Living with a disabled dog has many challenges, but many people find that it is easier than expected with the right tools. A dog wheelchair is one of the most critical tools in your arsenal to help your disabled dogs live as rich and fulfilling a life as possible.
However, it is essential that you choose carefully to set yourself up for success. Here’s what you need to know about choosing the best dog wheelchair for your best friend.
Considerations in Choosing a Dog Wheelchair
There are a lot of things to consider as you begin searching for a wheelchair for your dog. Whether your dog has suddenly become disabled or they are developing more mobility challenges and you want to be prepared when the time comes, choosing the right wheelchair for your dog’s needs is critical. Here are some things to keep in mind:
What Part Needs Support?
Most dogs need support in the hind, but this isn’t true of every dog. Some dogs need support only in the front, while still other dogs need full body support. Most wheelchairs are designed to support only the front or hind, but some wheelchairs can be adjusted to support the entire body as a disease progresses.
You can find out what part of your dog’s body should be supported by using your arms or a towel to support different areas and see how well your dog gets around. By watching where your dog needs support and how much they need, you can decide if you need a wheelchair that offers more support further forward or backward or any other adjustments that need to be made for a perfect fit.
How Often Will Your Dog Wear the Wheelchair?
Some dogs only need a wheelchair for brief periods, such as a daily walk that they just aren’t quite strong enough for. Other dogs are very active and will be in their wheelchair most of the time.
If your dog will only wear the wheelchair occasionally, you may be able to afford to get a less durable and lower quality wheelchair than if your dog will always be in it. If you are choosing a wheelchair that your dog will have for many years, you may choose a more expensive option than a wheelchair that will only serve your dog for a couple of years at the end of its life.
How often and how long your dog will wear the wheelchair are important considerations in what wheelchair you choose.
What Does Your Dog Like to Do?
Wheelchairs with very narrow wheels that cling close to your dog’s body are great for navigating indoors and going around door frames, but they are not nearly as effective outdoors. Narrow wheel frames are much easier to tip over on rough terrain.
If your dog will do most of their wheelchair riding outdoors, you will probably want a wider wheelbase. Wheels that are wider and which are angled outward prevent the wheelchair from tipping over as easily, which is ideal for dogs that like to go off-road.
The material that the wheelchair is constructed of also depends on what your dog likes to do. If your dog spends most of the time rolling around inside, you can get away with materials that may not hold up well to weather and may rust in rain.
However, if your dog likes nothing better than to run through ocean waves, you’ll need a heavy duty wheelchair that is made with aluminum instead of any other metal so that it does not rust.
What to Look For in a Wheelchair
Once you have a sense of what your dog needs in a wheelchair, it’s time to start considering your options. There are a couple of popular brands in wheelchairs on the market, as well as some less well-known brands just starting up. Different chairs will fit the needs of different dogs, but here are some things to look for that are important for every dog.
No matter what kind of support your dog needs, you need to choose a wheelchair that provides it consistently. Your dog should be able to stand comfortably in their wheelchair.
If your dog is shifting their weight or cannot stand still easily, than the wheelchair may not offer substantial support. Look at the line of your dog’s back. Disabled dogs may not have as straight a spine as other dogs, but the spine should be at least as well-aligned as it is when your dog is not in the chair.
Ideally, your veterinarian will watch your dog move in the chair and be sure that the support provided is appropriate. Chairs that do not provide the correct support can actually do more harm than good, so it is absolutely essential that you carefully check to be sure that the proper support is being provided.
No matter how good the wheelchair, disabled dogs that are very active in their chairs are likely to have marks from pressure points from the chair. Since these pressure points are very often on places where your dog cannot feel if he is disabled, this may not be as much of a concern as it would be for a dog with more feeling.
However, even if your dog can’t feel it, it’s important not to allow pressure sores to develop. Good padding is the best way to make sure your dog is comfortable and avoid pressure sores. Neoprene padding is typically best since it is very soft but also resistant to the growth of bacteria and mildew.
Padding should be thick enough to provide some cushioning, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the most important element is the thickness of the padding. At a certain point, more padding is likely to be more of an advertising gimmick than functional for your dog.
Too much padding can interfere with the support given by the chair. Padding should be thick enough that it feels comfortable to your knuckle when you apply as much pressure as your dog will apply, and no thicker.
The more smoothly your dog’s wheelchair rolls, the easier it will be for your dog to pull it. Wheelchairs that are meant for off-roading may not offer as fast a ride as wheelchairs meant for indoors, but all wheelchairs should move smoothly every time your dog moves.
If when your dog moves, they have to push into the straps to get the wheels going, the movement is not smooth enough. You are likely to find that you will need to oil and re-adjust your dog’s wheelchair wheels fairly frequently.
Dogs tend to be hard on wheelchairs, and the delicate mechanisms can easily become misaligned. A good integrative veterinary doctor can help you make sure that your dog’s wheelchair stays finely-tuned.
By their nature, some wheelchairs are more stable than others. Wheelchairs designed for off-roading with large wheels that face outward are the most stable, while narrow wheelchairs with thin wheels that are designed for inside use are the least stable.
Compromises in speed and maneuverability are made for stability, which means that there is a lot of variety in the stability of wheelchairs that are offered. Do not assume that because a wheelchair is marketed for your dog and fits them well that it will be sufficiently stable for their needs.
Every dog is different. Some dogs are much more vigorous in their wheelchair than others. For dogs that move more slowly, streamlined speed is more important than stability, but for dogs that love to run fast and take turns in their chairs, you should make some compromises in speed to provide a more stable ride.
If you are just starting out with a wheelchair for your dog, it is better to choose one that is more stable and then move up to a zippier version later on. Think about it like training wheels for bikes for kids. You don’t want to start your dog out with a racier model than it can handle.
It’s important to avoid having your dog tip over in the wheelchair. It is bound to happen sometime, but it’s best that it does not happen until your dog has already had lots of good experiences in the chair.
Not only can tipping over the chair be dangerous since your dog might hurt themselves scrambling to right themselves or be injured in the fall, but also, tipping over has important psychological effects. It won’t take very many times tipping over to make your dog scared of the wheelchair.
Many dogs find even one experience of tipping over frightening enough that they develope a fear of the chair. Other dogs may associate a particular situation or aspects of the environment with the fall and develop a fear of them. It is important to do your best to protect your dog from falls and choose a very stable wheelchair at the beginning.
Choose Your Dog’s Wheelchair Wisely
A wheelchair can be an amazing tool for a disabled dog. They allow your dog much more freedom, provide opportunities for exercise, and let your disabled dog come along as part of the family.
However, choosing the right wheelchair is absolutely critical to success. Make sure that you keep the important factors discussed here in mind as you select the ideal wheelchair for your disabled pup.