How Wheels Keep Handicapped Dogs Active

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Whether it results from an amputation or from nerve damage to the spine, the loss of use of one or more limbs will naturally change a dog’s lifestyle.

Dogs learn to adapt their movements and will often regain near full mobility. Dogs with three legs, fondly called “tripods” among dog lovers, rarely need any special equipment to get around, especially if the lost leg in in the rear. Dogs carry about 60-percent or more of their weight on the front end, so the loss of a rear leg carries little impact.

Dogs who suffer the loss or loss of use of two legs face more difficulties in getting around. They will develop strategies such as dragging, hopping, or crawling to compensate. However, there can be effects on other parts of the body such as muscle strain, and the affected area itself may develop injuries which the dog, lacking sensation in the area does not notice.

Wheeled carts provide a wonderful solution for these dogs, and they are more and more available these days. Wheels also make it easier for owners to care for their dogs, since mobility is no longer such a concern. Dogs can get around and go potty without assistance. Front end, rear end, and four-wheel carts are available.

Carts can also be used to help dogs rehabilitate after ligament surgery, spinal compression, and other conditions which have the potential for reversal. By adjusting the cart so that the dog’s feet touch the ground (or crossbar) while supporting the healing area, the dog’s natural neurological response is stimulated and he will gradually become stronger.

The typical cart consists of a harness or saddle which supports the affected legs, a set of all-terrain wheels which won’t mark up flooring, and supports to stabilize the cart. Carts are often custom built, for the simple reason that proper fit is essential. Adjustable carts are available which are less expensive; this is a fine alternative as long as the fit is appropriate. In the early days, it was difficult to find a cart which would support the weight of a larger dog. However, today, carts are available which will support 200 pounds or more.

Dogs shouldn’t spend all their time in the cart. The affected legs should be regularly massaged and worked to help retain muscle tone, as well as to identify or prevent sores or areas which are being chafed. Some people use the cart only when going for walks, while others let their dogs spend most of the day in wheels. Most dogs will be more comfortable sleeping without the cart – though I have seen plenty of dogs napping contentedly while still in their wheels.

There are several companies which manufacture wheels for dogs, and handy folks have built their own. If you choose to do the latter, work with your vet to ensure that the end result provides support in the appropriate areas and there’s no chafing or pinching anywhere. Used carts are frequently available, and some manufacturers even provide donated carts to service and other working dogs and rescue organizations.

Canine wheelchairs improve the quality of life for dogs who have experienced the loss of use of two limbs, as well as for rehabilitation after surgery. If you are considering a cart, talk with your vet, do some research about the different companies and do-it-yourself patterns, and consider your dog’s lifestyle and needs.

NR Tomasheski is a dog trainer who spent seven years as co-owner of a canine daycare, boarding, and grooming facility in Sherman Oaks, California. She has competed with her own dogs in agility, obedience, and rally.

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