Orthotics, Prosthetics and Carts for Pets

Many people consider orthotics, prosthetics, and/or carts for pets as the last resort.

However, a great deal of research demonstrates that getting humans and animals up into as natural positions as possible, moving and interacting with others and their environment significantly improves the quality of life and aids in orthopedic and/or neurological support and, importantly, recovery.

These benefits include, but are not limited to, the following.

  • Seeing and interacting with the world in an upright position (chronically laying down actually alters the brain’s interpretation of visual cues)
  • Helping to maintain or build strength without overloading the body
  • Re-establishing/improving psychological drive and determination (“will to live“) to get up and move

Sometimes people perceive pets in assistive devices like orthotics, prosthetics, carts, etc. as “a little lazy” with the use of their affected limb(s) as sometimes they use the limb less often. However, decreased limb use in an assisted device simply indicates their psyche takes over as they are so motivated to get around and interact, that they ignore their disability and just go! This does not distract them from still doing physical rehabilitation as well. In fact, it helps improve their physical rehabilitation.

It is important to schedule both psychological exercises in the cart to facilitate motivation and to do physical exercises that facilitate recovery. These different goals will have different device setups or require you to work with your pet in a different way to promote adaptive use of the limb(s) or back. It is important to follow the directions your rehab vet prescribes to help rebuild appropriate, adaptive motion, neurological function, muscle, and strength for your pet’s recovery.

Orthotics and Prosthetics

Orthotics (braces) and prosthetics (artificial limbs) are designed specifically to meet the prescribed therapeutic goals for your dog or cat. On your pet’s initial consult, we will examine your pet and develop a treatment plan before determining if an over-the-counter (OTC) device will work or a custom device needs to be fabricated to best suit you and your pet’s needs. The goal of an orthotic or prosthetic device is to facilitate recovery (e.g., calcaneal/Achilles tendon repair), improve mobility, reduce strain/pain while providing support and comfort so your pet can have a better quality of life.

Custom Orthotics and Prosthetics

If after your pet’s initial consult it is determined that a custom orthotic is the best option, a second appointment will be scheduled to perform several measurements and cast molding of your pet’s limb. Sometimes this requires sedation and sometimes it can be done while they are awake. Cast molding provides a custom mold for your pet’s limb so that the orthotic can be specifically designed for him or her.

If your pet has a custom orthotic, it is essential your pet be seen by the rehab vet every 1-2 weeks to slowly adjust the orthotic. This is critical for proper healing of the tendon or joint. If this is not done correctly or not done at all, the tendon will heal improperly and likely lead to another tear or injury.  Tendons are very difficult to heal properly in a way that allows your pet to return to normal function. While your pet may appear to walk normally, the tendon will actually be more rigid than it should be. This leads to subsequent tears.

When done properly, the healing tendon gradually regains a good deal of elasticity. This is critical for it to accommodate limb motion, especially in active dogs. Importantly, until orthotics are worn, fit and adjusted appropriately, they can lead to skin irritation and even infections. These must be cared for carefully to manage the injury, the orthotic, and your pet’s skin and overall health to avoid additional injury.

Measurements, cast molding, and follow-up appointments with LASER therapy on the joint or tendon for which the device is made are included in our orthotic package. So, you don’t have to worry about additional fees.

Below are some videos of Jack the cat who has a permanent custom orthotic.

Please watch the video below to see how we adjusted Jack’s orthotic to help improve his mobility.

Orthotic devices must be placed and removed properly to prevent further injuries.


Carts are another option for pet owners to consider when they are helping a pet with orthopedic issues improve their mobility. Carts can be beneficial for pets awaiting or recovering from surgery, rehabilitating from an illness or injury, or managing progressive or chronic injuries or illnesses. They help by providing better balance and support so a pet can move more naturally and reduce recruitment of inappropriate muscles or a maladaptive gait that could lead to further injury. Some common injuries or illnesses for which a cart can assist in mobility recovery or management include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Significant Arthritis
  • Degenerative Neurological Conditions [e.g., Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), Geriatric Onset Laryngeal Parlysis Polyneuropathy (GOLPP)]
  • Spinal/Back Injury or IVDD
  • Neurological Injury
  • Paresis (weakness) or Paralysis
  • Limb Deformities or Amputations
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Surgery Recovery

We highly recommend Walkin’ Wheels carts by HandicappedPets. These carts are readily adjustable and accommodate most pets. Sometimes carts that are specifically customized for your pet are necessary for a proper fit.

We do a complimentary cart measurement for VSC rehab and hospital patients for the Walkin’ Wheels carts. You can also follow the instructions on the website. The company is very good and friendly; please feel free to contact them directly. For other cart brands, there is a cart measurement fee.

We have a limited supply available to sometimes rent the Walkin’ Wheels cart to patients for one month for either

  1. One month of cart rehabilitation exercises, or
  2. To determine if your pet will accept the cart and do well in it.

This gives you and your pet some time to be sure they will be comfortable in it. Sometimes, one month is all they need for some additional rehabilitation strategies. In cases that need a longer recovery time, purchasing a cart is more cost-effective.

For both rented and purchased carts, we charge a cart fitting fee. Our rentals do require a replacement cost deposit, which will be returned if the cart is returned on time and in good working order. Check with your pet’s insurance company to determine if they will cover a cart purchase and the logistics required to do so. Often this requires a formal prescription and purchasing the cart through a veterinarian.

Handout – Cart Considerations


We work with you to develop a therapeutic plan for your pet’s overall comfort and recovery. Along with providing other therapies – underwater treadmill, laser, acupuncture, etc. – we will fit your dog or cat for a cart and develop a plan to help your pet get accustomed to using his or her new device.


Please watch the video below to see how we fit a tripod named Remi who is awaiting surgery for a luxating patella. The cart will help her get around until she is old enough for surgical intervention.

Squints has both Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) and Degenerative Myelopathy and will be using the cart to get around as his diseases progress.

Placing a pet into a cart is very simple after initial adjustments. If your dog or cat is not moving well in his or her cart, the cart or harnesses may need to be adjusted.

Handout – Cart Acclimation and Use

Cart Use

In order to get your pet properly acclimated and for he or she to properly use the cart, it’s best to get a good routine for loading and unloading your pet into the cart. This will ensure that they are in the cart properly and will help them get the most benefit from its use. Here are some easy instructional videos to help.

Placing Your Dog or Cat in a Front Loading Cart

Placing Your Dog or Cat into a Top Loading Cart

RemovingYour Dog or Cat from a Cart


If you have a pet that may benefit from the use of a prosthetic or orthopedic device or a cart, submit a request here for a consultation.


Starting Monday, April 8th through the end of September, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) will begin their road resurfacing project along Waukegan Road from Lake Cook Road to Half Day Road (IL 22). Please allow additional travel time to our hospital during the construction. Learn More: Waukegan Road Resurfacing Project