Should you get your dog a wheelchair because his legs no longer work? If your dog is happy, why not! If your dog still has that sparkle in his eyes even though his legs do not work, he may be an excellent candidate for a doggy wheelchair. Dogs with missing limbs, weak or non-working limbs and even incontinent dogs have lived full, enriched lives thanks to the wide variety of mobility products available these days. The time to get the dog wheelchair is before the dog is totally immobile. It is a lot easier to measure and fit a dog that can still stand, even a little, than a dog that is completely down.
Whether the limbs that are affected are front or back legs, there are dog wheelchairs available choice carts. Dog wheelchairs (also called carts) are mainly of two kinds. There are custom carts – fitted like a prosthesis for the specific dog or adjustable carts that can be fine tuned for dogs of similar size and weight.
A custom cart is an excellent choice if your dog is a young dog that will get years of use from the cart. Custom carts are made specifically for males or females and are often a better choice for an incontinent dog. Also, hard to fit dogs would also benefit from a custom built cart. Dogs that are extra long, deep chested, or unusually built can be more comfortable in a custom cart because it is made to their exact measurements. These carts will be more expensive, but are well made and features can be incorporated to fit the specific disability.
Adjustable carts are a better choice for dogs of a general breed type because they can be fit by approximate size, then more finely adjusted to fit the individual dog. These are nice for older or sick dogs that may not get a long period of use from them. They are easier to resell or donate. Also, purveyors of custom carts might be a distance from your home and long trips for fittings can stress an already compromised dog. These carts are also of good quality and may come with many of the standard amenities of the custom cart, but if you have an unusual need, it probably can’t be accommodated.
Many carts allow you to add features as your dog’s disability progresses. It pays to find out if these are included with the cart or must be purchased separately. Make a checklist of the features your dog needs now, and may need in the future before you begin shopping.
Detachable Saddle – This is wonderful in that you can put it on a dog that can’t get up, and it acts as a sling to help with lifting him into the cart. There are many ways of attaching the saddle and you will want something that is easy to maneuver and connect.
Adjustable length and width – Usually this is only a feature of adjustable carts since it is not needed in a custom cart. Each cart has different types of adjustments so you will want to determine which measurements are most important for your dog. While a custom cart may require hundreds of measurements, adjustable carts just need a few when ordered.
Booties – Often disabled dogs will drag their feet and a cart with the option of booties or some way of keeping feet from dragging is a real plus. Without this feature some dogs will rub their feet raw and this can be particularly bad if the dog has poor circulation or no feeling in the feet.
4-wheel carts – Some carts come with, or allow you to later add a front mechanism that allows support of the entire dog. With some disabilities, a dog may eventually lose use of all 4 legs and this cart allows them to still be somewhat mobile and be pushed on walks.
Counterbalanced carts – The more expensive carts use a counterbalance system that takes pressure off the front shoulders. This is helpful for dogs with weak fronts, and can also prevent damage from over extended muscles. However, it is sometimes good to have a moderate amount of weight on the shoulders so that the dog builds and keeps the strength in his front assembly. There is fine line regarding how much counterbalancing is correct, so a custom fitted cart makes sure you receive the correct amount of counterbalance for the disability because it is fitted by someone experienced in fitting disabled dogs.
Wheels – A wider or angled wheelbase is more stable and less likely to tip. Narrow tires are fine for walks on a sidewalk, but if your dog is going off-road on nature trails and playgrounds, you will need a tire that is good for the terrain he is likely to encounter. Custom carts and some adjustable carts have optional tire choices based on your needs.
Last of all, ease of use is the most important factor in choosing a dog wheelchair. You won’t use it if it’s not easy to get the dog in and out, or if he cannot urinate or defecate when using the cart. Many disabled dogs become incontinent so being able to use the cart for potty outside is an important feature. Also consider the weight of the dog and your ability to lift him. This is not so much a problem with small dogs, but larger dogs can be difficult to lift (because the legs can be dead weight) so any feature added to the cart that makes getting him in and out of it easier is a huge plus!