Is your dog having trouble with its hind legs? Have you considered getting a dog wheelchair but you are wondering if dog wheelchairs are cruel?
I have the same worries. Our rescue Ella is a chihuahua mix. She has a long body like a dachshund and others have warned us she’ll likely have rear leg issues in her old age. So I decided to do some digging.
Here’s what I found out.
No, dog wheelchairs are not cruel. When chosen correctly with your vet’s direction a dog wheelchair can extend the functional life of your dog. Plus, sometimes dog wheelchairs are necessary to help them get through small surgeries or injuries.
Table of Contents
- How Long Can A Dog Stay In A Wheelchair
- Quality Of Life For Dogs In Wheelchairs
- How Do Dogs In Wheelchairs Poop?
- Dog Wheelchair Abuse Cases
- Dog Wheelchair and Disabled Animal Common Myths
- Disabled Animals Are Harder To Care For
- Dogs Can’t Get Enough Exercise In A Dog Wheelchair
- Disabled Animals Become More Aggressive
- Dog Wheelchairs Don’t Work For Old Dogs
- Disabled Animals Need To Go To The Vet More And Get Sick More Often
- Injured Dogs Using A Wheelchair Get Better Slower
- Disabled Animals Have A Bad Quality Of Life
- You Can’t Use A Wheelchair With Big Dogs
- How Dog Wheelchairs Work
- Towel Test
- Will A Wheelchair Add To Your Dog’s Life?
- When Does A Dog Need A Wheelchair?
- Will My Dog Like The Wheelchair?
- If Your Dog Has Degenerative Myelopathy Will A Wheelchair Help?
- If Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia Will A Wheelchair Help?
How Long Can A Dog Stay In A Wheelchair
Dog wheelchairs are not intended for long durations. They are intended to be used for short walks.
Generally, your dog should not stay in a dog wheelchair for more than 15-60 minutes a few times a day. Use them to talk your dog out for bathroom breaks, short walks, and just to get outside and enjoy saying hi to other dogs.
Some wheelchairs like the two-wheel version from Eddie’s Wheels allows for more mobility than other more fixed wheelchairs. Work with your vet on this.
Quality Of Life For Dogs In Wheelchairs
If your dog needs a wheelchair their usually at a point where their quality of life has gone down pretty low. Wheelchairs can help improve that a little by giving them more chances to get outside and walk around on their own without the assistance of a rear dog harness.
This lets them do what dogs like to do. They can wander around the yard, greet other nearby dogs, and poop and pee at will.
Some units are even collapsible allowing your dog to sit or lie down even in their wheelchair.
How Do Dogs In Wheelchairs Poop?
Dogs can pee and poop in most wheelchairs. The chairs are designed to let them spread their legs and do their business. Poop will naturally fall without hitting the frame.
Eddie’s wheels two-wheel version even lets them tilt back and forth. This lets them bend forward to sniff the ground and bend back to poop and pee in a more natural pattern.
Dog Wheelchair Abuse Cases
I was worried about wheelchair abuse and dig some digging.
Other than one story on a man in a wheelchair hitting his dog I couldn’t find anything about people abusing their dogs due to using a dog wheelchair.
I think the most common “abuse” and that’s used loosely would be keeping your dog in the chair for too long. This could lead to rashes or abrasions from their skin rubbing on the straps and such too much.
This even happens to my dog Ella when we walk for too many miles in her small dog harness or when she had a bad collar. There were folds in the webbing that rubbed on her skin. We simply used a different harness!
With a dog wheelchair, you won’t have that option so you’ll always want to check that your dog isn’t getting sores from using the wheelchair too long then adjust things accordingly. You can adjust the strap tightness, add strap pads to prevent rubbing, and just have them spend less time in the wheelchair overall.
Dog Wheelchair and Disabled Animal Common Myths
Disabled Animals Are Harder To Care For
Most times disabled animals take roughly the same amount of care as non-disabled dogs.
This is especially true if you get them tools like a dog wheelchair to help them overcome their disabilities.
Some problems like incontinence will make for more work on your part. Most disabilities just come with new learning on what your dog can and can’t do.
If you give them a safe backyard to play in then in time they’ll learn how to overcome their disabilities as well so they can enjoy a safe and happy life.
Dogs Can’t Get Enough Exercise In A Dog Wheelchair
Even at recommended levels, a dog can use a wheelchair 2-3 times a day for up to an hour once they get used to it.
