There was a day when, if a dog couldn’t walk, it meant the end of his or her life. Whether due to injury, disease, or unknown causes – sometimes even temporary ones -- a handicapped dog could not survive without inflicting great hardships on the caretaker. Not anymore.
Extraordinary care such as hip replacement, spinal surgery, and more may be beyond the means of most, but another device, a dog wheelchair, is quickly becoming the economical solution of choice. These devices, first invented by Dr. Lincoln J. Parkes in 1981, have come a long way; from a cobbled-together mass of pipes and clamps to the new, sleek, adjustable designs available today.
Lincoln Parkes’ original design consisted of a custom-fitted device made of aluminum tubing and clamps. It was complicated and cumbersome, but allowed the dog to move freely, run, play, and eliminate. It gave thousands of dogs many years of happy healthy life. Dog Wheelchairs are MUCH different now.
The original K9 Wheelchair used a “saddle” system for the back legs and a cloth harness for the front. The dog’s back legs are lifted into the loops in back and his chest is strapped into the front.
Eddie’s Wheels for Handicapped Pets
In 1989, Eddie Grinnell designed a wheelchair of his own; a simpler design that eliminated the need for harnesses.
In Eddies Wheelchair, the back legs are lifted into a saddle which is custom-fitted to the dog. A rubber-coated bar in the front goes over the dog’s neck and a strap secures his chest. The custom fit idea is great, but when it is designed for one dog, comfort and fit for any other dog is questionable.
In 1994, Chad and Lori Holbein design a dog wheelchair similar to the K9 cart, but using a snap-in sling rather than the lift-in saddle used by previous wheelchairs.
This sling was put on the dog first, like a pair of shorts, then clipped into the wheelchair. This enabled the person putting the dog into the cart to avoid lifting the back legs into the loops. A front harness holds the dog’s shoulders in place.
There were several problems with all of these carts:
· They needed to be custom made, often taking a week or two to build.
· They were non-returnable, or had hefty restocking fees due to the fact that they were custom made for the dog.
· Complex measurements were required. The dog’s owner would have to take up to sixteen exact measurements in order for the cart to fit properly. Wheelchairs that did not fit properly often required complex adjustments or needed to be returned.
· The carts were large and cumbersome. They did not fold and required huge shipping boxes or complicated assembly. Larger wheelchairs would not fit in the backseat or trunk or a car.
· Carts could not be reused unless you could find another dog of almost exactly the same size and shape.
Walkin’ Wheels from HandicappedPets.com
This patented, veterinarian approved design is called Walkin’ Wheels and was introduced in August 2008. This flexible design was based on thousands of comments from pet caretakers, veterinarians, and animal rehab specialists. After a thorough investigation of all of the reported problems with other dog wheelchairs including K9 Carts, Eddies Wheels, and Doggon wheelchairs This dog cart was designed to solve each of them.
- Adjustable: Fits all dogs from 20 – 250 lbs
- Ships Overnight – No Customizations needed
- Folds Flat for easy storage and shipping
- Adjusts with no tools needed
- Harness system can be used separately as a log lifting sling
- No assembly needed
- Looks stylish
- Dogs can be put in the cart with a few simple clips. No lifting required.
- Cart can be adjusted as pet’s health changes
Is a wheelchair right for my dog?
Paralyzed Dog: The most obvious candidate for a dog wheelchair is an animal that can get around by dragging his back-end behind him. These dogs, due to paralysis, injury, or disease are otherwise healthy, but have no feeling or control of their back end. The fact that they are able to drag themselves along with their front legs suggests that they are strong enough to be nearly completely mobile in a rear wheel wheelchair.
Weakness: Older dogs, and animals with arthritis, muscle soreness, and in the beginning stages of degenerative disease can use a wheelchair when they get tired. If the wheelchair can be taken with you on a walk, it can be put on the dog at the first signs of tiredness. This avoids a common problem of taking a long walk with a older dog and having him lie down while still miles away from home.
Three Legged Dogs: Tripods are not usually considered “Handicapped Pets” because they can run and play and be as active as 4 legged dogs. Once they get used to the loss of their leg they can often compensate to nearly 100%. There is, though, a danger. It is critically important, with a three-legged dog, that the remaining leg be cared for with a great deal of vigilance; should this leg fail, complications can be severe. A three-legged dog should be put in a wheelchair when he get tired, or while recuperating if there is a mild injury on the remaining leg.
