Dog Wheelchairs – Keep Those Doggies Rollin’!

No barrier to mobility and snow fun!

Dogs can often manage quite well with the loss of one limb, either front or back.  Unlike humans, they seem to have no self-consciousness about such a condition and often adapt quickly and very successfully. However, the loss of use of either both front or both back legs essentially renders the dog immobile. In these cases, dog wheelchairs can make a huge difference in a dog’s quality of life.

Why Dog Wheelchairs?

There are a number of reasons that dogs can lose the use of their legs.  Accidental trauma that causes actual loss of a limb is one, of course, but there are also some breeds that are vulnerable to degenerative conditions that can cause them to lose control over their rear legs, in particular.

As noted above, dogs can often manage quite well with only three legs, but, over time, the imbalance caused by walking with three legs can cause arthritis or other painful joint conditions, in which case the support of a wheelchair or cart can be quite beneficial.  Also, some dogs really want to be able to move fast, and a mobility cart can give them back this ability, to some extent.

Injury

There are numerous types of injuries that can lead to loss of a limb or paralysis in a dog.  Being hit by a car, mauled by a larger dog, or tearing a tendon or ligament for instance.  Sometimes a limb will simply become immobile, and sometimes amputation will be necessary.

Long-backed breeds such as dachshunds and corgis have spines that are particularly vulnerable to injury to the discs in the spine.  That can cause weakness in one or more limbs or even paralysis.  Obesity increases the risk of such injury.

Degenerative Myelopathy

In addition,

  • Corgis
  • German shepherds
  • Standard poodles
  • Rhodesian Ridgebacks

can develop degenerative myelopathy (DM), which is a condition in which the nerves in the spinal cord degenerate, causing progressive paralysis. This condition is not painful, but once the process begins, hindquarter paralysis usually results within six months to a year.

Osteoarthritis

Like their human friends, dogs can develop osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint disease, or DJD), which can result in different levels of immobility. Large breeds like:

  • German shepherds
  • Newfoundlands
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Golden retrievers
  • St. Bernards

are more likely to develop arthritis, and older and obese dogs are most vulnerable.

Hip dysplasia

Some breeds have a congenital problem that results in an abnormal hip joint, which causes looseness in the hip, eventually leading to loss of function in the hip joints.  This condition is most common in larger breeds, such as:

  • Bulldogs
  • Mastiffs
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • German Shepherd dogs
  • St. Bernards
  • Retrievers
  • Rottweilers

There are also some smaller breeds, such as pugs and French bulldogs, that can carry the gene for this disorder.

There are some treatments available, but many dogs end up unable to support weight on their hindquarters.

Types of Support

The term wheelchair is not really accurate to describe these assistive devices – they are more like carts, as the dog does not sit in them.  Support is usually provided under the belly, and wheels provide mobility for either the front or back of the dog.

In extreme cases, a dog with only one working leg can even be helped with both front and back wheels.

Rear Wheels

The most common type of support for dogs is a cart with rear wheels.  There is usually a sling or other support for the pelvis, and wheels that can move when the dog walks with its front legs.  Some allow the angle of the wheels to be adjusted.

Front Wheels

Dogs who have lost the use of their front legs can benefit from a cart with wheels in the front.  The support is usually provided by a sling that supports the dog’s sternum.  Some front wheel mobility carts have turning wheels, which further enhance the dog’s mobility.

 

Quad support

For dogs with overall weakness in all limbs, a four-wheeled mobility cart can allow them to maintain muscle tone by providing enough support that they can continue to use their legs.  These carts can also be helpful for rehabilitation after surgery or injury.

Rear-wheel carts can often be converted to quad support carts with a front-wheel extension.  That allows owners to adapt the cart to a pet’s changing support needs..

Skis!

Some manufacturers even make ski attachments for rear-wheel carts, allowing dogs who live in snowy climates to enjoy the outdoors in all seasons.

Walkin\' Ski Attachment for Walkin\' Wheels Dog Wheelchair

Pre-made, Custom, or DIY?

There are essentially three options for dog wheelchairs or mobility carts, pre-made, custom, and do-it-yourself.  Each has its own advantages.

Pre-Made Dog Wheelchairs

Pre-made carts are both affordable and readily available.  You could probably have one the next day if you’re willing to pay for overnight shipping.  Bulk manufacturing helps keep the price of pre-made carts low.

They usually have various mechanisms that allow them to be adjusted to the size and shape of your dog.  Of course, they come in several basic sizes, like small, medium, and large, but within that range, you will need to customize the fit for your particular dog and his or her particular needs.

Customized Dog Wheelchairs

Customized carts are more expensive, and usually take a few weeks to make, but they are the most likely to address your dog’s specific needs.  Based on your dog’s measurements and a description of their disability, the custom manufacturer will create a cart just for them, including size, balance, and allowance for urination and defecation.

Do-It-Yourself Dog Wheelchairs

There are plans available online for do-it-yourself dog wheelchairs and carts.  This is obviously the most inexpensive option but will require skill and patience, as you may have to make several tries and multiple adjustments to get it right.

Both the pre-made and custom manufacturers have years of experience, during which they have experimented and learned what does and does not work.  You may end up with a bunch of prototypes that just weren’t right.

If you have the skills and enjoy a challenge, it is worth giving it a try.  You may end up finding that a pre-made or custom cart may be the right solution in the end, though.

Rental Dog Wheelchairs

Not sure if a cart is the right solution for your dog, or have a dog that just needs support for recovery from surgery?

Several manufacturers offer cart rental services.  Some are essentially rent-to-own arrangements, and others are strictly rental.  Some dogs take to carts immediately, but there are some who never adapt well to them.

Renting a cart may be a good way to determine whether your dog is likely to be easy to train to use a cart, before making the investment in a pre-made or custom cart.  Some pre-made carts can be returned, but there is usually at least a restocking fee, or only a portion of the price of the cart may be refundable.  Custom carts are generally not returnable.

Used Dog Wheelchairs

There is at least one website providing listings of used wheelchairs for dogs.  They can also sometimes be found for sale on eBay.  Given that dog wheelchairs are usually needed toward the end of a dog’s life, there are bound to be lots of used ones out there.  Of course, finding one that is right for your dog can be tricky, and as with buying any used merchandise, there is the risk that it might be damaged or worn.

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=142213&picture=disabled-doga huge difference in his life thanks to ingenious solutions

Conclusion

If your dog has leg weakness, arthritis, hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, or loss of use of some or all of their limbs because of accident or illness, a doggie wheelchair or mobility cart can dramatically improve their quality of life.  Dogs want to move and go outside and can become depressed if they do not have these outlets.  It is worth at least trying a cart (see section on wheelchair rental, above) before giving up and consigning your dog to be carried or, at worst, euthanized.  Many dogs have enjoyed months or years of additional mobility thanks to these ingenious solutions.

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