Wheelchairs for pets are in demand

Mobility aids for handicapped animals are rising in popularity and one shop even makes customised wheelchairs

Pet wheelchairs are getting more popular, owing to a growing awareness of such mobility aids and of animals with disabilities.

The result? A brighter future for handicapped pets.

An online check reveals at least four suppliers here selling mobility aids for pets - either distributors or those who make their own.

Almost all the products are wheelchairs for dogs, although one company has also made customised wheelchairs for a cat, guinea pig and rabbit.

The Pet Doctors Veterinary Clinic in Pandan Valley, for example, has been distributing the Walkin' Wheels brand of dog wheelchairs, imported from the United States, for three years now.

From nine in 2015, sales rose to 12 last year. This year, it has already sold three.

Happy Wheels for Furkids owner Dorothy Loh (above) started selling pet wheelchairs, with the help of her husband Michael Tan, after modifying and creating their own for their dog, which was born with only two legs. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

The clinic's senior veterinary surgeon, Dr Rajaram Karthik Raja, says: "Pet owners are now more knowledgeable about products that can help their handicapped pets.

"With the help of these aids, pets with disabilities can go for walks and have a much better quality of life.

"Euthanasia is now not the only option."

Local company Happy Wheels for Furkids, which makes customised pet wheelchairs, has also seen increased demand for its products.

When it started in 2015, the company sold 40 wheelchairs. Last year, it sold 60. And this year, it has already sold 12.

Its owner Dorothy Loh, 54, says: "We have not done any advertising or publicity. I think Singaporeans are becoming more aware of animals with disabilities and are now more willing to accept them into their home."

Dr Brian Loon, 35, principal veterinary surgeon at Amber Vet, says pets that require mobility aids typically have two limbs that are missing, amputated or paralysed, possibly due to spinal disease.

"Most dogs and cats with only one amputated limb can cope well without any mobility devices," he adds.

Ms Loh says her business came about because she and her husband, financial services consultant Michael Tan, 54, took in a pooch with two limbs five years ago.

Saviour, their mixed-breed dog, was born without its front legs. When it was just a few days old, it was found and rescued from a construction site by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Ms Loh says: "An SPCA employee asked if we could foster Saviour for two weeks and we agreed because we couldn't bring ourselves to refuse it. We felt so sorry for it.

"It's challenging even for a healthy dog to find a home, what more a handicapped dog?"

The couple, who later decided to adopt Saviour, bought two wheelchairs from the US, costing $700 and $900, to help it. But the puppy kept outgrowing the wheelchairs.

This led them to start modifying the wheelchairs and later create their own from materials bought online or through suppliers.

Ms Loh says: "I thought, since we already have the skills, why don't we turn it into a business to help others?"

Each wheelchair costs $200 to $700 and takes five to seven days to create.

While almost all their customers are dog owners, they have also made wheelchairs for a rabbit, guinea pig and cat.

Mr Tan, who helps with the business, recalls the worst case they encountered: a toy poodle with a genetic condition that caused all four limbs to curl up, rendering them unusable.

"We created a cart for the dog so the owner could wheel it around. It gave the dog the semblance of a normal life, which pleased the owner."

Pet owner Anne Marie Chua, 45, whose nine-year-old long-haired chihuahua cannot stand on its hind limbs because of a congenital deformity, says a pet wheelchair has allowed it to move around almost as quickly as a regular dog.

Communications professional Anne Marie Chua and her husband Jan Timmer with their chihuahua, which has a congenital deformity. The wheelchair allows it to move almost as quickly as a regular dog, she says.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

She says: "Now, there are mobility aids for disabled pets - and greater acceptance of them. I think the future is brighter for these animals."

Another dog which has benefitted from a pet wheelchair is Treasure, an eight-year-old mixed breed that lost the use of its hind legs after it was run over by a truck six years ago.

Now up for adoption at Action For Singapore Dogs' adoption and rescue centre, its wheelchair allows it to live life almost like a normal dog, says Ms Wendy Low, vice-president of the animal welfare group.

She says: "With the wheelies, Treasure dashes around so speedily during walks that we have to put it on a leash or we can't keep up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Helping disabled pets be mobile'. Print Edition | Subscribe