Let’s just start this discussion by talking about the different levels of paralysis and loss of sensation that dogs with neurological disease can experience. For many dogs with IVDD (disc disease) paralysis is complete – there is no deep pain sensation, no reflexes and the legs and feet drag lifelessly behind the dog. This was the case with Nutmeg, the dachshund pictured here, who showed up a year after her spinal surgery in this pvc cart that is sold online for about a hundred dollars. This cart dangled her legs behind, supporting her on a bar in front of her rear legs. All the weight of her rear was being thrown on to her front legs, and needless to say, she was not able to walk very far or very long in this contraption. The rationale for hiking up her rear so high was to protect her feet from scraping on the sidewalk.
We believe that it’s critical to a disc dog’s rehabilitation that the dog be supported in a healthy normal stance, so that IF they regain feeling in their feet, their feet will actually touch the ground. A long flat back also means that the spine can relax, inflammation and stress at the discs is lessened; and we can sleep at night knowing that the dog wheelchair is NOT aggravating a tender spine. For toy dogs and short legged breeds like dachshunds, corgis, and basset hounds, Eddie’s Wheels provides rolling stirrups. These can be adjusted to a position that holds the leg at the hock and keeps the paws from dragging on the floor. The roller encourages any reflexive motions a disc dog may have – the toes will usually press against the rear crossbar, providing the paws with feedback. We’ve seen dogs who have no movement in their legs at all when their feet are down, begin to move their legs when they are bent up over the stirrups. Many of these dog eventually become “spinal walkers” – taking their feet off the stirrups on their own volition as they regain feeling and control over their legs.
The next category of paralysis is usually dogs with degenerative myelopathy – the canine version of ALS that starts by numbing the dog’s toes so that dogs walk on their knuckles. Because these dogs cannot feel their feet, and the cart takes a little bit of weight-bearing off their feet, these dogs will tend to “knuckle over” even more when they are put in a dog wheelchair. However, at this early to middle stage of this disease, they still have feeling, sensation and movement in their legs from the hips down. This make stirruping the feet problematic. Many dogs resist having their feet taken off the ground. They will back up in the cart, refuse to walk forward, or flail their legs in the stirrups. We recommend that caregivers allow these dogs to use their legs as long as long possible. If they are walking on abrasive surfaces, use booties to protect their pet’s toes. Dogs should not feel hobbled by their carts.
Navaho, pictured here, had spinal stroke (FCE) that partially paralyzed his rear legs at the age of 7. Being able to use his legs to help propel himself made life in his wheels fun for him.
There is no one bootie we recommend as there are so many different levels of neurologic impairment, and the individual dog’s anatomy will be a deciding factor in what bootie works best for a particular dog. We like Tammy and Teddys and Watson’s All terrain booties (worn upside down so that the tread is on top of the foot). We find that most of the dogs with degenerative myelopathy that we put in carts here want to continue to use their legs for as long as they have motion from the hip. We advise our clients to allow their dogs to use their carts as walkers for as long as possible to build and preserve muscle mass. When the disease has progressed to a point where the dog no longer knows where its legs are, it’s time to use the stirrups.
Here’s Boomer, a GSD with DM, walking in his cart wearing booties.
Here’s Savanna, a Ridgeback with DM whose lost all movement in her rear legs.
The important thing to remember is to honor whatever abilities your disabled pet still has, and let them use whatever power they have for as long as they have it.