At Guardian Veterinary Specialists in Brewster, New York, surgeon Jeffrey Runge recommends soft linens and a harness with a grip over the shoulders and sometimes the hips to help owners relieve their pets’ joints as they move around. He recommends using a harness as part of a dog’s post-operative grooming.
“A lot of pet owners use these things for extra boost,” says Runge, so they don’t get injured while helping their aging companions.
These adjustable devices have come a long way since Cary Zimmerman, 66, first used a dog walking harness that was taped to a climbing harness to help his 10-year-old pit bull / lab mix get into his Denver- Dog Park to arrive after the diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome. As the degenerative disease progressed, the dog lost energy and strength. “People kept asking, ‘Where did you get that from?’ Said Zimmermann. “That put us on a street.”
Zimmerman eventually developed the Help ‘Em Up Harness (which went beyond duct tape) to help dog rehab specialists and owners lift large disabled and elderly dogs. (Back injuries are common among veterinarians and senior pet owners.) The device has evolved to include a variety of accessories for a range of tasks, including a waist lift, shoulder strap, and accessories that attach to a trolley. While harnesses certainly help dogs get around, they still require human muscles, which can be problematic for pet owners, who may be older themselves.
Mobility products make the difference
Non-slip ankle boots and grippers, like those used to help Lathem’s older dog stay on its feet, allow pets to walk independently.
“People are laying hardwood, tiles, and all those beautiful floors that dogs can’t live on,” says Julie Buzby, a veterinarian who developed a product called ToeGrips to keep them from slipping. “Dogs natural traction is to grip nails like cleats. “
This movement is critical to fighting osteoarthritis. “If a dog slips on a floor, it is less likely to walk on that floor again,” says Alvarez. “Improving traction can improve mobility.”
For severe hind leg weakness (quite common in geriatric dog patients), severe arthritis, or neurological disorders, there are a number of rubberized ankle boots to improve traction and protect the paws from injury. While yoga mats aren’t the most advanced, they can actually do the job when strategically placed throughout the home. Some owners buy strollers to lug around their canines, although veterinarians often prefer devices that keep dogs moving.
Brands like Walkin ‘Wheels and Eddie’s Wheels make adjustable carts that make it easier for disabled pets to get around. Basically the four-legged equivalent of a walker, these devices are a common rehabilitation tool used regularly after spinal surgery to support an animal’s weight while promoting mobility.
Although Lathem didn’t have to use a cart for any of her own pets, she has prescribed them to her four-legged patients, who often seem happy with their new set of wheels. “They’re amazingly adaptable,” says Lathem. “You get in that cart and run and run and run.”