Features March 2011 Issue

Canine Orthopedic Equipment Designed for Increased Mobility and Extra Support

“Assistive equipment” that can help your dog maintain his mobility.

Do you have a dog recovering from orthopedic or neurologic surgery, one who has mobility issues, or a senior dog who has arthritis? If so, at some point, you have probably wished you could do something – anything! – to help make your dog’s life (and your own) a little easier.

In his final year, Axel, author Lisa Rodier’s senior dog, was frequently outfitted with RuffWear’s Web Master Harness. It helped Lisa and her husband provide Axel with extra support when he was unsteady or weak.

As someone who has shared her life recently with two large breed, geriatric dogs, I can attest firsthand that having a little bit of help can make all the difference in the world. Axel, our 85 lb. Bouvier, in particular, needed assistance toward the end of his life with getting up from lying down, being lightly supported during toileting, and occasionally steadied while walking. We used a few of the products listed below and found that they helped him maintain a good quality of life, mobility, and independence while lessening the physical strain on us.

I asked two veterinarians who specialize in canine rehabilitation to share some of their top picks for canine assistive/rehabilitative equipment. Laurie McCauley, DVM, CCRT, is founder and medical director of TOPS Veterinary Rehabilitation in Grayslake, Illinois, and is considered one of the pioneers in the field of veterinary rehabilitation. Evelyn Orenbuch, DVM, CAVCA, CCRT, recently opened Georgia Veterinary Rehabilitation, Fitness and Pain Management in Marietta, Georgia, and has focused on veterinary rehab medicine since 2003. (Full disclosure: I have worked with Dr. Orenbuch in my capacity as a marketing consultant during the launch of her new clinic.)

Photo courtesy Blue Dog Designs

Photo courtesy Blue Dog Designs

The Help ‘Em Up Harness from Blue Dog Designs has two well-placed handles allowing for ease of maneuvering a dog who needs extra assistance.

Harnesses

My favorite tool (and that of both veterinarians) is RuffWear’s Web Master™ Harness, described as a supportive, multi-use harness. Originally designed for dogs with active lifestyles (e.g., hiking, search and rescue), the harness has gained a big following with pet people looking for a way to give their dogs assistance in getting up and moving around, whether it be post-surgery or due to a degenerative or other medical condition. The harness features a well-placed, large handle, and is sturdy, machine-washable, and great for helping a dog up, or providing a steadying hand. The only downside is that the dog is required to lift a front paw to get into the harness. Suggested retail price: $50.

Offering more support is the Help ’Em Up Harness from Blue Dog Designs. Both vets and I also give this product four paws up. The Help ’Em Up is a complete shoulder and hip harness system, featuring two comfortable, rubber handles, one at the front and one at the back. The harness is well made, machine washable, and the front support is detachable from the back. To put the harness on, you don’t need to lift any of the dog’s limbs; I was even able to put it on my Bouvier, Axel, when he was lying down. Suggested retail price: $90 to $110.

Both the Web Master and Help ’Em Up are comfortable enough for the dog to wear throughout the day in the house.

Foot Wear

For dogs who have difficulty navigating slippery floors, Dr. McCauley likes Show Foot™ Anti-Slip Spray by Bio-Groom. Show Foot can be sprayed directly on the bottom of the dog’s feet (pads), or, if the dog is sensitive to the spray sound, can be sprayed on a cotton ball and dabbed on. The spray makes the feet feel tacky so they are less likely to slide on indoor slick surfaces.

Thera-Paw boots are lightweight, breathable, and utilize a front closure for easy on and off. Photo courtesy of Thera-Paw.

Having hardwood floors in our house, I tried this product with Axel and found some success. It did leave some smudges where he walked, but they were easily wiped up. Priced at about $10.

