Train Your Pet to use a Wheelchair

Based on what we’ve seen, getting used to being on a wheelchair takes an adjustment period for most pets. There are cases where pets will warm up to wheelchair use almost immediately but these cases are rare. Most pets will take time, effort, and patience before they get comfortable using a wheelchair.

There are many situations where it would seem impossible to get your pet to adapt to the wheelchair. Believe us when we tell you that all pets will be able to get used to being mobile again with the help of a mobility aid. It is just a matter of finding out why they haven’t adapted yet and knowing what to do to help them.

In some cases, pets will immediately feel uncomfortable just by being harnessed to the wheelchair. Some pets will freeze as soon as they are in. Start getting them comfortable by just having your pet near the wheelchair. You can try doing the following:

  • Bring the wheelchair to where your pet likes to stay. This can be any spot in your house where your pet likes to stay like your garden or your room. Leave the wheelchair there so your pet will get used to being near it.
  • Bring the wheelchair along when going to your pet’s favorite places. What are your pet’s favorite regular outdoor activities? Does he like going to the park or maybe he just enjoys his regular walks? Whatever these activities may be, be sure to bring the wheelchair along. Put a leash on the wheelchair and pull it along side or near your pet as they move around. 
  • You can also keep the wheelchair near while your pet does something they like doing such as playtime or eating time.

The key is to initially get them used to seeing the wheelchair. From time to time, move the wheelchair near enough so that it will touch your pet and see how they react. If they seem not to notice the wheelchair or if they show signs of being curious about it, then this means that they are losing their fear of the wheelchair. When they are comfortable seeing the wheelchair the next steps is to slowly ease them into the wheelchair.

Always give your pet positive feedback. After each step of getting nearer and nearer to getting into the wheelchair, show them how happy you are at their progress, pet them or give them some treats. 

As soon as your pet gets into the wheelchair, it is likely that they might not like to stay in it for long. They may move a bit and then show signs that they are tired or uncomfortable in just a short time. Follow the tips below in such cases:

  • Allow for one to two weeks for your pet to adapt to the wheelchair. In most cases, pets really just take some time to adapt to the feeling of being in the wheelchair especially while moving.
  • Starting your pet on short walks, around 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how they react to the initial use. As they get more comfortable during these short walks, slowly increase the time spent.
  • You may also make use of some form of motivation for your pet to use the wheelchair. For example you can give them treats or let them play with their favorite toy after they use the wheelchair.
  • You can also make use of activities to distract your pets to get them used to the wheelchair. Playing catch or letting them play with other pets while in the wheelchair are some activities they can do.

The key is to keep your pet focused on what they like doing so that they will not even notice that they are in the wheelchair while they are doing it. Building positive association with the wheelchair and wheelchair use is important.

Partially or mildly impaired pets, those that are not fully paralyzed, may take even longer to get used to the wheelchair. In most cases, they find it harder to adapt to the wheelchair because they can still move around without it by compensating for their partial disability. This might make the wheelchair feel like it is more of a hindrance for them. In such cases, try the this technique:

  • Get your pet to do an activity that is will get the blood running. It has to be an activity they can do even before they had the wheelchair. This can be a short walk.
  • Let your pet do this until you feel that he or she is partially tired.
  • When your pet gets to this point, put them into the wheelchair. You will notice that your pet will take to the wheelchair much better.
  • If this doesn’t work the first time, do not lose hope. Try it again next time letting your pet get a little bit more tired than the last time.
  • But be careful not to overtire your pet.

This works because getting them to work off some energy before putting them on the wheelchair makes it more likely for them to appreciate the assist the wheelchair will give them. One way of doing this is by taking them for a walk initially without the wheelchair. When you reach your farthest point and are about to make the return trip home put your pet on the wheelchair. In most cases pets respond more positively to the use of the wheelchair in this manner. Soon they will get used to the wheelchair that you can put them on even before you start their walk.

In some cases, it may be necessary to initially attach a short leash to your pet to assist. There are cases where pets are just too heavy, too tired or have lost too much muscle mass to be able to adapt to the wheelchair on their own. Putting a leash temporarily will help them get started. It may take some time but eventually they will be able to adapt to a point when they will no longer need the leash.

