When my 11-year-old Doberman female, Sadie, started walking a little funny, I cringed. I’d owned enough large dogs to know the score.
Sadie had shown no signs of hip dysplasia when she was young, so it was likely plain old osteoarthritis (OA) that was bothering her. According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, OA is the most common form of arthritis in dogs. About a quarter (25 percent) of the canine population is affected by it.
Interestingly enough, OA is the most common form of arthritis in humans, too, so we can definitely relate.
Sadie took a trip with me to the Pacific Northwest. She loved it!
This horrible disease gradually wears the joint down, eroding the cartilage cushioning between the bones and causing pain, stiffness, and swelling. I made sure Sadie had her glucosamine supplements and walked her regularly to keep the joints as healthy as possible. She was at a nice weight, so we had no problems there.
Unfortunately, just before she turned 12 years old, Sadie got worse. I came out from my bedroom one morning to find her on her bed, which was unusual. She usually jumped up the instant she saw me, but this time she just wiggled her little nub of a tail and remained lying down.
I knew something was wrong. I went over to her and she tried to get up, but she couldn’t. Her front legs were working, but her back legs refused to cooperate. After a few attempts, she gave up and laid back down.
I was heartbroken. This dog was lean, beautiful, and just as mentally sharp as she always had been, but she couldn’t get up, not even to eat. After a trip to our veterinarian, I had the diagnosis: the arthritis had gotten worse, and there was nothing else they could do.
I couldn’t imagine putting this vibrant, healthy dog down, so I decided to do some research. That’s when I discovered the wonder that is the doggy wheelchair. And I’m here to tell you—they work!
- What is a Dog Wheelchair?
- Features to Look for in Your Dog Wheelchair
- Some Examples of Dog Wheelchairs
- How to Get Your Dog to Use the Wheelchair
What is a Dog Wheelchair?
Doggy wheelchairs are just what they sound like—wheelchairs for dogs. If you have a dog that can’t get around for whatever reason, this may well be an option for you.
At the time I owned my Doberman, I had never heard of these devices before, so I took considerable time researching them. Meanwhile, I carried Sadie back and forth from the house to the garage, which was no easy feat as she was about 65 pounds. But she was so good-natured and full of life that she continued to eat and drink and greeted me with her usual happy caramel eyes every morning, as if telling me that everything was going to be fine.
Below are some of the conditions that may make a dog a good candidate for a doggy wheelchair:
- Spinal issues; disc disease
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Traumatic injury
- Surgical recovery
It also helps if your dog still has a desire to be active, is in essentially stable health, and has strong front legs. Most dog wheelchairs are two-wheeled types that are made for dogs with rear-leg problems. (There are some that help support the entire body, though—more on that below.)
You can test your dog like I did to see how he or she might do in a wheelchair. Simply slip a soft towel underneath the hips, lift the dog up so his back is straight, and see if he’s comfortable propelling himself with his front legs.
I did this with Sadie simply to alleviate some of the muscle strain I was experiencing carrying her all the time. I was amazed how quickly she caught on to this trick! With small dogs, you can actually cut holes in the towel for the back legs and help propel the dog that way.
You’ll also want to think about the space you have in your home, and whether it can accommodate a wheelchair. I ended up moving Sadie’s bed from inside the house to the attached garage. I had more space there to get her in and out of the wheelchair to go outdoors, and the change also saved me from having to lift her up the stairs into the house more often than necessary.
Dobermans make great companion dogs—but they can suffer from arthritis later in life.
Features to Look for in Your Dog Wheelchair
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to give a dog wheelchair a try, it’s time to go shopping. In general, you want to look for the following features:
1. Weight Capacity
This may be the most important thing to look at first. You want the wheelchair to adequately support your dog’s weight. Don’t worry if you have a large dog—the chairs are made for dogs of all sizes—you just need to check the information on the chair to be sure it will accommodate your size of dog.
What is the chair made of? Ideally, the materials are lightweight so your dog can carry the chair around easily. If it’s too heavy, it could make the transition to wheeled mobility more difficult. The most common lightweight material used for the body of the chair is aluminum.
3. Types of Wheels
Where are you going to encourage your dog to move? Larger wheels are typically better for the outdoors, whereas smaller wheels will work okay for indoors. Larger wheels also work better for larger dogs.
Can you adjust the straps, the width of the frame, or the height of the frame? Though most chairs offer a range of heights and widths depending on the size of your dog, adjustability is important so you can obtain the best fit for your pal.
Once your dog gets used to the wheelchair, you’re probably going to want to take it with you, either to take the dog to the park or on a trip. Many chairs fold down for easy transport and storage, which can make it a lot easier for both of you to head out when you want to.
Sadie taking her first few tentative steps in her new wheelchair.
Some Examples of Dog Wheelchairs
There are many companies out there today selling dog wheelchairs, so you have a wide selection to choose from. Here are a few to get you started:
Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
This particular one is made for large dogs.
Best Friend Mobility
This one is made for extra small dogs.
Anmas Sport Adjustable Dog Pet Wheelchair
This particular model can also be used to help rehabilitate dogs after surgery.
There are also four-wheel or “quad” style wheelchairs that are designed for quadriplegic dogs, or those recovering from surgery that need more support. These typically have four wheels, and support the dog in the rear with a typical wheelchair saddle, and in the front with some sort of harness.
The animal can use her legs if at all possible to move around, or the owner can do most of the rolling. A good quality quad chair will also have optional front or rear stirrups to lift completely useless limbs off the ground. Eddie’s Wheels has one of these types of chairs.
This Quaz Four Wheel Adjustable Chair is another option:
How to Get Your Dog to Use the Wheelchair
I found this to be much easier than I ever expected. I thought Sadie would take a while to get used to the chair—a week or two, for instance. Boy was I wrong!
I strapped her into the chair, helped her out to the back yard, and waited with her on the patio. Within about 10 minutes, she was moving. And she never stopped, continuing to happily use the chair for the rest of her life.
This German shepherd is getting along just fine in her wheelchair.
It was another occasion when my dog showed me how to live. Sadie didn’t complain. She didn’t bemoan what had happened to her, or act as if she was no longer the dog she used to be, like humans often do when faced with the same situation.
Instead, she took full advantage of this wonderful tool that enabled her to live out the rest of her life with dignity. I imagine your dog would do the same.