Our four-legged friends’ feet suffer from the same wear and tear as our footwear, but what it usually means is it’s time for a pet wheelchair.
“I look for whether [dogs] have wear marks on their feet. I know that it’s painful and they can’t ambulate properly,” says Dr. Kristen Nelson, DVM, Scottsdale, Ariz., veterinarian and author of Coated With Fur: A Vet's Life.
This wear can be seen initially through missing hair from the top of the paw and worn down nails. “If not caught at this stage, the constant damage from dragging the feet will cause abrasions on the top of the paw,” Nelson says. Other signs of damage include worn down treads and injured dermis.
Unfortunately, pet owners usually wait too long to get their dog fitted with a wheelchair, Nelson says, and the animals are paralyzed, or partially paralyzed.
Getting Started With a Wheelchair
Dogs need to be fitted for a wheelchair and once the wheelchair arrives at your home, it can be further modified for a custom fit.
Get your pet used to the wheelchair very gradually. You may have to begin by just attaching the strap to him and letting him get used to that. “It’s about patience and going slow,” says Nelson.
Then let your dog walk with the wheelchair gradually. Start with five or ten minutes at the most since your pet likely has very little muscle at this stage of her life. If she does too much time in the wheelchair, she’ll be in pain.
Dogs also need to toughen up the skin behind the shoulder blades, where the wheelchair attaches.
Once your dog has tested the wheelchair out, slowly build up by five minutes a week. “I typically don’t leave them in for any longer for four hours,” says Nelson.
It’s also important to make sure your pet doesn’t spend all of his time in his wheelchair because he needs to sleep and rest his front paws.
Slings can also be used instead, for short periods of time to pull up the rear part of your pet to help her walk. These are ergonomically correct, but some dogs prefer the freedom a wheelchair brings.
The Skinny on Wheelchairs
Wheelchairs for dogs come in all sizes to fit the smallest and the largest breeds. Smaller wheelchairs cost around $350, while larger ones can be as much as $600. All of them are adjustable to prevent your pet’s feet from dragging on the floor.
The wheelchairs come with easily changeable wheels, so they can be used inside and out.
Dogs can be made more comfortable in a wheelchair, too. Booties protect their back feet, particularly when the wheelchairs go over uneven ground. For hot climates, owners can even buy booties with built-in cooling systems for their pets.
And many animals, when they reach this stage in their life, have a host of other problems. A common one is lack of bladder and rectal control, but some wheelchairs come equipped with a collection system in the form of a canvas sack that attaches to the cart and catches any ‘accidents’ before they hit the ground.
Upsides and Downsides
There are few downsides to pet wheelchairs, although do watch out for your dog getting it caught around things, especially if she moves fast.
Dogs with wheelchairs not only have more freedom but can also be useful.
They make great therapy dogs because hospital patients can relate to them.
“And the dogs are typically happier and it improves their health and they get to go out and do the things they used to,” Nelson says.