Dear Paws: My 9-year-old Shih Tzu “Mitzi” developed a hip problem due to an injury she suffered when much younger (she was a rescue). It’s become almost impossible for her to walk, and her veterinarian recommended she start using a “wheelie” harness to get around. The problem: Mitzi will not use the harness. It’s a struggle to get her into it, and then she kind of just lays there and whimpers once she’s in it. How can I get her to adjust to the harness?—Claude C., Atlanta
Dear Claude: You’ll need to try a couple of things: check the fit of the harness, and use some gentle encouragement (ahem, treats) to help Mitzi.
According to Eddie’s Wheels, which designs wheelchairs and support devices for pets, dogs that still have feeling or some mobility in their hind legs sometimes have more trouble adjusting to wheelchairs than dogs whose hind legs are paralyzed. Also, a poorly-fitted wheelchair can cause a dog to feel uncomfortable in the harness.
So, check the fit of the wheelchair based on the manufacturer’s recommendations. If Mitzi’s wheelie allows her back legs to touch the ground, make sure that her legs can do so–this may alleviate her anxiety. If Mitzi’s back seems hunched (“roached”), make sure the straps are at the correct length so she’s comfortable. If her back sags in the harness, she may need more support. And make sure her backside isn’t lifted into the air; this can cause strain on her front legs.
Once the fit is okay, give Mitzi lots of encouragement as you help her into the harness each day. Then, as she progresses, give her a reward at each step: when she first stands up in the harness, when she takes her first step, and so on. Always make it a positive experience, until she gets the hang of her new wheels.
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