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  • Tiffany Downing, RVT

The Wheel Deal: Let's Talk About Carts

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

As our four-legged friends become more and more integral parts of our lives, us humans are getting better at finding ways to keep them comfortable, mobile, and having fun despite physical limitations. Using a cart can allow an otherwise immobilized dog the chance to go on their favorite walks, play with their friends, even play fetch! Sometimes, these activities are the difference between a stimulated, happy pup and a depressed, lethargic one.

Pug in custom built rear wheel cart
Bella was given more time to be mobile and active after Degenerative Myelopathy made her rear legs too weak to walk or stand on her own.

Not all dogs are good candidates for a cart and this part is often overlooked. First, we have to point out that dog carts don’t function like a human wheelchair. When a human is in a wheelchair, they are usually sitting – a passive position that requires little effort to maintain. They are not holding up their own weight and depending on the type of wheelchair, they may not have to put in much physical effort to move the chair. For simplicity’s sake and since they’re the most common, we’ll be using a rear-wheel cart as the main subject of this article, though there are many configurations available.

The rear-wheel cart requires the dog to be in a standing position and does not allow for them to sit or lay down. Imagine being a physically compromised human and being forced to stay on your feet all day without rest! The rear-wheel cart also requires the dog to have the strength in the front half of their body to not only hold up their front half, but to also pull the weight of the rear half of their body AND the weight of the cart. That’s quite a lot to ask of a weakened or injured pup!

Well then, what’s the point? Rear-wheel carts are usually recommended for dogs that have normal strength and ability up front but whose back legs are too weak to walk or are being dragged. Dogs with Intervertebral Disc Disease who have become partially or completely paralyzed or dogs with Degenerative Myelopathy who have otherwise good health are commonly referred for a cart. But even the perfect cart patient needs some preparation before they start using a cart. This is where rehab comes in. We’ve heard people say, “rehab can’t fix my dog’s legs so why do I still have to bring them?”.

Firstly, we’ve had numerous patients come in for a cart fitting only for us to see that the dog still has a chance at walking again if the clients want to try. This is HUGE! If you take a dog that still has potential to regain the ability to walk and put it in a cart, you have sealed their fate and taken away that chance at independent mobility. If you haven’t seen it yet, we suggest watching our video about our patient, Nalu, as he was an exact example of this situation. If we hadn’t turned down the idea of a cart for him, he likely never would have walked again. Now, he’s back to running on hiking trails with his mom, his favorite activity!

Secondly, remember how the dog has to remain standing and pull the weight of their body plus the weight of the cart? That’s going to take some serious strength and stamina to do comfortably. Rehab sessions for these patients are aimed at getting the front legs, neck, and back as strong as possible and building your dog’s cardiovascular stamina to meet the demand of using the cart. Not only that, but this extra strain on the front causes significant compensatory pain and possibly injury. Therapy can physically prepare and maintain your dog for the strain of using the cart while also keeping those overworked muscles and joints happy and comfortable.

Dog in a poorly constructed and ill-fitted cart
Here is an example of a poorly constructed and ill-fitted rear wheel cart.

At this point, we’ve established that our patient is a good candidate for a cart, and they are being physically prepared for the cart. Now, we just need a cart! This is another spot where many pet parents get caught up and their dog suffers. Carts are quite the investment. Even the cheapest carts are several hundred dollars. But much like anything else, you get what you pay for and with a medical device, you never want to cut corners. Cheaper carts are often made with cheaper materials and in only a few cookie cutter dimensions but dogs come in all shapes and sizes! We have seen lower quality carts cause significant back pain because they were not properly fitted for the dog and serious skin injuries where poor craftsmanship caused damage from regular use. A properly fitted cart should allow the dog to stand in an ergonomic position, provide good support without injuring the body, and be as easy for the dog to use as possible.

What DO we recommend then? CROC exclusively recommends Eddie’s Wheels and we perform the measurements for you, so you know that when you invest in your dog’s equipment, it will be custom built for your dog to use safely and comfortably for years to come. We’re so confident in their carts, that when our clients get their dog’s cart, we offer continuous support for the cart long after the initial ordering process. Most of our clients never need this follow up support but sometimes a dog will need small adjustments as their condition or ability changes.

Corgi getting measured for a cart

We begin by meeting with our clients to make sure that their dog is a good candidate for a cart, then anywhere from 2-5 CROC team members are utilized to position, measure, photograph, and record all details required for the cart to be perfectly custom built. We send in our part and the client takes the rest and orders their pet’s cart directly through Eddie’s Wheels. Lead times vary, but it usually takes at least a couple weeks for the cart to be shipped. We don’t stop there though!

Next, we have our clients bring in their cart at their dog’s next therapy session so we can put together any unassembled parts and make any small adjustments to ensure a perfect fit. Introducing a dog to a cart can be a delicate process. Dog’s generally don’t like the concept of something being stuck to them or “chasing” them and some can get spooked when a wheel hits a bump or a wall. We make sure your dog has a calm, positive introduction to the cart and then start acclimating them to being in the cart and walking with it. Then, we teach you how to use the cart at home.

Boxer drinking water while using a cart

Unfortunately, because of how much effort is required for your dog to use their cart, they can’t just jump in and go back to their 2 mile long walks. Like any new exercise, they need to be slowly introduced to it and then gradually increase the length of time in the cart. This process starts with just a couple minutes at a time, a few times a day. Dogs that have been physically prepared in the weeks leading up to receiving their cart will move through this process much quicker. Often, dogs using carts benefit from continuing rehab therapy to keep the functioning limbs as pain-free and strong as possible.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a previously immobile dog absolutely take off in their brand new cart! They always seem so proud of themselves and their spirits instantly lifted. If you think your dog might benefit from a cart, give us a call to schedule a Cart Consult. We’ll go over all your options and give you the real facts about if your dog needs a cart, what kind, what the process will be, and how to set you both up for success.

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