I’ve had my 13 year-old pup, Pork Chop, since he was 3 months old. Pork Chop was always a really active dog, but over a year ago, I noticed he seemed to slow down. It was really just the little things—walking behind me instead of beside me, resting more, or sudden unwillingness to walk up the short hills that were part of our usual routine. I took it as a sign of his just getting older, but reflecting back on it, he was trying to show me he was losing strength in his hind legs.
Whether it’s through age, injury, congenital, or neurological issues, disease, spinal problems, or surgery, some pups face mobility issues that can curb their quality of life by limiting their ability to walk, run, play, and get the exercise they need. Even in senior dogs, exercise is essential to maintaining the strength and health of working limbs, promoting circulation and digestion and preventing restlessness or boredom.
Depending on the nature and severity of your pup’s disability, you and your vet may determine that a dog wheelchair would be beneficial for your dog. In our case, Pork Chop’s increasing age and spinal disc problems led to hind leg mobility loss and eventually, his need for a wheelchair.
Viewing the wheelchair as a last resort, I ventured on the route of rehabilitative, restorative therapies, coupled with a combination leash harness and sturdy pet shoes to protect his hind paws during daily walks in an effort to strengthen his working limbs and enhance sensation and mobility of his hind legs. The alternative therapies and the leash harness improved his quality of life, and, it turns out, simultaneously provided the ideal preparation for the wheelchair.
Preparing a dog for wheels takes preparation and patience. The first thing that needs to be done is to measure your dog carefully to make sure that you have the correct measurements for his wheels. Since most wheels are custom, being an inch off can make a huge difference on how comfortable the cart will be for your dog. Patience is key here. It took a lot of treats and coaxing to get Pork Chop to want to move around on wheels. You also need to slowly build up the length of time your dog stays in the cart per day. We started at 10 minutes a day and gradually increased this over time—a month later, he is able to spend an hour per day at a time in his cart.
With both a young and senior pup at home, I began by establishing a daily routine suitable for both pups, where Pork Chop received a later walk after his little brother, Murray. Separating walks allow for individualized attention to meet each pup’s differing needs. Along with the wheelchair, I also use the Help ’Em Up combo harness to support Pork Chop’s front and back body. I lift his hind legs enough for him to feel traction with the earth as he scampers along with his front legs with a sense of natural ease. I alternate between these two methods daily on his walks.
Along with his daily routine, Pork Chop has embarked on holistic health and therapy road towards increased well-being. Signing up for weekly hydrotherapy sessions at A Well Adjusted Pet at the Rex Center in Pacifica, he happily enjoys the water treadmill sessions, a joint-relieving, low-impact workout, aiming to boost circulation and strengthen the muscles of his front and hind limbs, not to mention chasing his favorite treat—peanut butter! Every session is a testament to Pork Chop’s commitment and unwavering, positive attitude.
Supplementing and amplifying the benefits of hydrotherapy, Pork Chop has begun doggie massages with Shelah at Happy Hounds Massage, which he loves. For him, the increased circulation, stimulated lymph glands and fluids, and released tension and tightness in his working muscles promoted balance of his nervous system and enhanced overall sense of well-being. It is well worth it. I can see an immediate effect on his well-being, and each session leaves him relaxed, calm, at ease and wanting to follow Shelah around after his sessions are over. It could be because he loves the one-on-one attention from her, but more likely he is seriously in love with her
Curious about doggie acupuncture and the potential for this modality to gently work on PC’s subtle body, nerve connections within his muscles, and along his spine, and fascia, or connective tissues, to further ease tension and target troublesome areas to bring circulation and balance, I decided to give it a go. While nervous before the needles were placed into various parts of his body, once in place, he began to soften and relax. The jury’s still out on the extent that it will help with his incontinence and improve his hind leg strength. What is apparent is his increased ease, contentment, and relaxed nature following every session, which contributes to his overall health and well-being.
Through our daily walks using the combination body harness and supplementing his routine with alternative therapies, Pork Chop is a happier, healthier, stronger pup. The massages, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture support, strengthen, and bring ease to his front limbs and muscles, preventing overuse and strain, while creating circulation in areas of his body that are underused or immobile.
They’ve fully prepared his body and mind for the transition into a doggie wheelchair, which require strong, healthy, working limbs. We were lucky enough to be given a Walkin’ Wheels adjustable wheelchair by his attending veterinarian overseeing his therapy and are excited to introduce this new addition to Pork Chop and to watch him enjoy the benefits of full mobility once again.
Kelly Yuen lives in San Francisco with pugs Pork Chop, a senior, and Murray, a puppy. She is the CEO of Truly Pawsome, a monthly subscription box that donates a percentage of sales and boxes to Rocket Dog Rescue.
Main article photo by: Kelly Yuen