Spin the Wheel: 4 Myths About Cart-Assisted Canines
By Kate Titus, CCFT

Photos By Tom Spitz


arts, wheelchairs, walkers, wheeled assistive devices, or whatever you want to call them, are becoming more accepted than ever for mobility-challenged pets. Although still somewhat a novelty, these two- and four-wheeled devices are invaluable tools for providing assistance during healing in the short term and independence in those cases where full mobility does not return.

In working with geriatric and mobility-challenged dogs, my focus is on maintaining or improving their activities of daily living (ADLs) in the short and long term. When collaborating with the referring veterinarian, I consider each dog’s condition and assess both current and potential functional abilities based on the diagnosis and prognosis. Is this dog recovering from a mobility-degrading event such as a disc herniation or limb fracture? Or is this a progressive condition such as degenerative myelopathy or osteoarthritis? In all of these cases, I’m considering if and how a cart can improve the dog’s quality of life, enabling them to perform their ADLs as independently as possible.

cart assisted dog wearing a batman harness
Although they may appear complicated, bulky, clunky, restrictive or even cruel to some, carts prove to be useful tools for improving quality of life in down dogs or those struggling with mobility. Carts can bring dogs back into a more natural standing position and provide the necessary support to ambulate through their world.

Carts are a mystery to those who don’t work with them on a consistent basis. During my 14 years as a mobility specialist, I’ve measured and fit nearly 500 dogs (and cats and goats and pigs!) with these wheeled devices. In that time, I’ve heard derogatory comments about carts that were fueled by one of the following four myths. As is often true, these myths are driven by lack of knowledge and experience with dogs in carts.

Myth #1: Once you put a dog in a rear-wheel cart, they will never walk without a cart again; they become dependent on the cart.
This myth assumes that the outcome goal is the same for every dog. A dog with degenerative myelopathy has very different needs from a dog recovering from a hemilaminectomy. The DM dog needs support as their mobility decreases with disease progression, and they need support now as they work to maintain their current mobility. The status quo is a win for these dogs. Carts are essential for support to avoid compensatory movement patterns which can lead to additional dysfunction. The post-op dog, on the other hand, may need assistance of the cart as they rehabilitate and heal. The sooner these dogs move with assistance, gaining sensory feedback from paws on the ground, the better.
cart assisted dog running towards the camera wearing a batman harness
Myth #2: Dogs don’t use their rear limbs in rear-wheel carts, leading to atrophy.
This myth is often fueled by the confusion surrounding the use of stirrups, which are used less often than you think. Stirrups are used to protect the lower limbs and paws from dragging injuries in dogs with severe paresis or paralysis. Even in these cases, the addition of boots with two small wheels (think remote-controlled car wheels and an axle) can allow the limbs to stay out of stirrups and keep the hips and stifles in a more natural ambulating position. By keeping the rear limbs down, you encourage movement in those limbs by removing the friction (and injury) from the paws dragging. Using the right tools together creates better opportunities for a mobility-challenged dog.
Myth #3: Clients won’t use the cart properly, as their compliance is very low on such sophisticated equipment.
Client selection is just as important as dog selection in implementing a cart as a tool. A client must be able to manage the everyday needs of a cart-assisted dog. This includes having the strength, balance and flexibility to put the dog in the cart. The client must also be attentive to the dog’s needs and recognize when the dog should be placed in and removed from the cart. The cart is not a set-it-and-forget-it tool. You should select clients who can provide the attention and solid decision-making required to employ this tool properly.
cart assisted dog wearing a batman harness
Myth# 4: The dog is too weak for anything else now; let’s try the cart which is a last resort.
When you have a tool that allows a mobility-challenged dog to exercise more, enable more independence in ADLs, supports other rehabilitative therapies and improves their quality of life, you make use of it as soon as possible. I have seen many cases where a dog has finally been referred to me for a rear-wheel cart but is too paretic in the front limbs to support the minimal additional weight of the cart. Their front limbs have borne burden of forward weight-shifting for too long and are now splaying. By this point, the opportunity for greater independence and richer quality of life has passed. So, carts should not be and are not a last resort. They are the key to enhanced mobility and independence.

A cart is one of many tools used to help maintain or improve a dog’s quality of life and it should be regarded as such. As a tool, the cart is not the beginning and the end of mobility support; it’s just one piece of equipment that serves a particular purpose in the grand scheme of overall care, rehabilitation and quality of life.

Kate Titus headshot
Kate Titus is a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT), FitPAWS Master Trainer (FPMT), and Certified Canine Therapeutic and Sports Massage Therapist (CTMT, CSMT).  In 2008, Kate founded A Loyal Companion to provide massage, exercise, and mobility solutions for seniors and mobility-challenged dogs. In 2015, she opened the first canine fitness and mobility facility in Arizona, featuring an indoor swimming pool and complete dog gym. Currently, she’s a board member with Friends of Pima Animal Care Center (PACC), the non-profit partner of Pima Animal Care Center. Kate lives with her wife, Kathy; their joyful rat terrier, Half Moon; bounding terrier mix, Andy; and empathetic and athletic boxer, Helen.