WHEELCHAIR FOR DOGS: WHEN AND FOR WHOM?
When we see a dog in a wheelchair, we often think – how did this happen? Why does he need a cart? Will he need it forever? Are there specific injuries or diagnoses that always lead to paralysis? And are there any breeds that are more prone to developing them than others?
Lots of questions, few answers
We were looking for answers to all these questions together with qualified veterinarian Lenka Penčáková, who specializes in physiotherapy of small animals and has extensive experience from her practice.
The result is another of our informative overviews, which will hopefully help you to better orientate yourself in the world of handicapped dogs in wheelchairs.
Whether your dog is already experiencing movement problems, you want to keep your doggo healthy and happy and prevent them from needing a wheelchair, or you are just interested in the topic in general, this article will give you answers to many questions – and some that you didn’t even think about asking!
ORTHOPEDICS VERSUS NEUROLOGY
The most common diagnoses that affect hind limb mobility can be divided into two main groups. Depending on the problem, the dog will be taken care of by a nerve specialist, such as a veterinarian or a neurologist, or a bone specialist, ie an orthopedist.
How to know the diagnoses?
Before we get to the overview of diagnoses and examples, please remember one very important thing.
Whatever the problem of your dog is, it is worth consulting a specialist as recommended by your veterinarian. The specialists have at their disposal better and more accurate diagnostic methods than a generalist veterinarian. This makes it easier to identify the exact cause of the problem and to define the treatment correctly and most efficiently. Therefore, such a consultation at a specialist clinic will probably save you a lot of time and money as a result, because it will significantly improve your dog’s chances of recovery – this is true even when you have to go to a clinic in another city.
Orthopedic diagnoses where a wheelchair can help
The group of orthopedic health problems, where the use of a wheelchair could have its merits, includes the following 3 types of diagnoses:
1. Hip dysplasia – HD
The hip joint is absolutely crucial for the correct movement of the body and its disorders cause significant problems to the entire musculoskeletal system. One of the common diseases of this joint is HD. The tendency to HD is inherited, even up to 90 %! Therefore, if you are planning to breed your dog or bitch, you should put a great emphasis on the good condition of the hip joints, to prevent passing on a painful and problematic genetic condition.
Hip dysplasia is a painful disease. It makes it difficult for the dog to get up, walk upstairs or jump. It also forces them to look for various relief positions in which they transfer weight to their front limbs. The dog may also limp on his hind legs or move and strangely curl his hips. If you see similar symptoms in your dog, then it is definitely time to visit a veterinarian, even if your fluffy friend is only a puppy! The first signs of poor joint development can appear from the age of 4-5 months. In addition, neglected HD not only carries pain but also packs other health problems and diagnoses, typically osteoarthritis.
But there is no need to worry that your dog will definitely need a wheelchair right away. On the contrary, HD is a disease that is easy to treat surgically. However, a wheelchair can help where the condition is really serious or neglected for some reason because it will provide the dog with the necessary relief. But it is always necessary to take into account the overall health condition of the dog. Especially older dogs often have osteoarthritis in the front limbs and then even a wheelchair is not a suitable tool, because it would relieve the dog in the back, but on the contrary, would be disproportionately overloaded front paws. That’s why an experienced veterinarian and physiotherapist are needed to ensure that the best course of action and treatment is taken for every unique dog.
2. Anterior cruciate ligament rupture – LCC
If your dog suddenly starts to limp and you find that he has a painful and swollen knee, then the Anterior cruciate ligament rupture (LCC) is most likely to blame.
Again, this is not a diagnosis in which the use of a wheelchair is always necessary or even typical. The rupture of this ligament is solved by surgery. What is more, in most cases only one leg is affected. However, the rupture may occur on both hind limbs at the same or similar time. And because it is another very painful problem, the previously healthy and active dog can all of the sudden become almost completely immobile and helpless.
Even if your doctor confirms the above diagnosis and you agree to go ahead with the surgery, she will not operate on both knees at the same time. The knees will be fixed one after the other, with a period of rehabilitation in between, which can last a few weeks.
In the meantime, the wheelchair can be very useful as a movement aid – ask your physiotherapist whether they offer a long-term loan of a suitable cart! For every creature, including dogs, it is very important to keep as active as possible, even when recovering from surgery. It has a huge effect on both the psyche and the condition of the muscles. As soon as the muscles stop working, they immediately weaken and atrophy. And thanks to the wheelchair, it is possible to stay in shape during this diagnosis despite the temporary loss of full natural movement.
Sherlock is a Bernese Mountain Dog of advanced age. He suddenly started to limp on one hind leg and before he could get into professional care, mainly due to the limitations associated with the covid epidemic, he damaged his other leg due to overuse.
As he is a large breed combined with his advanced age, the physiotherapist chose a wheelchair for him after consultation with the owners. Sherlock uses it successfully and thanks to it he continues to enjoy his life despite his physical handicap.
3. Spinal injuries
Spinal injuries that result in paralysis of the hind limbs are certainly the easiest to understand. The dog becomes paralyzed as a result of an accident and it has nothing to do with the breed. There are no breed-related predispositions to being hit by a car, attacked by another dog (or, God forbid, a human), or unexpectedly falling from a high place.
The main person who should say whether or not to use a wheelchair is, of course, as always a doctor. However, it is also the decision of you as the owner. If you are ready to take responsibility for a dog with paralysis, then the wheelchair will become a welcome companion and helper for you.
For all those who find themselves, often without little notice, in a similar situation, we have prepared a short summary of what to prepare for when living with and caring for a dog in a wheelchair. We can also recommend movement and enrichment aids other than the wheelchair, that will help you to better manage the situation and care for a disabled dog.
In conclusion, it should be mentioned that injuries and accidents can’t be fully avoided even for cats and other animals. The wheelchair can help not only dogs but also other animals with movement issues!
Enzo is a husky puppy who suffered a very serious injury. At just four months old, he slipped his owner’s leash and was hit by a car. Unfortunately, the result was a devastating spinal fracture.
Because Enzo is still growing, he is still using a rehabilitation harness or sling for regular exercise. The stroller will come into its own when he reaches his final size and grows out of childhood games, during which he won’t be inclined to chew and dismantle this device into the smallest possible parts 😊
In the next article, we will take a look at neurological diagnoses.