That will allow them to get plenty of basic low-key exercise.
They won’t be running 6-7 miles a day like they used to but they can still get out there, exercise, and have a happy life.
Disabled Animals Become More Aggressive
This is more believed for dogs with disabilities like being blind, deaf, or both. Rarely do dogs that need dog wheelchairs to become more aggressive.
Even for dogs that become blind and/or deaf, this is more of an anecdotal myth than something you should expect.
If a dog has an aggression problem it should be dealt with using proper aggression training.
If your dog wasn’t aggressive before becoming blind or deaf they are unlikely to become more aggressive.
If they were aggressive before the fear induced by making it harder to see or hear things nearby could make them more aggressive. This is something that probably should have been dealt with before the disability.
Still better late than never. Some basic aggression training could go a long way to making your newly disabled dog much happier, more confident, and less scared of the big change that is happening to them.
Dog Wheelchairs Don’t Work For Old Dogs
As long as your dog isn’t in pain and can go outside to use the bathroom there’s no reason not to help them make that easier with a dog wheelchair. This is especially true for older dogs. If they have the strength to go giving them a wheelchair will just make the job easier.
Disabled Animals Need To Go To The Vet More And Get Sick More Often
Just like with the aggression question earlier, disabled dogs aren’t likely to get sicker later due to their new disabilities if they didn’t have health issues beforehand.
This is another common myth about disabled dog care.
Yes, you’ll indeed have to pay attention to some little things like making sure they don’t get strap sores from using their dog wheelchair. Still, you shouldn’t have to worry about new health issues when your dog starts using their dog wheelchair.
Injured Dogs Using A Wheelchair Get Better Slower
Most dogs would much rather walk without a wheelchair than with one. Plus they’d much rather go outside and walk in a wheelchair rather than not at all.
Disabled Animals Have A Bad Quality Of Life
This is largely based on how you help them transition. If you give them time to get used to their new wheelchair, make sure it’s strapped correctly, and that they aren’t in pain then there’s no reason they won’t learn to use it and continue to have a happy life.
You Can’t Use A Wheelchair With Big Dogs
There’s a ton of wheelchairs out there for small chihuahuas up through large dogs over 200 lbs.
The old dog carts just supported soft tissue (e.g. the belly) so, indeed, they didn’t work well on heavier dogs.
The new wheelchairs are built to support using a dog’s skeleton. This has allowed them to support dogs over 200 lbs.
How Dog Wheelchairs Work
In essence dog wheelchairs support either the hips for rear leg issues, the front shoulders for front leg issues or amputations, or the entire chest and spine for front and rear leg issues.
Depending on the model, your dog will push itself along using either its front or rear legs. With quad systems, they may use a combination of their front and rear legs.
Will your dog walk better using a dog wheelchair? To find out run the towel test. Simply use a towel under their hips to support their rear legs and walk with them.
They also have rear leg support straps for this.
Did your dog walk better? Were they able to move around faster? If so they may be able to use a dog wheelchair while still having a great quality of life. Consult your vet and possibly try a rental or borrow one from a friend to see if a dog wheelchair will be a good fit.
Will A Wheelchair Add To Your Dog’s Life?
If your dog isn’t in pain, they pass the towel test, and your vet agrees, then, yes, a dog wheelchair will improve your dog’s life if they are having rear or front leg mobility issues.
When Does A Dog Need A Wheelchair?
If your dog has an amputation that prevents them from walking, can’t move their front legs or rear legs, and your vet agrees, then a wheelchair can be a very useful tool for improving their mobility.
Will My Dog Like The Wheelchair?
Probably not at first. Most dogs take some time to get used to it. It’ll require some patience and training on your part.
In time though your dog will appreciate being able to walk more freely. They’ll always want to walk without a wheelchair but a walking dog is happier than a non-walking dog.
If Your Dog Has Degenerative Myelopathy Will A Wheelchair Help?
It could. Discuss this with your vet. I haven’t had this issue with our chihuahua mix Ella yet but we’re getting ready for it. We’re going over prevention techniques like dog ramps to get her up and down from the bed and couch to prevent degenerative myelopathy as much as possible.
Currently, there is no cure for degenerative myelopathy.
If Your Dog Has Hip Dysplasia Will A Wheelchair Help?
Again, possibly. You’ll need to ask your vet. In general, wheelchairs have been a common tool to help dogs with hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy.