Best Friend Mobility: Give a New Leash on Life

Training Your Pet to Use a Wheelchair

Based on what we’ve seen, getting used to being on a wheelchair takes an adjustment period for most pets. There are cases where pets will warm up to wheelchair use almost immediately but these cases are rare. Most pets will take time, effort, and patience before they get comfortable using a wheelchair.

There are many situations where it would seem impossible to get your pet to adapt to the wheelchair. Believe us when we tell you that all pets will be able to get used to being mobile again with the help of a mobility aid. It is just a matter of finding out why they haven’t adapted yet and knowing what to do to help them.

In some cases, pets will immediately feel uncomfortable just by being harnessed to the wheelchair. Some pets will freeze as soon as they are in. Start getting them comfortable by just having your pet near the wheelchair. You can try doing the following:

  • Bring the wheelchair to where your pet likes to stay. This can be any spot in your house where your pet likes to stay like your garden or your room. Leave the wheelchair there so your pet will get used to being near it.
  • Bring the wheelchair along when going to your pet’s favorite places. What are your pet’s favorite regular outdoor activities? Does he like going to the park or maybe he just enjoys his regular walks? Whatever these activities may be, be sure to bring the wheelchair along. Put a leash on the wheelchair and pull it along side or near your pet as they move around. 
  • You can also keep the wheelchair near while your pet does something they like doing such as playtime or eating time.

Loki the Pig. Loki is an eight-month old pig who is unable to use his front legs after suffering a stroke.

His loving humans are glad to report that he remains a very happy pig and stays as active as possible

especially now with his quad wheelchair. 

The key is to initially get them used to seeing the wheelchair. From time to time, move the wheelchair near enough so that it will touch your pet and see how they react. If they seem not to notice the wheelchair or if they show signs of being curious about it, then this means that they are losing their fear of the wheelchair. When they are comfortable seeing the wheelchair the next steps is to slowly ease them into the wheelchair.

Always give your pet positive feedback. After each step of getting nearer and nearer to getting into the wheelchair, show them how happy you are at their progress, pet them or give them some treats. 

As soon as your pet gets into the wheelchair, it is likely that they might not like to stay in it for long. They may move a bit and then show signs that they are tired or uncomfortable in just a short time. Follow the tips below in such cases:

  • Allow for one to two weeks for your pet to adapt to the wheelchair. In most cases, pets really just take some time to adapt to the feeling of being in the wheelchair especially while moving.
  • Starting your pet on short walks, around 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how they react to the initial use. As they get more comfortable during these short walks, slowly increase the time spent.
  • You may also make use of some form of motivation for your pet to use the wheelchair. For example you can give them treats or let them play with their favorite toy after they use the wheelchair.
  • You can also make use of activities to distract your pets to get them used to the wheelchair. Playing catch or letting them play with other pets while in the wheelchair are some activities they can do.

The key is to keep your pet focused on what they like doing so that they will not even notice that they are in the wheelchair while they are doing it. Building positive association with the wheelchair and wheelchair use is important.

Partially or mildly impaired pets, those that are not fully paralyzed, may take even longer to get used to the wheelchair. In most cases, they find it harder to adapt to the wheelchair because they can still move around without it by compensating for their partial disability. This might make the wheelchair feel like it is more of a hindrance for them. In such cases, try the this technique:

  • Get your pet to do an activity that is will get the blood running. It has to be an activity they can do even before they had the wheelchair. This can be a short walk.
  • Let your pet do this until you feel that he or she is partially tired.
  • When your pet gets to this point, put them into the wheelchair. You will notice that your pet will take to the wheelchair much better.
  • If this doesn’t work the first time, do not lose hope. Try it again next time letting your pet get a little bit more tired than the last time.
  • But be careful not to overtire your pet.

This works because getting them to work off some energy before putting them on the wheelchair makes it more likely for them to appreciate the assist the wheelchair will give them. One way of doing this is by taking them for a walk initially without the wheelchair. When you reach your farthest point and are about to make the return trip home put your pet on the wheelchair. In most cases pets respond more positively to the use of the wheelchair in this manner. Soon they will get used to the wheelchair that you can put them on even before you start their walk.

In some cases, it may be necessary to initially attach a short leash to your pet to assist. There are cases where pets are just too heavy, too tired or have lost too much muscle mass to be able to adapt to the wheelchair on their own. Putting a leash temporarily will help them get started. It may take some time but eventually they will be able to adapt to a point when they will no longer need the leash.

Once you get your pet used to the wheelchair they will enjoy using it. But it is also important not to leave them too long in the wheelchair. Keeping your pet in the wheelchair for too long may them to get too tired or uncomfortable. This in turn may cause them to dislike being in the wheelchair or worse it may cause more harm than good to their over-all health. For small to medium sized pets, three hours in the wheelchair straight should be the maximum time. For large pets an hour is more than enough without a break in the wheelchair.

It is important for you to pay attention to how your dog responds while using the wheelchair. This way you will be able to see if your pet is making progress or not responding favorably to the wheelchair. From here you will be able to adapt your approach accordingly.

 

This article was published on Tuesday 21 April, 2015.
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