Animal Welfare, Dogs, Pet Care, Rehabilitation, Veterinarian, Worldwide

“5 W’s” to choose a wheelchair for your dog

the 5 W's

These “5 W’s” will help you choose the correct wheelchair for your dog. Not sure if your dog needs a wheelchair? Are you confused ? It is often a confusing and emotional time. Use the 5 W’s to help you decide. Known as the pillars of journalism they help you to organise and decide.

As veterinary care advances and our pets and companion animals are living longer they need help as they grow older. Age is not a disability, but it can bring on difficulties in movement. We want to give senior pets and companion animals in shelters, NGO’s, and homes the best care possible. 

The path to healing physical injuries for any species begins with the mind. Once a patient recognises the onset or condition of disability/paralysis they often need time to accept and deal with the repercussions of their situation. It is important for us to realise as care givers, animals may not speak to us, but need mental support as much as they need physical support.

Dogs may not communicate with us the way we (as humans understand) but that does not mean they do not experience the same emotions and fears. If you have ever been a caregiver for a disabled or terminally ill person you know that mental support and stimulation is as important as physical. 

surgical procedures for dog wheelchair use

Before we get into the details of how and when to choose a wheelchair, let’s understand the functions of a wheelchair. You’re probably thinking- Simple enough – it’s a device with wheels to help a person, dog, cat or any companion animal move.  Well, yes and no. It is a fairly simple device with a wide range of uses. 

 5 W's  of choosing a wheelchair

Let’s jump into the how and why you should or should not use a wheelchair. When is the right time? How long does your patient or pet need one? Design, type of wheelchair, practice time, encouragement are all important and come together to make it viable and useful for the animal.  “5 W’s” to choose a wheelchair for your dog is a an overall guide to best practices to choose and use a wheelchair. Individual patients and conditions must be a consideration and always take a decision with the help of your physiotherapist or veterinarian.

Who needs a wheelchair ?

Any animal which needs assistance or support in moving after a surgery, accident or injury. Animals born with congenital deformities also benefit from using a wheelchair or device which eases their movement. Accident victims are most often candidates for wheelchairs as spinal and mobility issues may be life long. A device like this keeps the patient mobile which means their systems (respiratory, digestive, muscular etc) are ‘moving’ and not static. “Muscles can also become hypotonic or atrophied when neural impulses have been compromised either by injury or damage.” 1 This means that your dog needs to keep moving. If recovering from surgery or injury wait for your vet to tell you when it is safe for them to move and to what extent.

What is a wheelchair? 

A chair on wheels! No really, animal wheelchairs are of course adaptations from human wheelchairs. Literally wheels strapped on chairs to help people with mobility problems get around. It is a medical device or aid as well as rehabilitation prop to assist a patient regain mobility or stay mobile. A wheel cart may be temporary until the patient is able to walk independently. It may be a an aid used as a stopgap as the dog progresses from a wheelchair to a harness.

When does my dog need a wheelchair?

A wheelchair is used post surgery or injury. But timing is crucial. Injury causes inflammation in the body and while your dog or cat is in pain is not the time to use a device. 

It is important to first attend to pain management and any physical injuries (internal or external) before using such a device. No one can tell you when your dog needs or can use a wheelchair except the attending vet or physiotherapist.

Why should I use a wheelchair for my dog?

A wheelchair has multiple uses. We’ve all seen those awe inspiring videos on Instagram of paraplegic dogs happily running and playing while using their wheels. Take a moment next time to study the look on the dogs face and the alertness of his/her eyes. Being able to move and play with their peers gives them a purpose. It stimulates the mind and of course the side effect of this physical activity is building a stronger body.

Your therapist or veterinarian may ask you to use a wheelchair for your dog during physiotherapy. It may be a temporary device and support to help a patient develop muscle, balance and finally the ability to walk on their own.

Where can I use a wheelchair for my dog?

A sturdy well designed wheelchair will allow your dog to enjoy time outdoors in a garden, the beach and even hiking! For families who live in areas of snow fall, wheelchairs can be fitted with snow wheels.

How to choose a wheelchair & it’s advantages

The 5 W’s” to choose a wheelchair for your dog are meant to help you make the best choices for your dog… there is one more aspect to consider.

The first step is to consult your veterinarian or medical professional attending the animal. You Tube and Instagram videos of paraplegic cats and dogs running and racing on their wheelchairs are the motivation for most people to invest in one. A few things to remember, a tremendous amount of work and practice goes into helping the animal reach that stage.

Like any product medical devices are available in numerous qualities and designs. As we point out to our customers, “If you need a walking stick, you don’t build one out of Lego® blocks! You call your doctor and take their advice.”

Wheelchair design and ease of use are vital. Materials must be durable and the design should provide stability. Ultra light weight and frame wheelchairs will not give your dog confidence. The angle of the wheels ensure support and stability especially once the dog gains confidence and begins to move faster. Improperly angled wheels means your dog will fall over when they go around corners.

More Factors to consider before investing in a wheel cart

  1. Your dog’s age
  2. When did the injury occur? (Is there inflammation on a joint or the spine, you may need to wait until it reduces)
  3. What are the costs involved ? (These are expensive medical aids, instead of buying a cheap one which you will eventually discard make an investment in a quality device)
  4. Where does the dog live? Indoors or outdoors, is this a street dog you care for?
  5. Are you buying for a shelter? (Work with them to ensure they can get the best use out of wheelchair, an adjustable wheelchairs is a training aid and works interchangeably for multiple dogs)

Our companion animals take on the roles of friend, philosopher and guide as they age or need assistance it is a team effort to keep them comfortable and moving.

1 Robertson, J., and A. Mead. Physical Therapy and Massage for the Dog, 2013.


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