Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Wheelchairs for Dogs Offer Chance at an Active Life

Pet Column for the week of January 23, 2006

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Kim Marie Labak
Information Specialist

Many conditions and injuries can impair a dog's ability to use its hind limbs, such as traumatic injury, intervertebral vertebral disc disease, degenerative joint diseases, neurological disease, and muscle disorders.

When a dog is unable to regain use of its limbs with the help of surgery or physical rehabilitation, custom-fitted wheelchairs, or assistive carts, can provide the chance for owners and their dogs to still enjoy activities together.

Kim Knap, certified veterinary technician and certified canine rehabilitation practitioner at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, explains, "When a patient has a degenerative disease that will not improve or has reached a point where there is no hope for limb recovery, there is still hope for the dog to lead an enjoyable life."

Many companies custom-build assistive carts, and a variety of designs are available for dogs of all shapes and sizes. Most carts have a torso harness and a sling to support the pet's hips and hind legs, allowing for free movement of the front legs. In addition, carts are available to support all four limbs. Different support designs for males and females allow for normal bodily functions while wearing the cart.

Knap explains that since many dogs are happy just using their front legs to walk, most patients run, play and adjust well to using an assistive cart. "I cannot think of any dogs that we haven't been able to acclimate. Here (at the teaching hospital) we have some adjustable carts we can try on a dog if we're not sure how that dog will adjust to using a cart."

Carts can be especially helpful for large dogs whose owners may have trouble carrying around a incapacitated pet. An assistive cart can also improve the psychological and emotional health of both the pet and the owner by providing a dog independence and exercise, and giving back to the pet owner a happy, active companion.

Knap recalls a patient who recovered one of his favorite pastimes through the use of an assistive cart.

"We saw a golden retriever whose owners lived on a farm, and his favorite activity was going out to the barn every night to help with the evening chores.

"When physical rehabilitation no longer helped, he got a cart, and every night he could walk himself out for the chores. He regained the ability to do the thing he loved and was able to live out his life happily."

Virtually all of the patients of the UI Veterinary Teaching Hospital that have used carts have acclimated well to their carts, and owners have been pleased with the overall quality of life for their pets.

Knap points out that the assistive carts are most beneficial for patients that can no longer use their limbs. For patients that still have hope of regaining limb function, a cart may discourage proper use and development of the muscles and nerves. Since these dogs may become dependent on a cart, Knap instead recommends using a sling to help support a dog's body weight and help rehabilitate its hind legs.

For more information on assistive carts for your pet, consult your veterinarian.

For print-quality photographs related to this Pet Column, contact Mandy Barth at 217/244-1561 or