Once you get your pet used to the wheelchair they will enjoy using it. But it is also important not to leave them too long in the wheelchair. Keeping your pet in the wheelchair for too long may them to get too tired or uncomfortable. This in turn may cause them to dislike being in the wheelchair or worse it may cause more harm than good to their over-all health. For small to medium sized pets, three hours in the wheelchair straight should be the maximum time. For large pets an hour is more than enough without a break in the wheelchair.

It is important for you to pay attention to how your dog responds while using the wheelchair. This way you will be able to see if your pet is making progress or not responding favorably to the wheelchair. From here you will be able to adapt your approach accordingly.


Disabled Pet Care: How to Keep Costs Low

Taking care of a pet properly is almost like taking care of a child bar the college fund and the shouting. They require discipline, activities, nourishment, grooming, affection and health care. The costs can mount up especially when a pet has special needs.

By special needs, we are not talking about spas, hotels, designer clothes, and food that extreme pet lovers with money to burn lavish on their pets. We are talking about pets that are sick, old, or injured, which boils down to pretty much being disabled. When a pet like a dog acquires mobility problems, it can mean a significant added cost to the pet owner to provide it the care needs.

Why would a pet become disabled?

Our pets are subject to pretty much the same health concerns that people face, which include genetics, diet, exercise, and the environment. A pet can become mobility challenged when they get injured in an accident, get old, or acquire disorders that affect the spine, brain, joints, or muscles of the legs that affects one or more legs, leaving them weak or paralyzed. If the injury is irreparable and requires amputation, or the disease progresses, the pet will eventually lose the ability to move or experience too much pain to do so comfortably.

Costs of caring for a disabled pet

The highest costs associated with a disabled pet, like with people, are in health care. Depending on the condition of the pet, it may require extensive tests, doctor visits, surgery, rehabilitation, various therapies, medication, strict diet, and special aids.

In one case, the pet cat suffered from a neurological disorder that severely affected its coordination. The pet owner estimates that between therapy (including hydrotherapy and acupuncture) and consultation costs she had already spent close to $50,000, and likely to grow. Obviously, not everyone can afford to spend so much for the care of a cat, no matter how much they may want to.

There are many organizations and groups that are dedicated to helping pet owners who cannot afford the care their disabled pet needs. But it is possible to cut down costs considerably on your own if you follow these tips as far as you can.

Tips for cutting pet care costs

1. Make a budget. It’s easy to lose track of the money you spend on extras for your pet because they are not normally big expenses, but a bit here and there piles up to quite a bit over time, leaving you with nothing to cover emergencies. Knowing that your pet is disabled does not mean you throw up your hands and hope you get through it without getting too much into debt. Make a list of the necessary purchases and stock on those and putting aside some cash for emergencies before indulging in non-essentials.

2. Keep an eye out for bargains. In line with keeping a budget, buying in bulk for essential supplies often translates to huge savings, especially if you exercise a little couponing. This is where your savings come in; when a great deal comes along for your basic pet need like food you can buy a lot without killing your budget for the current month and make up for it in the following months. Make a point of regularly looking in warehouse clubs and wholesale outlets for sales and promos.

3. Consider second-hand aids. When your pet has mobility issues, the veterinarian may recommend getting them a wheelchair to allow them to move around. This can go a long way towards improving their physical health and quality of life, and saves you the necessity of carrying your pet around (presuming they’re small enough to be carried). It may even take the place of physical rehabilitation, so that’s another cost-saving technique.

However, wheelchairs and other mobility aids can be pricey if you buy them brand new. Look online for websites that offer refurbished pet wheelchairs; you will find that they can be as good as new but at half the price if you look hard enough.

4. Use an ounce of prevention. Your mobility-challenged pet can develop complications because of their condition and compromised immune system. Keep an eye on your pet to head off bed sores, infections, and parasites. It is also important to have your pet regularly checked by a vet, so avail of special prices and discounts for package deals at your local clinic to include check-ups, vaccinations, and other preventative services.

These tips are infinitely useful for cutting pet care costs whether your pet is disabled or not; it even applies to leading a practical life in general, actually! It just becomes more of a big deal when you have to make every penny count.

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Getting a Pet Wheelchair (What to do when it’s time)

There are many reasons why a dog may lose the use of its limbs. It could be due to an injury (car accident) or a disease (degenerative myelopathy or arthritis), or it could be simply from natural wear and tear (particularly the cranial cruciate ligament). There are certain breeds of dogs that appear to be prone to developing mobility problems, mainly German Shepherds and Irish setters, but mobility loss can happen to any dog under the right circumstances. In some cases such as in degenerative myelopathy, the cause is unknown and therefore difficult to prevent. It can be a depressing development for an otherwise healthy and active dog, and some owners are advised to euthanize the pet.

