By Victoria Heuer
Call them what you will, whether it’s handicapped, handi-capable, special-abled, or mobility limited, our pets are as resilient and determined as we are to overcome life’s obstacles, and will even thrive in adversity. Advances in medical care for humans have been passed along to our pets, and sometimes from them to us as enterprising pet owners take matters into their own hands and invent devices for their pets when none are available. Here are ten ways we are helping our companions to continue to enjoy life after they have been faced with a setback.
Also known as walking wheels, dog wheelchairs have become a more common sight as dogs age and their owners help them to adjust to their limited abilities. Wheelchairs are also a popular alternative to surgery in the cases of genetic disabilities like degenerative myelopathy and hip dysplasia.
Similar to wheelchairs, body wheels are designed for pets that, due to congenital defects, were born without front legs. Prosthetic designer David Turnbill of Dynamic Prosthetic & Orthotic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, designed this body prosthesis for Hope, a Maltese born without front legs. The design is fully mobile, with each “leg” able to move independently on joints and turning wheels, and collapsible so that Hope can lie down and get up as she pleases.
You may have heard of Oscar the Bionic Cat, who received two prosthetic feet in a groundbreaking surgery after losing both of his back feet in a farm accident. And seeing humans who have been outfitted with prosthetic "blades" has become a common sight. The field of animal prosthetics is growing at the same pace as human prosthetics, giving new life to animals that have lost limbs. It is only a matter of time until pets also have their own specially-abled sporting competitions.
Hip harnesses are especially suited for dogs that do not need wheels but do need a little lift for getting around. These types of devices are recommended for dogs with arthritis, mild hip dysplasia, or while recuperating from a back or leg injury.
Best for pets that need a little boost because they have lost a leg but are mostly getting around fine, or because they are having a little trouble getting up into a standing position, whether as a result of aging, arthritis, sore joints, or because of neck or back issues, the body harness can be worn all day. Some harnesses are made with longer handles so that you can even put the handles over your shoulder and hold your dog when he has gotten too tired.
More off the beaten path, but not as uncommon as one would guess, fish harnesses are currently only being custom made by owners for their mobility limited fish. You can read Einstein the fish’s story here, and Addy’s story here, which also includes a pattern for making a goldfish sling.
When your pet has lost the ability to jump up onto the bed or chair to be with you, a set of stairs can be the solution that saves him from crying for you to pick him up.
From a dog’s point of view, there is not much worse than not being able to go for car rides because jumping into the car has become too painful. Rather than resign yourself to hefting your large dog into the car, invest in a collapsible ramp. This helps your dog to stay mobile, and saves your back, too.
Pet strollers are designed differently from human baby strollers — even the bike strollers that have the top built on — so it is best to invest in a stroller that has been designed for pets. If your pet is truly unable to jump from the stroller, a toddler’s bike stroller will do just as well, though you may still want to keep the cover on to protect your pup from the elements and from other dogs.