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Wheelchairs for Dogs Part 2: Which conditions & patients make the best candidates?

Posted in Client Service @ May 14th 2015 - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager, Director at Pets Need A Life Too!

Interested in suggesting a wheelchair to clients as an option to improve their dog's mobility?

In my previous blog post (Part 1: Wheelchairs for dogs: helping dogs with disabilities get a new lease on life) I explained how my Rottweiler, Cole was the catalyst to developing my interest in wheelchairs for dogs.  Even though Cole only used his cart a handful of times before passing away I was so impressed with the change in his demeanour the very first time he was able to walk on his own again that I decided to make them available for others through Pets Need A Life Too!

Since then I've helped a number of dogs find their feet again and it's always amazing to see them enjoying their mobility once again.

So what conditions can the carts be used for?

Some conditions the cart is useful for are:

  • spinal degeneration,
  • arthritic dogs,
  • dogs with cruciate injuries that are not necessarily suitable candidates for surgery (or even those that have had surgery – post surgical support)
  • hip dysplasia and
  • aiding in recover from various orthopaedic surgeries.

Who makes the best candidates for the carts?

Carts certainly won’t suit every dog or every owner although I should also point out that wheelchairs are not limited to dogs either – they can suit any animal over 5kgs in body weight.

Carts should really only used when going for a walk, or for supervised periods in the yard.  

Firstly, dogs can’t be left in carts for extended periods of time as in most cases once they are in the cart, dogs can’t lie down as it places undue stress on their spine. Supervision is also important in case they get their wheels stuck or tip over and injure themselves further.

Secondly, the dog must be able to manoeuvre the chair around. If the wheelchair is for weak hind limbs then the front quarters must be strong enough to move the chair around which means there must be minimal arthritis in the front limb joints. The dog does not necessarily need full hind quarter function however as their legs can be lifted up in stirrups so the paws will not drag.

Finally, the owner must also be able to physically lift the dog in and out of the chair perhaps once or twice a day.  There is however a special lifting harness available that will help with the lifting and also doubles as a more comfortable rear harness to sit in the cart.

Some suitable Candidates:

Prolonged recovery

If a dog is severely affected neurologically and recovery is going to be prolonged, then it may need to be crated or penned for many, many months which means it may only get out to walk when assisted with a harness. Putting them into a wheelchair means they can go for a walk, enjoy life and have a more ‘normal’ existence, while relieving the owner from carrying the dog on the walk. Legs can either be up in stirrups for protection, or if there is some motor function in them, down on the ground so they can still ‘walk’, with or without boots for foot protection. Certainly many of my Dachshund owners only use the carts during crisis periods until the dog is able to walk unaided again.

Post spinal surgery

Many patients with spinal surgeries in the middle of the back have improved when they have started using a wheelchair, as it has helped to support them in an upright position and allowed them some freedom to be a normal dog again and go for a walk. Again rehabilitation is still very much a necessity but a wheelchair can be an invaluable tool for these patients during recovery. Clients can even perform many of the standing exercises in the wheelchair.

Post orthopaedic surgery or injury

Wheelchairs used after orthopaedic surgery or injury can assist in unloading a painful and healing structure, while still allowing the dog to have a normal walk. The time frame this can occur after injury, and whether affected limbs can be weight bearing or need to be held off the ground does vary from dog to dog. My cases involving surgical referrals have all been wheelchair hires but as the cases were indeed prolonged the owners decided to keep the carts at the end of the leasing period for further rehabilitation and just in case they needed it in the future to assist with mobility due to arthritis.


If an animal has arthritis that really affects their mobility and ease of going for a walk, then a wheelchair may make their life much easier. They may still potter around at home and in the yard, but if going to the park would typically make their affected limbs sore then a wheelchair could be considered.  After all, if you had a really sore knee, or your granny had a sore hip, doctors would prescribe a walking stick, crutches or walking frame to keep the person mobile while unloading the painful limb, not tell them to stop walking!

Amputated limb

A dog with an amputated limb will typically ‘manage’ getting around quite well, but not without extra load placed on the other limbs and spine due to the massively altered body posture. The greatly increased load placed on the remaining front or rear limb can then cause this limb to be more susceptible to injury. A wheelchair can be a valuable addition to an amputee for their exercise sessions to allow them to run and play without loading up the opposite limb excessively, and thus helping to protect it from injury. Exercise duration can also be increased with the reduced load on the other body parts.

The quad carts are good for those patients that have the use of their legs but are unable to sustain their weight, as well as assisting those dogs with forelimb amputations. When we had to have our other Rottweiler Chevy’s front leg amputated due to cancer (the dreaded Rotty curse again) I wish I had used the full quad cart for him as although he managed you could see it was a strain for him. You will meet one of my amputee patients in the next blod post!

It's not "cruel" to put a dog in a wheelchair - it's actually cruel to deny them a better quality of life and reduction in pain if we have the means to do it" (Michelle Monk - Dogs in Motion)

Next week... part 3: Success stories!

Part 1 - Wheelchairs for dogs: helping dogs with disabilites get a new lease on life

Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too!' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets including wheelchairs for dogs.

Click here to visit: Pet's Need A Life Too! Page in the Vetanswers Business Directory



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