However, there is an option that an increasing number of pet owners are considering: getting a pet wheelchair.

Ask a vet

A pet wheelchair will be of infinite benefit when the dog suffers from mobility limitations due to degenerative myelopathy, arthritis, amputations, and idiopathic weakness in the limbs. The best judge of when a wheelchair will be needed is a qualified veterinarian, who will discuss with the pet owner the pros and cons of using a wheelchair, and what type would be most appropriate for a dog and its situation.

Pet wheelchairs are not advisable for all dogs, despite advances in technology that have reduced the pain factor in using them to practically none. This is mostly due to the dog’s temperament; not all dogs are able to adjust to being harnessed to a wheelchair, let alone to using it to help them move around. In some cases, the dog is in constant pain or discomfort which may be further exacerbated by the use of a wheelchair. Moreover, if the dog suffers from weakness in all limbs, a wheelchair will not be of any help, because it requires the dog to have relatively strong fore or rear legs to use it although there are wheelchairs built especially for quadriplegic dogs. There are also situations when a wheelchair can be an impediment to a dog’s health, such as when the affected limb/s needs to develop muscle mass and strength after surgery.

However, if the vet indicates that a wheelchair will help your pet live a longer, fuller, and happier life, you should read on to learn how to choose the right one and how to use it.

Choosing the right wheelchair

Gone are the days when the dog had to be measured and the wheelchair custom-built! It was slow and expensive, and in most cases had to be sent back for adjustments.

Pet wheelchairs now come in all sizes and configurations and are widely adjustable to fit a wide range of dogs. They come in standard sizes from extra, extra small to extra large.

It is easy to acquire one but you should choose those that are made of lightweight aluminum and stainless steel with sealed wheels appropriate for all terrains. It is easy to use, sturdy and corrosion free, and will last your pet for years. In fact, those with a big love of their dogs but a small budget can actually get perfectly serviceable refurbished wheelchairs at a significant discount, sometimes as much as half the price of a brand-new one.

To maximize your pet’s comfort, look around for a product that is designed ergonomically as determined by a K9 orthopedic surgeon and the harness is made of soft rubber such as neoprene. It is also important that you choose a wheelchair that is easy to assemble and balance properly, as this will determine the efficacy of the product.

Getting on it and training your dog to use it

Once you have acquired a wheelchair, you will have to train your dog to use it. The first thing is to get them on it. Dogs will struggle to get away from a contraption they don’t understand, so it may be necessary to distract their attention away from it at first. Once your dog is on it, then the real fun begins.

It can take time, especially if the dog is not used to leashes or harnesses, and would rather go along dragging their feet behind them if they can manage it. Many pet owners have found that the more seriously impaired dog is more motivated to learn to use a wheelchair than one that feels no pain and can still get around although they also double as a hairy mop. Dogs that feel much pain when putting weight on an affected limb or are truly unable to move are the most willing and fastest to learn.

Here are some tips to help you along:

1. If you have a fairly mobile dog, take it for a walk without strapping on the wheelchair. When your dog shows signs of tiredness or pain, try putting on the wheelchair then before starting back. The dog may be more open to having it strapped on if it will help it get home.

2. Start your dog with its paws on the ground if you see signs that it is trying to use its legs. This means that they retain some sense of weight in the legs even if they have difficulty in controlling it fully, and will feel hobbled if you cinch the wheelchair too high for them to touch the ground. This technique may also have the benefit of helping to keep some sort of muscle tone in the affected limbs when it is used for traction. Hitching the wheelchair too high will also put more pressure on the spine and the forelimbs than advisable.

3. When your dog is in the wheelchair, pay special attention to the back. When the back is curved upward (roached) it may mean that the chest strap is cinched too tightly to allow the pet to stretch its back while walking. If the back is curved inward, on the other hand, it may indicate the need for more support to the core muscles with the use of a belly strap.

4. If your pet appears to be falling on its forelimbs, the yoke may be improperly placed and is pushing down on the neck. It may also mean that the forelimbs are not strong enough to take on the job, which means you may need a load-neutral or counterbalanced wheelchair.

This article was originally published on April 21, 2015

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