Pug Myelopathy: How a Balanced Cart Can Help

Pugs are susceptible to a variety of disabling conditions that cause ataxia and weakness in the hind end.

Puglet smiles in her variable axle cart

We see alot of pugs here at Eddie's Wheels. Unfortunately, pugs are susceptible to a whole constellation of possible disabling conditions that create ataxia and hind limb weakness. Over the almost 25 years we've been building custom wheelchairs, we've met hundreds of pugs with a variety of diagnoses such as:

  • Hemi-vertebrae - a malformation of the vertebrae common to pugs, French bulldogs, Boston Terriers and English bulldogs that creates the screwtail or curly tail. If there is a hemi-vertebrae in the thoracic region it can cause ataxia and incontinence.
  • IVDD (disc disease) - Hansen's Type II, which unlike the disc disease that affect dachshunds, this type is less dramatic, but no less disabling, causing weakness in the rear, ataxia.
  • Spinal arachnoid diverticula or cysts that strangle the spinal cord and result in paraplegia.
  • A small percentage of pugs have the genetic pre-disposition to degenerative myelopathy, a canine version of ALS.

Kathleen Smiler, DVM, is a pug owner and veterinarian who has a special interest in pug myelopathy. She writes, "The whole complex of spinal cord disease causing pug myelopathy in purebred pugs can involve any one or more of these lesions: multiple chronic prolapsed Hansen’s Type II intervertebral discs; spinal arachnoid diverticula (SAD) CNS filled pouches that compress the spinal cord from the top; and/or a band of fibrotic arachnoid membrane that circles and constricts the cord at approximately the 12th thoracic vertebrae. . The spinal cord is damaged most severely at T12 and the cord segment itself can become an shrunken scar. The rear leg muscles atrophy without brain signal innervation if the dog no longer uses them or bears weight. The pelvic spinal reflexes remain intact, so the legs can move and the dog develop a spinal or robotic walk that can keep it partially mobile. In this instance the cart serves as a therapeutic exercise device used daily to keep the muscles from wasting away. Once the dog loses his ability to stand, support his rear, and walk with these “robotic” movements, the dog goes “down” in the rear permanently and the cart is used to only transport the rear of the dog."

One of the advantages to the design of our carts is how much traction dogs receive by just walking in a wheelchair. Because our saddle is stationary, it creates traction as they walk - stretching out and decompressing spinal lesions. At a typical fitting we will see dogs get as much as an inch longer after just a few minutes of walking in the wheelchair. Ataxic dogs tend to center their bodies over their legs, creating a rounded or roached posture. By positioning dogs in a healthy normal stance, we recreate a normal healthy posture and provide opportunities for strength building and rehabilitation.

Another aspect to our carts is our ability to balance the cart appropriately so as not aggravate spinal lesions or to compensate for the additional strain dogs put on their shoulders and forelimbs when they have limited use of their rear legs. Other wheelchairs rely on the strength of the dog's forelimbs to attach the cart to the dog, or have girth straps encircling an already compromised spine. Our neutral or variable axle carts are weightless on the dog's shoulders. For dogs with progressive neuropathy, the ability to move wheels forward on a variable axle provides up to a 30% offset of the weight they would normally carry on their front legs. This means that dogs can enjoy independence and mobility for a significantly longer period of time. These carts can also be outfitted with detachable front wheels, making a simple rear wheel cart into a quad cart for those dogs who need additional help maintaining their stance.

For purebred pugs diagnosed with Pug Myelopathy, Dr. Smiler believes that a physical therapy program done daily by the dog's owner at home, with early introduction of a cart for therapeutic rear limb exercise, is a very important part of long term nursing care. A veterinarian credentialed in rehabilitation is the best way to start your pug with appropriate physical therapy program. Your dog can be evaluated, receive a plan of selelcted exercises and fitted for an appropriate cart. The practice can help you with the introduce the cart safely and make periodic assessments of your dog's needs. A list of certified professionals is available here. You can also bring your pug to Eddie's Wheels facilities for us to assess, measure and fit your pug. Eddie's Wheels has strong collaborative relationships with most of canine rehab practitioners in New England, New York and New Jersey. We are happy to help you find the guidance you may need to help your pug maintain a great quality of life.

Another critical part of caring for a pug with spinal cord disease is to always monitor urinary health and make sure that your pug can completely void its bladder. And YES - dogs in wheelchairs can urinate and defecate while supported in the wheelchairs!

Watch Tyson's first stroll in his Eddie's Wheels: