Dog wheelchairs are the number one device pet owners of disabled animals buy. It’s a miracle to watch your paralyzed dog take off running like they did when their legs worked. But with so many carts being used, new unintended consequences are occurring. Wheelchair pups are having serious and sometimes fatal accidents. To prevent this problem, it’s vitally important for every pet parent to learn dog wheelchair safety.
Recently I was introduced to a dedicated pet owner whose dog had a rare form of paralysis. I did an interview with him for an article about the dog’s condition. In my wildest dreams I never expected how the story would change. It’s the reason I’m writing this article.
About an hour after our interview, the young dog came home from physical therapy. She was happy to be back so she began running around the yard in her cart. Somehow, the dog fell into the swimming pool. The wheelchair was heavy under the water and her owner couldn’t pull her out before she drowned.
I’m not including the name of the owner or the dog because the devastation of this accident has caused so much pain. It was a horrible event – a fluke of sad circumstances. It was a tragedy that could’ve happened to any pet family.
The goal of this post is to point out the safety risks of dog wheelchairs. I want your dog to happily run in their cart for a long time.
Dog wheelchair safety for your paralyzed pet
The recommendations in this article come from real-life pet parents who participate in the Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog Facebook page. Thanks to all of you for sharing your personal experiences.
First time mishaps
Some dogs love their carts from the minute they get in them while others need time to adjust. If your dog hesitates to walk in their wheelchair, start with short sessions while they build their confidence. It’s actually better if they begin this way. A gradual start means less mishaps.
But if you have a dog who jumps into their cart at full speed prepare yourself for big adventures and possible trouble. Dog wheelchair safety will be especially important for you. Be sure to have your dog on a leash and in a contained area like an enclosed yard for their first ride. You want to have as much control as possible.
Susan H. said her dog took off running and knocked her down, the first time in her cart. Susan had to run after her girl to prevent an accident.
Maria Elena’s dog Daisy tried to chase a squirrel up a tree. She nearly flipped the cart backwards.
Be there to supervise
Never leave your dog alone in their cart. They need constant supervision. And please keep in mind that dog wheelchairs are meant for mobility like exercise, walks and playtime. Dogs don’t sleep in them and they don’t wear them 24 hours a day.
Here are reasons to micro-manage your dog’s outings:
- Paralyzed dogs love to chase things. They run after prey, other dogs and the FedEx driver just like able-bodied pups. If they aren’t supervised, they can easily be hit by a car or injure themselves by flipping their cart.
- Drowning is becoming common. As dogs take part in hydrotherapy (water therapy) or home rehab, they’re more relaxed around swimming pools, lakes and other bodies of water. Some dogs wander into the water without realizing they can’t get out by themselves. At least 6 dogs have lost their lives due to drowning. Keep your pool fenced off and supervised.
- Dog wheelchairs get stuck in tight places. Amanda B. said her dog Mighty Max occasionally gets his cart caught and can’t maneuver his way out without help. Pet mom Jodi C. shared how her pup backs his wheelchair in spaces that don’t fit. He’s been known to knock over furniture trying to free himself. And Ana Ivette R. said her dog Levi got stuck outside when one of the wheels of his cart got caught in the terrain. Levi couldn’t move until she rescued him. Now she carries a little bag of tools with her.
- Hopping off a high curb poses a danger. Mandy L. said her dog Maisy flipped her cart over after walking off a tall street curb.
- Tails can get caught in the wheels. Jude Mc.’s dog has a particularly long tail. It got wrapped in the wheels of their wheelchair and had to be cut to set the dog free.
- Paws can get caught in the wheels. Twila C. said her dog Jax gets going so fast the momentum sends his foot into the wheel of the cart. It happened so often she had to devise a way to pull his leg straps together to prevent injuries.
This is by far the most common safety risk for dogs in wheelchairs. Every comment left by the 30 plus owners who shared their story, talked about their dog flipping their cart at least once.
Most of the time these rollovers weren’t life-threatening. But one pet owner, Shawna Mc. said her dog flipped his cart so hard that he fell onto his back. The position made it hard for him to breathe and Shawna worried he could’ve suffocated if she hadn’t been there.
Dog wheelchairs flip for a variety of reasons. Some dogs don’t have a good sense of the width of their cart. They flip entering and exiting rooms and while making turns. Other dogs have rollovers when they’re having fun running like they used to and take a turn too fast.
