Dr. Tami Shearer specializes in using a wide range of assistive devices that can have an enormous effect on your pet’s quality of life by improving mobility.

What Are Assistive Devices?

An assistive device is a type of rehabilitation equipment designed to perform a particular function that makes caring for the mobility impaired pet easier. It helps a pet live a better quality of life by enhancing their ability to continue to be active in a more comfortable way. Regardless of the type of device, it is important to introduce any new piece of equipment gradually to avoid complications like aversion to the device secondary to fear because of the novelty of the apparatus. Positive reinforcement and conditioning a pet to accept an assistive device will help ensure that the pet is emotionally comfortable with the new piece of equipment. For pets that are sensitive, hesitant or fearful, consultation with a pet behaviorist or reputable pet trainer may be of aid.

Gradual introduction also helps to ensure proper fit of a device and acceptance of the device by making sure it is comfortable. This means a device should be removed at designated intervals to allow examination for complications. Close monitoring for evidence that the device may be interfering with respirations is paramount. Also examination for pain, abrasions, pressure sores or the pinching of skin should be carried out several times per day. Proper padding may be added to the assistive device to help prevent discomfort.

When working with mobility challenged pets, it is important to have an inventory of assistive devices of various sizes in stock for immediate use. The equipment most commonly used to enhance mobility includes slings, harnesses, splints and braces. Devices that protect body parts from abrasions secondary to the mobility challenge include boots and other protective garments. There are also aids that make caring for the pets less difficult, like the use of carts and physiorolls to carry out simple exercise.

How Are Slings and Harnesses Helpful to Pets?

Mobility slings and harnesses can be used to move pets more comfortably while minimizing injury to the self and the pet owners. Slings and harnesses are designed to accommodate forelimbs, hind limbs or all four legs. When choosing a sling, the ease of use should be considered while making a choice.

It is very important to observe the pet for pain, discomfort, and respiratory distress. Slings can potentially create pressure on the chest wall, and debilitated pets may experience difficulty breathing, if the sling does not fit correctly. This phenomenon can often be remedied by laterally separating the strap away from the body. The sling also should not pinch skin nor cause abrasion or pressure sores. Homemade slings may work well, such as a log carrier for larger dogs, but technical advancements may make commercial products more comfortable for the pet and pet owner. Some slings, or towels used as slings, may apply added pressure to the bladder and cause the pet to inappropriately urinate. Most commercial slings are designed to prevent this problem.

How Can Orthotic Braces, Prosthetics and other Protective Devices Help Pets?

A large variety of orthotic braces and splints are available to help a pet with its mobility. Sometimes a pet may have instability of a joint or joints that contributes to a mobility change. A splint or brace provides protection of the affected joints and joint stabilization. Commercially available and customized braces may help allow the pet to be more comfortable by allowing weight bearing of the affected limb and prevent further injury to the pet. Braces are available for a number of joints in pets. Hinged or dynamic braces support while allowing the joint to bend which helps to prevent muscle atrophy from disuse and also help to strengthen the limb. The
dynamic, hinged braces are good for long term support.

A Biko Physio Brace is a device which assists the dog that has moderate hind limb weakness and knuckles over but is still able to stand even if it takes effort. It aids dogs when walking and turning. The device has elastic straps which run from a midline harness connection to the tarsal area of the hind feet. The elastic band assists the forward movement of the feet and also protects and prevents the feet from knuckling.

Prosthetic devices serve to restore function after amputation by acting to substitute the missing limb. Many pets cope well with a missing limb, however, some may benefit from the extra support that a prosthetic device can offer. Customized prosthetic devices can be made to attach to the distal site of the missing limb and have anti-migration and rotational stability for comfort and better function.

What Is Protective Wear For Pets?

Protective devices for the prevention and therapy of abrasions should be considered when there is excessive wear on exposed body parts. Splints and braces can also be used to serve this function, however, protective wear made of specialized materials for pressure point protection also can aid a mobility impaired patient.

There is specialized wear available for the protection and treatment of areas that are of high risk for irritation and decubital ulcer formation are important. These areas include but are not limited to the hock, ischium, and greater trochanter in the hind limb and the carpus, elbow, and acromion in the forelimb. Pets with proprioceptive deficits where they drag their toes are prone to abrasions to the dorsal surface of the tarsus or carpus. They protect pressure points involving the legs and feet. They are custom fit to protect and prevent irritations.

Mobility Carts – Do They Work? Yes!

Two and four-wheeled carts are available for a pet that is having difficulty ambulating or is no longer able to ambulate on its own. Carts allow the pet to regain its mobility to move about, which can improve the pet’s quality of life. In the past, carts had to be custom made for the pet, however, there is an adjustable cart available called Walkin’ Wheels (HandicappedPets.com, Nashua, NH) that can be used on a temporary basis to condition the pet to a cart and to make sure a cart is the proper choice for the pet. This option can also be used long term when fitted properly.

It is recommended for a practice to invest in one adjustable cart so it is immediately available as a mobility choice. It is important to slowly increase the time a pet spends in the cart and to monitor it closely during this time for side effects. This means the pet should be removed from the cart at designated intervals to allow examination for complications. Like other assistive devices it is important to monitor for pain, discomfort, and respiratory distress. Carts can potentially create pressure on the chest wall, and debilitated pets may experience difficulty breathing, if the cart does not fit correctly. When fitted properly, the pet should not dangle in the cart.