In Part I and Part II of this series, we discuss various health issues which can adversely affect your pet’s mobility, suggest therapy and exercise options and review tools and equipment you may want to consider to help with specific physical issues. In this last installment, we take an in-depth look at support harnesses and wheelchairs. While we concentrate here on equipment for cats and dogs, note that wheelchairs are also used by a variety of other animal species. For example, while Eddie’s Wheels makes the majority of its wheelchairs for canine customers, it has also designed and made special wheelchairs for pigs, goats, sheep, rabbits, miniature horses, deer and alpaca, among other animals.
Non-Surgical Options for Pets with Impaired Mobility
Congenital birth defects or impairments, injuries and age-related changes in your pet’s health which cause impaired mobility, can be a huge challenge for both you and your animal companion. However, take heart! There are more and more viable non-surgical options that will help your furry companion cope with the physical challenges caused by the impairment and ease the transition to a new form of mobility. Four legs or two, you can get your fur baby moving again or, in the case of a congenital condition, increase his mobility beyond what he previously was capable of. The following options all have different price points, pros and cons, but can provide significant comfort and happiness for your mobility challenged pet. Please note that while most of these products are designed for dogs, some of them are also suitable for mobility challenged cats IF your feline baby is willing to participate in the process.
Pet wheelchairs can be rather costly but are absolutely worth the expense if you get the right one for your fur baby. Using the right wheelchair for your pet’s particular physical condition and abilities will enable her to move on her own at her own pace. Depending on your pet’s condition and the seriousness of the impairment, you will need either a full, rear or front support wheelchair, described in detail below.
We looked at a variety of pet wheelchairs on the market and concluded that your best options are to work with either Eddie’s Wheels in Shelburne, MA or K9 Carts in Freeland, WA. Both companies carry a full line of new and used wheelchairs and quad carts for both cats and dogs, manufacture their chairs in the US, and will work with you to build a specially fitted and fully adjustable wheelchair for your particular fur baby based on the measurements you submit. One difference is, however, that only Eddie’s Wheels has a full front support wheelchair whereas K9 Carts has only a front support kit that can be used with its rear support dog or cat wheelchairs.
Here are the types of chairs available:
- Quad Carts/Walkers/Full Support Wheelchairs: For pets who need help with all four limbs, are incapable of standing or walking without support or who have spinal or back injuries or recent surgeries which do not allow for pressure to be placed on the back. These carts provide full body support and allow your pet to be in a normal standing position and use his legs to the extent he is able to. K9 Carts prices go from $325 to $798 and Eddie’s Wheels prices go from $800 to $1,200 and take 3 weeks to build.
- Front Support Wheelchairs, with and without rear training wheels: For pets with weak, deformed or injured front legs but with strong back legs. We would recommend that you first speak with Eddie’s Wheels if your fur baby has front limb issues.
- Back Support Wheelchairs: For pets who need help with the back legs but with strong front legs. K9 Carts prices go from $279 – $579 and Eddie’s Wheels prices go from $325 – $600.
Helping with Harness Support
Another option for mobility impaired dogs is a harness support. If your dog has mobility issues that do not rise to the level of needing wheelchair support, you may want to get a support harness which will allow you to give your pup or kitty just enough support to enable her to walk on her own. These harnesses are ideal to help your pet up the stairs, into your car, through doorways and over other obstacles. These harnesses are also useful after certain types of surgery (e.g. ACL/TPLO repair) which cause temporary mobility issues. However, support harnesses aren’t designed for constant use, and should only be worn when needed.
Support harnesses come in rear, front and belly harness configurations to ensure that your fur baby receives the support where it is required, based on her mobility impairment. Support harnesses wrap and secure around the rear, front and/or belly of your pet and have handles for you to help maneuver her. For all three options, your pet’s legs go through the leg holes in the harness (2 legs for the rear and front, 4 for the belly harnesses). The difference between harness designs lies in the placement of the handle you use to lift your pet up. For rear support harnesses, your handle is at the back. For front harness supports, your handle is in the front, and for the belly harness, your handle is in the middle, around the belly to offer your pet full body support when lifting her up.
Here are some good support harness options:
- I’ve used the Help ‘Em Up harness with my senior pups and can attest to the fact that it is extremely well made and versatile. The harness is well padded, has great handles, comes in 5 adjustable sizes to accommodate pets from 8 to 220 pounds and has optional additional straps to use with shorter dogs so you don’t end up stooping down if you use the harness to walk your dog. The harness has a shoulder section and a back/hip lift section which clip together along the back, allowing you to use just the front, just the back or both together. The harness allows your pup to urinate freely while wearing it and has a hip lift option for the 20% – 25% of male dogs with a penis which is located further back between the legs.
- Gingerlead has a line of USA made harnesses that are simple but functional sling-style support harnesses in a variety of sizes for tall male dogs, large female dogs, small male dogs, small female dogs and even a miniature sling for really small dogs – or cats.
With all the innovative tools, therapies and equipment available, you and your mobility challenged fur baby should be able to enjoy life to the fullest without letting anything hamper you. Have fun!
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