Rehabilitation: After surgery, or during recovery of any kind, it is often important to keep weight off the dog’s legs, back, or other area. IN many cases, this requirement can use the dog to be kept in a crate for weeks or months. This loss of activity and muscle-tone can cause complications. Using a wheelchaitr during rehabilitation can give the dog the exercise he needs to support the healing process and keep him healthy during recovery.
Types of Dog Wheelchairs
The most common type of dog wheelchair is a rear wheel cart. In this case, the wheels support or are used in place of the dog’s rear legs. These come in several types and styles depending, primarily, on the way they are attached to the dog.
Sling/Harness Wheelchairs: In this configuration, used by dog wheelchairs by Doggon Wheels and Walkin’ Wheels by Handicapped Pets, a harness is put on the dog that resembles a pair of pants. This harness is then attached to the wheelchair. One of the advantages of this type is that the dog does not need to be lifted into the wheelchair. Most harnesses can also be used without the wheelchair as walking rear end support.
Saddle Support: K9, Eddies, and Walkin’ Wheels use a Saddle-type support (Walkin’ Wheels is mentioned under both Saddle and Sling because they can use either, or both). In a saddle support, the dog’s legs are put through rings that support the dog on a ‘seat’ or saddle. With Eddies and K9, the dogs back legs need to be lifted into the saddle. With Walkin’ Wheels the front of the saddle can be unsnapped so that the dog does not need to be lifted.
Stiff Saddle from Eddies Wheels
Flexible Saddle from Walkin’ Wheels for Handicapped Pets
Counterbalanced Carts: The position of the back wheels is important because it determines where the dog’s center of gravity is. They can be either in line with the dog’s hips, in front of them (counterbalanced cart) or behind the hips for increased stability. When a dog has strong front legs, the wheels can move toward the back of the dog. This moves the center of gravity forward. This increased stability is ideal for highly active dogs that want to jump and play, and can handle the extra weight on their front legs. If the wheels are moved forward, this moves the center gravity back and takes pressure off the front legs. This is advisable for dogs with weak front legs, but can cause problems if the dog jumps – the cart can flip backwards.
Front wheel carts: When a dog’s front legs are damaged, this can suggest the need for a front wheel cart. Instead of wheels replacing the back legs, they are placed toward the front of the wheelchair to support the front legs. Typically, the harness system of a front wheel dog wheelchair is opposite that of a rear wheel cart.
Quad Carts: Quadriplegic dogs, with limited use of all legs, can benefit from a four-wheel dog wheelchair. This can take most, or all of the weight off of the dog’s legs, allowing him the freedom to move or be pulled along, and get exercise. This can be excellent rehabilitation devices.
Dog Wheelchair Accessories
Stirrups: These straps hang off the back of the cart and can be used to hold the dog’s feet off the ground. They are used when injury can result from a dog’s paws scraping on the ground. Typically, if a dog has stronger back legs, it is recommended that the feet be allowed to lightly touch the ground. If the dog cannot control the paws; if they are knuckling or scraping, then boots are used to protect them. If the dog cannot control or use his legs, they should be put up in the stirrups. Even in the stirrips you’ll notice the legs move back and forth. This is healthy and maintains muscletone.
Belly Belt: A dog’s spine should never be allowed to curve downward, called hyperextended. Hypo-extended or ‘hunched’ is normal. Dogs with longer bodies or weaker backs need additional support under the belly which can be provided by a belly belt.
Harness Handles: Those wheelchairs that use a sling support harness often have handles that can be attached to the harness allowing the harness to be used without the wheelchair.
Carry Bag: It is extremely useful to have method for carrying the wheelchair; a bag or handles. Whether the cart conveniently folds flat like the Walkin’ Wheels or needs to be disassembled, you will need to travel with the cart. Some method to facilitate this is important.
Typically, wheelchairs come with the wheels designed for the size and type of use. For small dog, lightweight wheels are recommended. Larger dogs should have 12” or 16” wheels with internal bearings for support and ease of use. “Mountain Bike” style rubber air-filled wheels can be used for larger, highly active dogs.
In any case, wheels are a ‘consumable’ part of a wheelchair and will probably need to be replaced after extensive use. This can usually be done by the owner. Wheels can be purchased from the cart manufacturer.