Dogs also flip their cart when it’s too light for their bodyweight. It’s important to choose a wheelchair that isn’t too heavy or too light for your pup.
And they overturn their carts going down steep hills or running on uneven terrain. My dog Sophie flipped over going down our driveway.
Here are a few specific ways dogs have flipped their carts:
- Keelee P.’s dog flipped over after hitting the doorway as they left the house. He hadn’t learned how to find the center of the entryway while being in his wheels.
- Debi C. takes her dog hiking where they sometimes cross a river. The flowing water caused him to flip. Debi was glad she was right by his side to help.
- Kiki Mc. said her dog Watson is a wild man and flipping his wheels is common. But one rollover was worse than the others and Kiki had a rough time pulling Watson free.
- Tracey H. said hills can be challenging for new dogs in carts. They can roll multiple times if you aren’t watching.
- Jessica W. shared how her pup nearly flipped the wheelchair when a foreign object was in her path.
- Heather S. takes her dog’s accidents in stride. But as employees for the fire department, she and her husband are used to dealing with emergencies. Their dog’s flips happen so often they’ve named them “10-46”, which is the department code for rollovers.
Consider your dog’s health
Dogs in wheelchairs physically work hard to make their carts move. That’s why it’s important to have a good understanding of their overall health and stamina. While we like to think of them as regular dogs who walk with wheels, they’re actually pups with a health deficit. Overtaxing their bodies can lead to terrible accidents.
One pet owner who always took his dog hunting thought it would be okay to take him along in his cart. The dog didn’t know his limitations and took off after a duck like he used to, but the wheels hit a branch and flipped over the cart. Tragically, the dog’s spine broke.
Hit and run-ins
Dog wheelchair safety protects pet owners, children and small animals as well as your paralyzed dog. Many pet parents wrote to say they worried their wheelchair dog would hit and run into a child or another dog in the family.
Carolina S. shared real concern that her dog, Stagger Lee, might injure his little sister pup by running his cart over her. Carolina loved that Stagger Lee was happy in his cart, but she started slowing him down a bit in order to prevent an accident.
Cleo C. said while her dog ran around in his cart, he nearly caught the leg of another dog in the wheel.
Stairs are an accident waiting to happen
Dog wheelchairs are never meant to be used on stairs and steps. Your dog might be an expert in a cart, but even one step can lead to an accident. If you have stairs in your home turn to a support or lifting harness to get your dog up and down. And if there’s a step leading outside, manually assist your dog.
Morgan F. shared how it broke her heart to watch her dog flip hard trying to maneuver a single step in their home.
The right fit means everything
We discussed earlier how the correct weight of a wheelchair is important, but the right fit is vitally important for dog wheelchair safety. Be sure the cart is the right size for your dog’s body shape and that it’s properly adjusted. Take an overall look at your pup to see if they look comfortable.
If there’s an arch in their back, the cart probably isn’t big enough. This is something people with paralyzed puppies should take into consideration as your dog grows.
Also check how the leg straps on the wheelchair fit. They can be a health risk if they fit too loose or too tight. Loose straps cause your dog to drag their paws on the ground and tight straps can rub them raw.
And an additional area of concern are DIY and other homemade wheelchairs. Many of these PVC pipe carts just aren’t suitable for long term use, especially if you have a medium to large size pup. They’re also challenging to get a proper fit.
Kathleen L. Smiler, DVM recommends that a “veterinarian credentialed in rehabilitation” be consulted to appraise the fit and suitability of the cart, whenever possible.
Judy J. said there must be enough room between your dog’s body and the side of the cart or your pup can develop sores. Some pet owners add strips of wool to soften the area.
Keep your cart in tip-top condition
Wheelchairs need maintenance. Tires can wear down and bolts and wheels can come loose. It’s important to examine your cart regularly and take care of repairs as needed. One pet parent shared how her dog nearly had a wreck when a bolt came loose.
A dog Dad said he took his dog’s cart to a local bike shop for repairs.
“They changed the tires, greased the bearings and gave the cart a once over looking for signs of wear. At home I tighten the screws once a month.”
For the vast majority of paralyzed dogs, wheelchairs are safe and a life-changing device. This post wasn’t intended to keep you from giving this wonderful gift of mobility to your pet. It’s meant to share information that will keep your pup safely and happily moving in their wheels for a long time.