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Wheelchairs for Disabled Dogs

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There are many carts and wheelchairs specially designed to help disabled dogs. Mobility-assistance devices for disabled animals have been around for years. But thanks to improved technology and enhanced design, today's doggie wheelchairs and carts are sturdier, more comfortable and more reliable than ever before, according to Claud D. Evans, DVM, of Ofkuskee County Veterinary Clinic, Okemah, Okla.

A quality life

"These devices are designed to help an animal live a better quality of life as they're going through major health issues such as recovery from skeletal surgeries, car accidents and other injuries,'' Evans said. "Some dogs need them permanently, such as older pets who have developed arthritic situations or musculoskeletal illnesses, but there is more of a need for them lately on a temporary basis.''

Gina A. Bolger, CVT (Certified Vet Tech), of Pima North Animal Hospital, Scottsdale, Ariz., said that common disabilities requiring carts and wheelchairs include osteoarthritis and neurologic problems. Wheelchairs are also used often during physical rehabilitation of injuries, especially in large breeds of dogs.

"Depending on the injury or issue, some pets may use the device for a short time or part time throughout the day for recovery, while others may have to use them for life,'' Bolger said. Every pet recovers differently, but typically 8 to 12 weeks of use of one of these devices is typical.

Bolger said that aside from providing rehabilitative and practical benefits, pet wheelchairs and carts can bring pep and enthusiasm back to your pooch, making it feel more normal while recovering from an illness or traumatic event by providing the freedom of mobility.

Rounding out the details

Pet carts and wheelchairs come in many different sizes and configurations, some with two wheels and others with four. You can expect to pay from several hundred to a few thousand dollars, based on the type of device your vet recommends, Evans said.

Some vendors and providers also rent these units out, but most are "purchased by the owner because the sizing plays a huge part in the warranties and the pricing,'' Bolger said.

Most mobility-assistance devices are designed to support the rear of the animal, because most injuries and illnesses typically involve the rear legs first, Evans said. Equipped with a rear-support cart or wheelchair, the dog is able to use its front legs to walk and possibly even run -- if recommended by the veterinarian.

All wheelchairs and carts are custom fit to the size of the dog, Bolger said. "Extra consideration is taken for extra-large dogs to ensure balance and sturdiness.''

"It's up to the vet to decide which device is right for your dog, depending on the dog's needs and what products and models are available,'' said Evans, who invented the Evans mobility unit -- a four-wheeled supportive device ideal for all kinds of handicapped animals, from dogs and cats to small pets to small cows. "But there are more and more of these products entering the marketplace, which is a good thing for consumers,'' he said.

Features to look for in a dog wheelchair

Evans recommends looking for the following features in a wheelchair/cart device for your dog:

  • Sturdy construction
  • Ease of mobility
  • Comfortable surfaces and materials, including bindings and/or straps that aren't too tight
  • Inability to tip over
  • Appropriate wheels designed to handle the surface areas of your indoor and outdoor living environment
  • An acceptable weight and bulk that won't overexert your pet

"The unit should allow the animal to feel comfortable in it for long periods of time,'' Evans said. "Find out where the support pressure points are on the device.''

"The ease of fit and the owner's ability, possibly by him or herself, to put the pet in the cart, are also big factors to consider,'' Bolger said.

Contrary to popular belief, Evans said that dogs confined to a cart or wheelchair usually don't try to chew their way out of it unless they experience discomfort.

"The more uncomfortable they feel, the more likely they are to try to get away from it,'' he said. "Normally, the dog should accept the device like a glove within about two or three days. If the dog is chewing on it, check the pressure points. Is the animal resting on the bindings or straps? Have any sores developed? Has the dog been left in one position too long?''

Bolger said that all pets confined to a cart or wheelchair should be monitored often to ensure that they don't chew it apart or become dislodged from it.

The path to happiness

Having a bum leg or two doesn't necessarily mean that your dog can't have fun while strapped to a wheelchair or cart. Normal walking, playing and exercising can actually be quite beneficial toward rehabilitation goals, Evans said. Ask your vet what activity levels are safe and acceptable based on your pet's condition.

"If your pet is recovering from surgery, you should always follow your vet's advice on movement allowed,'' Bolger said.

In addition, a dog fitted with a mobility-assistance device needs a home environment conducive to wheeling. Evans and Bolger offered the following suggestions:

  • Provide as much open space as possible indoors and outdoors -- carts and wheelchairs often have wide turning circles that require a lot of clearance to turn properly.
  • Remove as many obstacles as possible, including coffee tables, indoor furniture and outdoor rocks that can block the dog's access.
  • Be sure that wires and cords are not in the dog's path, which can trip or tip your pet.
  • Consider installing a temporary ramp to allow your dog to clear doorway thresholds and slightly raised levels between rooms.
Credit: Reveiwed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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