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There are many reasons why a dog may require extra mobility support when getting up or walking: recovery from back or leg surgery, weakness or muscle loss from injury or degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), loss of a limb from trauma or a congenital abnormality, or something else. Some of these conditions are temporary, like recovery from surgery, but others are life-long or long-term.
One of the most common reasons why a dog may have discomfort, weakness, or even paralysis in the limbs (usually hind), is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Just like humans, dogs can experience compression of the spinal cord from a “slipped disc” that leads to back pain and loss of mobility. This condition is called Type II Intervertebral Disc Disease.
Some breeds, such as Dachshunds, may experience a slightly different condition called Type I Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). This condition affects the health of the discs between bones in the spine (vertebrae). It causes changes in the disc, sometimes from a very young age, and if the disc “slips” or extrudes, it can injure the spinal cord. This can result in a range of signs including pain, weakness, and paralysis. Some dogs have a genetic variant known to increase the risk of developing Type I IVDD.
If your pet is diagnosed with IVDD, they may be required to rest and limit activity as they heal with medical management or recover from surgery. During this time and moving forward, certain measures can be taken at home to support them and reduce the risk of re-injury. It is worth noting, though, that there is currently no known way to prevent disc extrusion in Type I IVDD.
Three types of mobility support tools for dogs
Routine tasks like getting on and off furniture or jumping in and out of the car can carry the risk of injury for dogs with a history of back pain or mobility problems. Dog ramps provide a gentle incline/decline for dogs with mobility issues who struggle to jump up and down. They help reduce unnecessary strain on the back and limbs.
When selecting a ramp for use at home or in the car, the number one consideration should be whether it can extend from the ground to a dog’s destination. In addition, selecting a dog ramp with a non-slip surface ensures that the dog will have enough traction to make the trip safely.
Our top choices for ramps include:
- The PetSafe Happy Ride telescoping car ramp is our choice for use in the car. The telescoping feature allows you to control how steep the ramp is, and it slides easily back together when storing. The non-skid surface is perfect for dogs who are at a higher risk of falling. It’s compact enough to keep in the trunk of your car in between uses, and extends from 29 to 70 inches. The PetSafe Happy Ride telescoping ramp scores 4.5 stars (out of 5) for sturdiness, 4.3 stars for light weight, and 4.2 stars for maneuverability.
- The Pawnotch adjustable ramp is our choice for use around the house. The ramp has an adjustable height, making it compatible with beds, couches, or other furniture. It can be folded for easy storage. The ramp requires minimal assembly, making it easier to use than the alternatives we found. Customers rate the Pawnotch adjustable ramp 5.0 stars for ease of use, 4.8 for craftsmanship, and 4.8 stars for ease of folding.
Harnesses can be used as a preventive measure for dogs susceptible to neck or back injuries, as well as a support tool to help manage diagnosed conditions. Using a harness instead of a traditional dog collar can prevent unwanted neck pressure and help train dogs to behave correctly while on a walk. When choosing the type of harness, consider your dog’s size as well as the style of the harness to make sure it is suitable for your goals.
Support harnesses are another type of harness that can be used to support a dog’s hind and/or front legs. They can be highly beneficial for dogs with IVDD who need extra assistance as well as dogs recovering from surgeries, dogs with arthritis, and dogs with other mobility, strength, or balance issues.
Some of these support harnesses are designed for prolonged comfort and can be worn for long periods of time, rather than needing to be taken off and put back on. Additionally, they have handles and are built to lift under the chest and hips for effective back support.
We recommend the following support harnesses:
- Veterinarians and rehabilitation specialists love the Help ‘Em Up harness, making it our top choice. The full-body harness provides extra support for pets who need help with both their front and back legs. Available in five sizes, from XS to XL, the Help ‘Em Up harness offers pelvic support and lifts from beneath, reducing strain on joints.
- If you’d rather not buy a new harness and are instead looking for some extra support with your dog’s existing harness, we recommend the GingerLead dog sling as an alternative. You can clip this easy-to-use sling to a dog’s existing harness for hind leg support during walks. The padded interior provides extra comfort. The GingerLead sling scores 5.0 stars (out of 5) for stability, 4.7 for durability, 4.6 for sturdiness, and 4.4 for comfort.
Wheelchairs are not necessary for all dogs with IVDD, but can help dogs with severe cases who remain paralyzed or extremely weak. A veterinarian might recommend a wheelchair for dogs who do not regain their ability to walk if their quality of life is otherwise good and their humans are willing to adapt as well.
When necessary, wheelchairs for dogs can be excellent tools.
- The Walkin’ Wheels custom dog wheelchair is made with lightweight aluminum, making it easy for even small dogs to move around. The rubber-coated foam wheels are durable enough for use on rough terrain and gentle enough for indoor floors. (This listing is for a small dog wheelchair, but Walkin’ Wheels offers wheelchairs for dogs of all sizes in their Amazon store.)
- Eddie’s Wheels offers a reliable alternative for custom-built wheelchairs, tailored to your dog’s body shape and size. These wheelchairs are handmade in the US and are endorsed by veterinarians and other experts. One advantage of choosing Eddie’s Wheels is that you can bring your dog in for an evaluation and measurement if you’re within driving distance of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.
Dogs who use wheelchairs may require additional advanced care and support, so this decision is best made with your pet’s veterinarian or a veterinary rehabilitation specialist.
Achieving quality mobility support for your dog
Tools such as ramps, harnesses, and wheelchairs can offer dogs mobility support, helping them maintain a good quality of life for as long as possible.
Embark tests for the variant associated with Type I IVDD. Knowing whether your dog is at risk for IVDD, arthritis, or other conditions that affect mobility can help make you more aware of signs to watch for, and prepare you to help your canine companion recover if they experience an injury.