Perhaps your dog has degenerative myelopathy (DM) and has recently started having trouble walking. In fact, he seems to be quite wobbly on his legs. Is there anything you can do to help him? Maybe some kind of sling or harness you can use? While DM is one of the leading causes of hind end weakness in dogs, there are others such as hip dysplasia and osteosarcoma that can leave your pup with weakness in this area. Dogs that are in treatment for intervertebral disc disease can also benefit from a sling to help them take steps.
Just because your pup has moments when he staggers or doesn't seem to be able to support his hind quarters is no reason for him not to be able to continue enjoying life. Remember, your dog loves to walk and even if he can no longer do this completely on his own, with a sling helping to support his weight, there is no reason why the two of you can't still enjoy his favorite pastime.
Choose the Right Style
Fortunately, there are several different types of "slings" or harnesses on the market that can be used to help support your furry friend's hindquarters. All of the different harnesses are designed to wrap around your pup's belly and/or rib cage and have handles for you to grab onto. Your vet may also be able to recommend the right type of sling based on your dog's specific medical condition.
The Combination Harness
The combination harness is designed such that it can be used for either front or hind end weaknesses. Each half has its own handle so that you can more easily help your dog get up and stabilize him. You must use both halves together as they are not designed to work independently of each other.
Hind-End Only Harnesses
A harness that is designed specifically for use on the hind end is typically a lot easier to use and more comfortable for your dog. These consist of a band that wraps under your dog's belly just below his ribs. It should fasten on top and have straps from each side that end in a handle you use to stabilize your pup's rear end. Other models slip under the hind end and have a hole for each leg (called the "pants-style" sling, useful for small dogs) or wrap around the hind end and have short handles (for a large breed canine).
The Homemade Sling
While a commercial sling is the easiest to utilize, you can also make your own using nothing more than one of those cloth reusable shopping bags and a pair of scissors. To make the sling, simply cut out the side panels and you have an instant low-cost sling. Depending on the size of the bag, you can use this do-it-yourself sling on a range of dog sizes.
One thing you might want to do is line the inside of the bag with a soft material such as fleece so that it doesn't create sore spots on your furry friend's belly or sides. This is a good temporary measure. For a long-term situation, a commercial sling may prove more useful and comfortable for your dog.
Getting the Hang of It
One of the hardest parts of "slinging" your dog may be getting him used to using it. Some dogs will take right to walking about with a sling, almost as if they appreciate the help more than they are worried about the sling being there. Others may not be quite so happy. You can start out getting your pooch used to the sling in short sessions, even if you have to hold him up by hand until he gets used to it. Ask your vet for instructions on how to best use the sling as a tool to assist your dog, while allowing him to keep or redevelop his muscle tone.
Keep in mind, you should only use the sling to give your dog just enough support to help him walk or do his business. Just like any other type of physical assistance, the more your dog comes to depend on the sling, the less he will rely on his own muscles. This will only serve to exacerbate the problem. The idea is to provide the needed support while still making him use his legs and leg muscles to the best of his ability, which is far better for his overall health. If you have any questions at all, be sure to talk to your vet.