Why an Adjustable Dog Cart is the Way to Go in Degenerative Disease
Guest Post Written by Andrea Brin
Faced with the decision to purchase wheels for my Bernese Mountain dog with Degenerative Myelopathy ("DM"), I just assumed I would go with one of the standard custom models that my massage and acupressure clients have used with their dogs. My concern was in getting the right fit. Measurement is often subjective and oftentimes a custom cart needs to be sent back to solve an initial problem or fit.
I recalled a demonstration and video that I saw at the American Holistic Veterinary Association conference in 2009 for Walkin’ Wheels dog wheelchair. The possibilities seemed endless; it looked like a dream come true for a multitude of reasons. The look of Walkin’ Wheels made them especially appealing to me. They were not imposing or scary looking. They fit in my car in the front passenger seat, and they could be adapted as Chi’s needs changed.
Chi was not yet really ready for wheels - she is a creature of habit and self conscious about her own neurological deficiencies, so we thought we would introduce them slowly before she truly needed them and shape the behavior using a clicker if she was reluctant. Being a Berner, Chi was familiar with carting. She knew what a ‘working dog cart’ was all about. Her younger sister pulled a cart.
Chi was slow to take to her wheels. This was not a surprise because for months we had told her to pick up her foot when walking. She couldn’t pick up her foot in her wheels and so she wouldn’t budge. She is a perfectionist. It is the show dog in her and if she can’t do something right, she is not going to do it at all.
We finally decided to put Chi's rear left leg in the stirrup, so that she did not have to worry about picking it up anymore. Because her right leg was still vibrant and showed no neurological deficits, we permitted her to move with one foot in the stirrup and the other on the ground. Chi mastered this quickly, and was ready to depend on her wheels when the day came.
Fortunately, Chi’s Walkin’ Wheels were adjustable to her unique needs. Due to Chi’s unusual use of her leg, we had to alter the leg rings on the rear harness so that they were uneven. This adjustment of the rear harness resulted in a better fit since the leg that is in the stirrup required more slack on the leg ring to permit hip alignment.
Since that time, we have had to change the height of the cart, the length of the extenders, and contemplate changing the width. We also had to obtain leg rings that were supportive for her and did not damage her beautiful coat, and look for ways to protect Chi’s vulnerable shoulders.
Chi has grown up with an unstable atlas due to a collision she had as a puppy, and we must be careful not to stress her shoulders. We are now looking at supporting them with the versatile belly strap in a more forward position and adaptations made by Walkin’ Wheels to address this innate weakness in Chi’s mobility. A week does not go by without my making some kind of adjustment in the rings, harness etc.
Chi’s disease is degenerative. We see changes monthly at best and weekly at worst. Had we gone with custom rather than an adjustable dog wheelchair, we would not be able to make changes in her set up which permit her to have the best bio-mechanics possible given her underlying disease.
The fact that the cart comes apart, folds flat and is easily adjustable has been vital to her continued use. Recently, we needed to add all terrain tires due to snow and ice conditions. We elected to get new struts as well so we could simply interchange the wheels. When we knocked the frame out of alignment taking a corner too fast and landing on a step, we were able to replace the frame without having the cart go in for repairs.
I don’t know if a custom cart would still fit Chi. The measurements we would have taken initially for Chi are no longer valid. Degenerative Myelopathy takes a heavy toll on a dog’s body. As muscle mass is lost, a dog's measurements change.
With Chi's Walkin’ Wheels, we can accommodate her new more narrow stature by making a simple adjustment. We know that we will need to counter balance the cart at some point and look forward to adaptations made by Walkin’ Wheels to make this possible.