Particularly for outdoor use, but great for any dog needing extra traction indoors or out, Dr. McCauley recommends Thera-Paw boots by Thera-Paw. These boots are made of a comfortable, breathable, lightweight, washable neoprene material. They are unique in that they have a front opening, so they’re great for dogs who don’t like to put their feet into boots. The boots use a Velcro closure, and have a natural flex point.

Although suitable for indoor use, these boots are especially good for dogs who need help outside or who chew their feet. The boots are sold individually, which is a nice option if your dog needs only two. Suggested retail: $22.

Photo courtesy of Handicapped Pets

Photo courtesy of Handicapped Pets

Handicapped Pets’ Walkin’ Wheels can be adapted to support the dog’s rear end, or to take some weight off his front end, as his needs change.

Mobility

For dogs who have limited hind end mobility and strength, Walkin’ Wheels offers a two-wheeled adjustable wheelchair that can be adapted as your dog’s needs change.

When a dog first requires a cart, he might be strong in the front end. But with time, or if he has a condition such as degenerative myelopathy, his front end can become weak, too. Dr. McCauley likes Walkin’ Wheels because the angle of the wheels, and therefore the cart’s balance point, can be changed to take the weight off of the dog’s front end, allowing longer ambulatory quality of life for him.

The company sells direct to consumers, and there are numerous instructional videos on fit and sizing on the company website. However, Dr. McCauley recommends that consumers work with their rehab veterinarian to get the correct fit. Walkin’ Wheels are priced from about $250 to $500.

For dogs who cannot put their full weight on their front limbs, but still have motor ability in their hind limbs, Dr. Orenbuch likes a four-wheeled cart, so that the dog can continue to engage his hind legs. A “quad cart” can give the dog support by transferring his weight to the wheels while allowing him to use his legs as much or as little as possible.

Photo courtesy Canine Icer

Photo courtesy Canine Icer

Canine Icer Carpal Wraps

Putting a disabled dog into a cart does not have to signal the end, says Dr. Orenbuch. Depending on your pet’s condition, using a quad cart can actually speed the rehab process, allowing the dog to achieve greater mobility. She does not have a particular model that is a favorite. Talk with your dog’s rehab vet about whether your dog is a candidate for a quad cart.

Other Aids

Dr. Orenbuch casts a vote for another Thera-Paw product, the Hind Limb Dorsi-Flex Assist. These light-weight custom braces provide support and stability for weak or dragging rear paws. Dr. Orenbuch likes them for dogs who have neurologic deficits such as degenerative myelopathy or disc disease, and whose rear toes knuckle, or turn under, as a result.

This product allows those dogs to walk nearly normally and have been used on dogs ranging from a 2-lb. Chihuahua to a 220-lb. Bull Mastiff. She cautions that they are not, carte blanche, for any dog with these conditions, and should be prescribed and fitted by your rehab veterinarian. They generally retail for $75 and up; this is typically a custom-ordered and custom-made product.

Photo courtesy Thera-Paw

Photo courtesy Thera-Paw

Hind-Limb Dorsi-Flex Assist

Many older dogs have chronically overused or injured their wrists, resulting in arthritis. For those dogs, or others who have wrist pain or have stretched the ligaments that stabilize the wrist, Dr. McCauley recommends Canine Icer Carpal Wraps. Many people don’t realize that sore wrists are a problem for their dogs. How can you tell? If your dog has his shoulder and elbow bent, when you bend his wrist downward, his toes should be able to touch his forearm. If this motion is uncomfortable, or if he tightens his muscles or pulls away, then Carpal Wraps can help.

Carpal support is also good for dogs whose wrist joints bend the “wrong way” when they’re standing. These dogs have hyperextension, and carpal support can help slow the progression of arthritis and the accompanying discomfort. Dr. McCauley likes the Carpal Wraps because they do not stop the dog from using the wrist (immobilization makes the joint weaker) but work by preventing the wrist from hyper-extending (which is what causes pain). She recommends dogs wear them on walks or when playing or running around. Suggested retail price: $21 (each).

