Believe it or not, canine wheeled carts are a controversial subject. Does getting a wheelchair for your dog mean the beginning of the end? Is it unnatural? Or a gift of mobility and quality of life?
I literally draw a deep breath and steady myself whenever I feel the necessity to address wheeled carts with clients. I never know what to expect: from utter horror to joyful hugs and everything in between!
I’ve even been “sacked” for daring to suggest carts to some pet owners! But that never stopped me.
What is the source of controversy?
Isn’t this a wonderful gift of mobility for pets? Yes, it definitely is, but some folks feel it signals the beginning of the end, that I have no hope for their pet.
Others think moving with wheels is unnatural for an animal. By no means have I given up on a dog I might suggest a cart for. After all, I’m not suggesting they be euthanized, rather offering a practical solution to keep the dog active and happy! “But it’s not natural!” is equally false, because it isn’t natural for a dog to be immobile!
Why consider a wheeled cart for your dog with mobility issues
The cart’s purpose is to allow assisted mobility and continued “walking” after a major disability or disease-causing weakness, pain, or paralysis.
Dog wheeled carts uses
Cart walking can be recreational when a pet has the ability to walk on their own power indoors or in small contained spaces but lacks the balance or endurance needed to walk out in the open community for longer walks.
Cart walking can be functional when a pet is unable to stand and support themselves moving from room to room, using food bowls, or to relieve themselves.
Cart use can be considered therapeutic when it is not practical for function, but it allows a way to help maintain muscle tone and support a level spine, allowing the joints to relax while in an upright position. In such cases, the dog may be able to use their muscles to assist while their owner helps to pull the wheeled cart.
Carts can be rehabilitative, providing a way to safely exercise during recovery from injury or illness. Resistance is provided by the owner or therapist holding lightly on the cart, by attaching therabands or cords, and having the pet navigate the cart up and down a hill or incline.
Recommendations for wheeled cart selection
Here’s the latest information with my tips and recommendations to help you choose wisely in the event your dog may benefit from wheels.
Components of carts include the frame, saddle, wheels, axel, yoke, slings or support straps and stirrups.
Look for carts that are custom built with durable materials, and have an ergonomic biomechanical design, aligned closely to a dog’s anatomy.
Types of canine wheeled carts
Standard 2-wheeled carts
Either rear or front-wheeled, used when one set of limbs is paralyzed or amputated and the intact set of limbs are free of issues
When the neck and forelimbs have issues and it is desirable to ensure that no load is added to the pet’s front end
Useful when all limbs are affected with significant forelimb weakness and de-loading is needed
Variable axel carts
Allowing you to move the wheel position from neutral to counterbalanced to fully counterbalanced, good for progressive disorders like Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
Quad Carts/ 4 wheeled carts with head/ neck rest
For severely compromised pets needing complete support, offering front turning wheels and towing handle. Note that reverse quad carts are also possible, having rear turning wheels. Cart add-ons can include extra chest and belly straps, detachable front or rear training wheels, etc.
The finest carts are made by Eddie’s Wheels for Pets. No other brand comes close. In fairness, I will list several major wheeled cart companies in part II. They are all to be applauded for their efforts to help pets with disabilities and some make decent carts, but I am confident in my endorsement of Eddie’s as the best of all, by far.
List of several major wheeled cart companies
Remember the famous line delivered by Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire: ….. “You had me at hello”..? Well, they had me way before hello. I met Leslie Grinnell, co-owner and wife of Eddie, in person at an animal rehabilitation conference in 2013 and bonded with this lovely woman instantly.
I have since traveled to their facility in Shelburne Falls, MA, spent quality time with Leslie and Eddie, toured the shop, met their employees, and received expert instructions on making cart adjustments. I’m a fan. But long before this, I was convinced of their product’s superiority through experience ordering them for patients and seeing the beautiful design, quality, and workmanship. Eddie Grinnell, a mechanical engineer, combined his expert skills with a love of pets to invent a cart design which is closely aligned to the dog’s center of gravity and the natural axis of motion at the hip and shoulder joints. This is very important in helping accurately mimic the pet’s normal movement and prevent pulling or strain.
Features of Eddie’s Wheels for Pets carts
The cart frame is made of solid aluminum, is durable yet lightweight, with stainless steel set screws and wheel fittings. Eddie’s has a welded, padded saddle uniquely designed for various breeds to match the shape and angle of their pelvis and provide comfortable support for the pelvic floor. Careful measurements are required but can be taken by the family, veterinarian or therapist. Carts are fully adjustable, using some basic tools.
Are there any negatives to consider with Eddie’s Wheels? Honestly, no. Some folks might not like waiting 2-3 weeks for their cart to arrive, but after observing the effort and precision that goes into each one, it’s worth it. The carts are just a bit heavier than others’ (while being lightweight overall) but this would only be an issue with extremely frail dogs.
K9 Carts’ cart is designed by a veterinary surgeon, which seems like a good thing, but I remain convinced that engineers trump vets or therapists in the creation and building of mechanical equipment.
The carts are bulky and the frame is made with tubular aluminum (not solid). Support straps and leg rings are made with nylon webbing material which I find to be thin and not super supportive. The company is veterinarian owned and operated.
A positive feature is their cart being very lightweight, which might be desired for an extremely frail or delicate pet. However, the design, using high sidebars, is not centered along the animal’s natural midline. The wheels are offset and placed widely apart, instead of closely aligned to the body.
The design is, well, awkward. The frame materials are not the highest quality and the stirrups and support straps are of soft, loose construction. Carts are prefabricated, not custom built. There are just one easy measurement and the carts ship quickly, but the client must self- assemble (no tools required). Some of the materials used for the carts are from China.
They don’t try to hide that fact, and it may not matter to you, but it’s worth noting. The company touts its product as being environmentally friendly and easy to re-use on other pets. I would be more concerned with durability over disposability or ease of re-use! I am not a fan of their carts; however, the parent company Handicapped Pets, carries some very good products for other aspects of disability pet care.
Dewey’s Wheelchairs for Dogs uses lightweight plastic materials. Their support straps are quite thin and look as if they will cause discomfort.
I like the design and workmanship of these aluminum-based custom built carts. I rate them as ‘the best of the rest’.
Very simple but rather rudimentary design. They are lightweight and feature a lower cost than other carts.
Some companies will accept used carts when a pet no longer needs them or dies, and might modify them for other pets whose family has a financial burden. The donor can experience deep satisfaction in knowing their dog’s cart has become a legacy for another deserving pet.
Though I admire the spirit and creativity behind those “self-builders’ of the world, there is a real risk of injury (strain, overuse) to your pet. Consider this option only if you have no other choice and the cart is strictly for temporary or short-term use. Use every resource you can to buy a cart from a reputable company before attempting to build it on your own.
When not to use a wheelchair for your dog
There are instances when I do not recommend carts such as: when a pet is just not motivated to be mobile (rare), when a pet owner is not physically capable of handling the cart or placing their pet within, when potential exertion may cause undue medical risk, when a dog is in pain or is fearful of the cart, the financial expense versus predicted longevity of dog’s lifespan, etc.