Typical Problems with a Dog Wheelchair
Dog will not move the cart.
Most of the problems a new dog wheelchair will encounter involve the fit and the temperament of the animal. On the one hand, we’ve seen dogs who, the moment they’re put in a dog wheelchair, are off and running; even if they haven’t walked in months. In the best case it’s like a light turns on and they’re free. On the other hand, though, some dogs will completely reject the idea of the cart at first; frightened of the apparatus and confused at how to work it.
First, be sure the cart is a good fit. Because it is nearly impossible to measure a dog accurately, the cart may require some adjustment. If you have a custom made cart, this may require sending it back to the factory. If it’s an adjustable cart, adjustments can be made on the spot. See the section of this article on fitting. If the dog had hot spots or sores, make sure they are not being aggravated.
Second, be sure the dog is comfortable. Check the harnesses, seat, and any clips. Be sure the dogs genitals are not in an uncomfortable position, that no straps are digging into the animal, or nothing is pinching him. Adjust if necessary. Neoprene, the material that some harnesses are made of, can be safely cut without fear of edges fraying.
Third, be patient. Coax gently. Use treats. Sometimes, all the dog has to do is figure out that he or she can move.
Often, a dog will move backwards in the cart. This is normal. Four-legged animals learn to use different legs for braking, propulsion, stability, and direction. When in a cart, all of these functions are controlled by the front legs alone. If the common stance of a dog involves putting his front paws forward then he us counting on his back legs to keep him from moving backwards. When his back legs are replaced by wheels, he’ll roll back. Also, a dog in a wheelchair will move backwards when he tries to sit down.
Keep control of the dog while he moves for the first time. Do not him run loose. There are several reasons for this:
- The noise of the cart could frighten him, causing him to run faster. As the noise follows him, it could panic the dog.
- The dog is does not know how to use the cart. If he goes to close to a building or a wall the wheel could catch and get stuck or force him to turn.
- The dog needs to be kept away from stairs.
- In some cases, the dog could run adapt immediately to his new wheels and run away.
Elimination in a Dog Cart
Dogs, like horses, pee and poop standing up. This should be no problem in a wheelchair. If he does have a problem, it could be that the harnesses are constricting him. Watch to make sure that he can do his business in the wheelchair. If he cannot, then adjust as needed. If the dog us unable to go due to nerve damage or disease, you will need to express your dog. See your veterinarian to learn how to express your animal (it’s REALLY easy once you know how). If an animal’s bladder is not completely emptied several times a day, serious complications can result.
How to Tell if the Dog Cart is Adjusted Properly
When the cart is adjusted properly, the animal stands in a ‘natural’ position. Basically, the dog wheelchair should relate to the dogs skeleton with the siderails supporting him like a spine and the wheels supporting him like legs. Here’s what to check. Refer to the figure below.
A – Knuckle at the hips. The knuckle – or the place where the legs join the frame of the dog cart, should be at the dogs hips. If you were to draw an imaginary line from one knuckle to the other, the line would pass right through the dog’s hips… where the bone of the leg meets the bones of the body. If not, tighten harness and/or adjust length.
B – Front Support loop at the shoulder. There is naturally some downward pressure at the front of the cart. This is the normal pressure of standing. It is important that this weight be directly on the top of the front leg… where it is meant to be. The loop on the front harness that the bar goes through should be at the shoulder. Adjust the straps so that the loop is held firmly against the shoulder.
C – The dogs back needs to be straight or arched UP (slight hunch). In this photo the dog’s back is arched down a little. This is NOT correct and this dog needs the Belly Strap.
D – The back legs need to be just touching, or just off the ground, depending on the health of the back legs. If the dogs wants to use his back legs, then allow his feet to touch lightly. This is often adjusted by tightening the straps that hold the harness to the frame – this brings the dog’s seat up. (Take the dog out of the harness before adjusting.) If the height of the harness cannot be changed, then lengthen the leg struts. Consider boots if the feet drag. Use the stirrups if the dog cannot use his back legs or the feet are dragging on the ground.
E – The horizontal bar needs to be level with the ground. If the cart itself cannot be adjusted, the harnesses can often be adjusted so that the horizontal bar is level with the ground – or even with the dog’s spine.
For more information, see the DogKarts.com website