Lisa Rodier is a frequent contributor to WDJ. She recently assisted in the launch of the Georgia Veterinary Rehabilitation, Fitness, and Pain Management facility. She shares her home with her husband and senior Bouvier, Jolie.

Comments (9)

As Standard Poodle aged, he became anxious about going down our outside stairs. I found the Ruff Wear harness in an outdoor sports catalogue. My dog felt so secure in the harness that I only had to put my hand in the handle to give him the confidence to go down the stairs. Great Product. I'm keeping it for my other dogs when the time comes. A. Elena. Subscriber

Posted by: Annie E | December 21, 2013 1:24 PM    Report this comment

I just wanted to comment that we used the Help 'em Up harness on our Golden mix during the time toward the end of his life when he suffered from degenerative neuropathy and then finally, a brain tumor. We did not leave it on him all of the time, just put it on and took if off at intervals during the day; it was easy to get off and on, and the instructions specifically advised against leaving it on for extended periods. He had irritation or other problems in our use of the harness.

For a large breed dog, one of the hardest times is when they are old and becoming disabled--and one of your worst fears materializes: you can't pick them up to help them when they can't get up. This harness made a very hard time for him and us more bearable, allowed me to continue to take him to swim therapy and acupuncture, helped us help him navigate the step down from our front porch to the yard, and just in general was indispensable. Help 'em Up was a godsend during that difficult time, worth every penny we paid and more.

After we lost our beloved dog, we donated the harness, which was well-made and adjustable, to the PT organization that provided his swim therapy so that they could lend it to others in similar circumstances.

Posted by: Jane C | December 21, 2013 12:43 PM    Report this comment

I have a 155lb Old English Mastiff who is 10.5 years old. I found a WONDERFUL article that suggested putting yoga mats around the house to assist elderly dogs with getting up on hardwood floors. I have had the therapaws heavy duty boots for years, & ruffwear harness (she HATES this; can't use it). She was getting irritated with the boots. I put 8 yoga mats all over the house. They have been a GODSEND. Initially, she was a bit freaked bc she would get a "running start". Now, she moves over to the yoga mats as they seem to offer benefits of traction, comfort, etc. When she stands on the yoga mats, her hind quarters don't sink- she appears level. I STRONGLY recommend yoga mats for the support of elderly dogs.

Posted by: MICHELLE C | December 21, 2013 11:02 AM    Report this comment

Well... I for one bought this help em up harness. OH DEAR... they don't tell you that its only good for lifting your dog around. Absolutely useless other then that!! Customer service is rubbish, product is rubbish, and in fact i only have one thing to say - don't waste your money. Using a towel was easier, cheaper and definitely much better for my dog.. and for my purse instead of this awful useless contraption. Overall it ended up costing me much more then the price of the harness. My dog developed a big rash under his tummy which even my vet confirmed was caused by this harness!

I would guess the vet in question who said this harness was very good, was probably earning quite a tidy markup on the trade price they retail them at. Thankfully vets in the UK have avoided this toxic harness and long may it continue!

Posted by: Wetherbys | November 19, 2012 3:17 PM    Report this comment

This article was not billed as a complete review of every type of assistive device available; its scope was described in the introduction, where the author stated, "I asked two veterinarians who specialize in canine rehabilitation to share some of their top picks for canine assistive/rehabilitative equipment."

Due to the positive response from readers in our other forums (email to the editor, mail sent to the editor) we are compiling information about other products to review in a future article.

-- Nancy Kerns, Editor

Posted by: Nancy K | March 21, 2011 12:33 PM    Report this comment

This article came at just the right time for me... my dog had just had a hip replacement and I was looking for a harness that would provide support and assistance during his recovery.

I already had a Ruffwear harness that we use every day but I needed something to help me support his hips. I had searched the internet and could not find what I was looking for... then my Whole Dog Journal issue arrived in the mail.

When I read this article and saw the Help 'Em Up harness it was just what I had been looking for. I just received the harness a couple days ago and although the hip area is slightly too big (my dog has a small waist compared to his chest) the harness works beautifully and it is much easier on my back!

