Our dogs are family, so it’s often difficult to watch when they are suffering. However, just because your dog is getting older and starting to have mobility issues doesn’t mean they can’t still have a fulfilling and happy life. Sometimes, it takes the right mobility aid to get them moving again and improve their quality of life.
Before you jump right to buying a wheelchair for your senior dog, it’s important to make sure a dog wheelchair is the right mobility aid for them. Depending on your dog’s condition and the limitations they are experiencing, they could benefit from one kind of mobility aid over another.
For example, if your dog can still walk but needs extra hip or back support, you should look into a sling first. A sling is a great way to offer light support to a dog’s hind legs, especially if the mobility loss is temporary as a dog heals.
Supporting a larger dog’s weight with a harness is challenging if you don’t have the strength to lift them. If you cannot lift your dog in a harness or if they have more severe mobility issues, a wheelchair is likely the better option.
Dog wheelchairs are also ideal if your dog still has full use of their front legs and you want them to be able to run and walk around on its own with its back legs supported. Of course, a four-wheel wheelchair provides the most support for a senior dog that has trouble with its front and hind legs.
It is normal for dogs to start having a harder time getting around as they age, but some specific conditions, ailments, or diseases can make walking even more of a challenge. If your dog is struggling with any of these issues, it may benefit from having a wheelchair.
- Hip Dysplasia
- Neurological problems
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
- Spinal cord problems
- Weakness in the limbs
- Surgical recovery
If you aren’t sure if your dog needs a wheelchair or not, talk to your vet. They may be able to help you decide what type of mobility aid can best support your senior dog, depending on their specific condition.
Once you know that your dog needs a wheelchair, it’s important to take the time to research the available options to make sure you get one that is the right fit for your dog’s needs. You will need to consider your dog’s height, weight, and where they need support.
There are various wheelchair parts and different types of wheelchairs that you can buy depending on your dog’s condition and size. There is the frame, the front harness, the wheels & struts, the rear leg rings, the stirrups, and the belly belt — all of which can vary depending on your dog’s individual needs.
To help you determine what kind of support your dog will need with their wheelchair, you can first test its mobility needs at home. This is important information to know before buying a dog wheelchair, as you don’t want to spend a ton of money on one only to find it doesn’t fit right or doesn’t provide the right kind of support.
Use a towel like a sling under your dog’s belly, just in front of its hind legs, and lift upwards. If your dog can easily walk forward while you support their hips, they likely only need a rear-wheel dog chair with two wheels. However, if your dog’s front legs give out or they have trouble supporting themselves with their front legs, they need full support from a 4-wheel wheelchair.
It is equally important to spend time helping your dog adjust to their new wheelchair as it is determining which wheelchair is best for them. Though dogs are very adaptable, big changes can be scary and stressful for them. It would be best if you took the time to get them used to their new situation to ensure they have a more positive experience.
First, before forcing your dog into the wheelchair, let them get used to it by simply leaving it out in the open for them to sniff and observe. Then, assemble it and place it in an area where your dog feels safe, so they can sniff and touch it and overall get used to it being around.
Once they get more comfortable with the wheelchair, you can then try putting just the harness portion on them. Make sure it is properly fitted, and let them get used to how it feels on their body.
Next, you’ll want to get your dog fully strapped into the harness and the wheelchair to make sure it all fits. Most wheelchairs have adjustable parts, so play around with them until your dog is comfortable and nothing is too tight, too loose, or causing them any pain.
Try making the introduction to the wheelchair and getting them strapped in as positively as possible. It can help to offer them treats to associate positivity with their new wheelchair.
It’s also a good idea to start with short sessions with the wheelchair. Don’t simply force them to be in the wheelchair all day right away. Take it slow and ease your dog into wheelchair use. Offer them lots of love, encouraging words, treats, or even toys if they aren’t food motivated.
If your home has indoor or outdoor steps, you will need to consider how this might affect your dog’s ability to get around in its wheelchair. You may need to buy gates to keep them from trying to go up or down steps inside, and if there are outdoor stairs, you may need to consider buying a wheelchair ramp.
Despite having a wheelchair, it’s helpful if you can still stick to your normal routine with your dog as much as possible to help them adjust. For example, if you normally take them on walks every morning and every evening, you can still do this with them in their wheelchair.
It might feel like a hassle for you at first to figure out how to do the things with them you once did, but with time and some patience, there’s no reason you and your dog can’t still have a fun and active life together.
In fact, keeping them mobile even though they are aging and in a wheelchair can help keep your dog healthy and prolong their life. So, make sure to keep them moving as much as you can. You can even still travel with your dog despite their disability. Again, it might take a little more planning, but if you and your dog enjoyed taking trips together before, there’s no reason you can’t still do that now.
A wheelchair can go a long way toward improving the quality of life of your senior pet. If they lose control of their legs and can’t support themselves, it doesn’t have to be the end of their life. With the right mobility aid, they can continue living and doing many of the same things they loved before.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer and pet parent from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for animal rights and search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.