Canine carts and wheelchairs are helping dogs of all sizes with disabilities to move freely again.
Two years ago, my canine companion Alec, a seven-year- old German shepherd, suddenly became paralyzed due to acute disc disease. During a routine outing to the park, a disc herniated in his back, badly bruising his spinal cord. The nerve damage was so severe they told me it was unlikely Alec would ever walk again.
At the time, I knew very little about canine mobility carts, aka doggie wheelchairs. However, I quickly educated myself and learned that with the help of one of these devices, Alec could enjoy a happy, healthy life, even if he remained paraplegic.
Alec and I were very fortunate. With time and regular physical therapy, he eventually began walking on his own again and stopped needing his cart. This brings me to my first point: doggie wheelchairs are not only amazing for restoring long term mobility to disabled dogs, but are also useful tools for short term rehabilitation following surgery or injury. Because of Alec’s size, some of the rehab exercises I did with him, which were absolutely instrumental in his recovery, would have been very difficult to perform without a cart. Supported standing was one example.
Although some dogs use wheelchairs temporarily, many others end up using them all their lives. They includes dogs with progressive conditions such as degenerative myelopathy (DM), arthritis, hip dysplasia, disc disease, or general weakness or lameness due to aging.
No matter what condition is impeding your dog’s mobility, a cart or wheelchair can improve her quality of life. While most carts hold up the dog’s hindquarters and let wheels take the place of functional rear legs, Eddie’s Wheels also makes a “front wheel” cart to accommodate dogs with missing limbs or congenital malformations, and a “quad” cart for dogs with weakness or paralysis in all four limbs. A dog whose activities have been restricted due to pain or weakness will appreciate the opportunity to enjoy his or her favorite activities again – especially walks with you! Carts can be used safely on many types of terrain, including the beach, hiking trails and even in snow.
Adaptation comes easy
Most dogs adapt very quickly to a cart. I was worried about how Alec would adjust – needlessly, as it turned out. He tried to take off running before I had even fastened the harness! He had no idea (or simply didn’t care) that it was wheels rather than his hind legs doing the work; he only knew he could move again. Leslie Grinnell, co-owner of Eddie’s Wheels, calls this “the 30-second learning curve.” If your dog is one of the few who is unsure or nervous around the cart, there are ways to slowly introduce it to him with rewards and positive reinforcement. Even dogs who are initially hesitant usually grow to love their carts, once they associate them with the positive experiences that follow.
Do your research
If you think your dog might be a good candidate for a mobility cart, start by doing some research. There are lots of great resources on the internet, and several cart manufacturers (see sidebar), many of which offer helpful and detailed information on their websites, including videos and testimonials. A Google search for “dog wheelchairs” will bring up all these sites and more.
“Consumers should take the time to educate themselves about canine wheelchairs…visit every manufacturer’s website,” says Leslie. “If there are videos, they should watch them. Research chat rooms and support groups for advice about carts. Find out from folks who are using carts what their experiences have been.”
I would also suggest you consult your canine rehabilitation specialist if you have one; if not, your local veterinary specialty hospital may have one on staff. In addition, talk to a few manufacturers about your dog’s needs; they will be able to recommend the right cart, which in most cases will be custom built for your dog’s exact measurements and condition. For example, is your dog going to use the cart for short term rehabilitation or long term mobility? This may factor into the wheelchair’s construction.
HandicappedPets.com offers a fully adjustable wheelchair. “The Walkin’ Wheels is veterinarian approved and eliminates the need to take numerous complicated measurements before ordering,” says Lisa Murray in Marketing and Communications. “It folds flat for easy transport and there are no tools required – adjustments in height, length and width are made using simple snap buttons.”
Stay safe A word about safety: a dog should never be left unattended in his cart, and when out on walks, he should be closely supervised. “A dog in a wheelchair will have some limitations,” says Dewey Springer, founder of Dewey’s Wheelchairs for Dogs. “It is important that one keeps an eye on the dog while in the wheelchair. Dogs should never be left alone. They can get hung up or stuck with the wheels and in some cases tip over. With time they learn to avoid obstacles and back up when stuck.” Finally, you should use a cart for exercise and freedom. Do not leave your dog standing up in it for hours; notice when she is tired and needs a break.
Nothing is harder than watching your best friend lose his mobility, whether to disease, trauma or aging. But you can help! If your dog is having difficulties, show him your unconditional love by getting him a canine cart or wheelchair so he can enjoy his favorite activities again. Happy rolling!