I know it can be difficult to list every company that makes harnesses or other orthopedic equipment, but I used this information in conjunction with my own internet research prior to making a purchase.

Thank you so much for providing this information - this kind of information is the reason that I am a subscriber.

Posted by: Dawna R | March 15, 2011 2:31 PM    Report this comment

I was very disturbed by the article in the latest issue of WDJ on assistive equipment. To have included an article that provided opinions on products, specifically wheelchairs, while containing a "full disclosure" statement I think is irresponsible. At the very least, there might have been a disclaimer at the end of the article to make it clear that WDJ acknowledges there are other companies manufacturing mobility carts, as well as other rehabilitative aids. Your readers who are less informed might easily take their opinions as "gospel", rather than seeing them as just opinions.

As the Sales Director for Eddie's Wheels for Pets and a certified small animal massage therapist, I truly believe that our carts work with the biomechanics of the dog in a very healthy way. Over the past several years, as a subscriber and a holistic health care provider, I have come to look upon your publication as a valuable resource. Please return to the highly professional and unbiased viewpoint that I have come to know.

Carole Groman, MST, CSAMT,RP

Posted by: Carole G | March 14, 2011 2:18 PM    Report this comment

Over 10 years ago, Whole Dog Journal helped to put Eddie's Wheels in business by publishing a letter I wrote about our brand-new design for a dog wheelchair that eliminated many of problems associated with canine carts: decubital ulcers in the groin due to saddles that support on soft tissue, poor biomechanics and bad craftsmanship. Since then Eddie's Wheels has become the preferred canine wheelchair by most veterinary professionals, including Dr. McCauley. I was disappointed by this article's lack of research and objectivity. Handicapped Pets cart is a pre-fabricated one size fits all (does it actually fit anyone) cart that can be purchased by vets at wholesale prices and resold at a profit. A complete analysis of its engineering, or lack thereof, can be found on the Eddie's Wheels website, which has links to a technical comparison and short videos showing the differences between this product and ours. Walkin Wheels cannot be upgraded to compensate for weakness in the forelimbs, and has NO ability to be upgraded to a four-wheel cart. No one at the Handicapped Pets organization has lived with or cared for a disabled animal and they are not qualified to offer customer assistance. We hear from people every week about their frustration with Walk'nWheels carts - dogs who refuse to budge in the restrictive harness, are too weak to pull the heavy load (their cart is 20% heavier and wider than an Eddie's Wheels). These biomechanical and service issues matter, as well as the fact that Walkin Wheels is manufactured in China. Eddie's Wheels, on the other hand, is manufactured in the USA, exported worldwide, and warranteed for the life of the dog. We are also the only company that makes a simple two-wheeled front wheel cart for pets with forelimb disabilities. This article was inadequately researched and we are very disappointed that WDJ did not do more to find out the whole story about what is available for disabled dogs. Regards, Leslie Grinnell, Pres. Eddie's Wheels www.eddieswheels.com

Posted by: Leslie Grinnell | March 12, 2011 3:15 PM    Report this comment

For years we have subscribed to and recommended the articles in WDJ because of it integrity and the quality of the research that goes into the articles and information provided. When I received this month's WDJ, I was beyond surprised that the article about products for orthopedic and rehabilitative issues did not include DogLeggs. The list of companies and products is limited to a very few products that address only a small part of the issues for senior dogs and pets, let alone the entire companion animal population. After 10 years of working closely with the rehab community since the beginning as well as solving coverage issues for thousands of dogs worldwide, veterinary recommendation and prescription daily and all the pet insurance company coverage of our products, no mention. I hope that an article can be written that covers the true breath of the rehab, senior pet community and who and what is truly out there to help. Regards, Schon Gross, founder, President, DogLeggs

Posted by: Schon G | March 11, 2011 7:49 AM    Report this comment

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