that lasts about 5 to 10 minutes throughout the day, allowing rest time in between. As your dog gets more comfortable, it’s ok to use the wheelchair for extended lengths of time. Over time, using a wheelchair will become second nature to your dog and most likely be a point of excitement.
With time, patience, and encouragement, your dog will be able to adjust to life using a wheelchair, and be thankful for the new found mobility. Many dogs are able to go for long walks or hikes with the help of their wheelchair. Others are able to speed their recovery process, such as from surgery, thanks to the wheelchair’s added support. Most importantly, wheelchairs allows dogs and their owners to enjoy a higher quality and longer life together.