How to Choose the Right Support Harness for Your Pet

Support harness for dog with leg weakness

Dog lift harnesses can help your pet with a wide range of mobility issues. Support harnesses are designed to help senior dogs dealing with joint pain, assist injured pets stay mobile, and give paralyzed pets the support they need to reduce pressure on their back legs. A lifting harness is a tool that every paralyzed dog or cat needs to move around the house. 

Before you buy a lifting harness for a paralyzed or injured pet you need to understand how harnesses are used, how a harness can benefit your pet (and you), and where your dog needs the support. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about finding the right support for your pet. 

5 Things You Need to Know When Buying a Support Harness for Your Dog

1. Why Paralyzed Pets Need a Lifting Harness

We know that every paralyzed pet needs a wheelchair, but do they need a harness too? Absolutely, every paralyzed pet will need the support of a harness at some point. A pet wheelchair is ideal for helping your dog to get their exercise and enjoy the outside, but there are circumstances where a harness is the better option. A lifting harness is easy to use and your dog can go anywhere in it. 

Choosing the right lifting harness can help a mobility challenged pet live an active and healthier life.

2. When to use a lifting harness for your dog

A lifting harness can easily be used in conjunction with your dog’s wheelchair and can come in handy in plenty of situations. Here are just a few reasons why every paralyzed pet needs a support harness:

Emergency Bathroom Breaks

Sometimes your dog really has to go and you may not have the time to get your dog into their wheelchair. A lifting harness is perfect for those late night trips outside and emergency potty breaks. A harness is compact and easy to store, and quick to put on your dog and take them right outside. 

Getting In and Out of the Car

lift dog into car

Senior dogs and pets with mobility issues can have a hard time jumping in and out of the car.

A harness is a safe way to lift them into the car without straining your back or worry about your dog falling. By providing lifting support you can safely help your dog in or out of the vehicle in a controlled manner. Without the aid of a harness, one bad jump out of the car could put your pet at risk of serious injury. 

Safely Lifting Your Pet Off the Floor

It’s no secret that elderly dogs can struggle to get up off the floor. Arthritis, joint pain, and leg weakness all contribute to your dog struggling to stand up. It’s not uncommon for dogs with stiff or painful joints to become less active and sleep more which compounds their mobility struggles. A canine support harness allows you to help your dog to stand and find their balance. 

Helping Your Dog Get Around Inside

A harness can help you maneuver your paralyzed pet indoors to navigate tight spaces. Especially if you live in an apartment or home with narrow hallways and doorways that your dog can’t easily fit through while in their wheelchair. 

Supporting Your Pet as They Climb Up the Stairs

Dog rear support leash for stairs

When a pet’s front or back legs lose strength the stairs can be tricky to navigate. A dog with weak front legs often struggles to control how fast they go down the stairs. Some dogs may pick up speed as they descend and seem like they’re falling. Not only is this unsafe and causes injury, an older dog may refuse to use the stairs on their own.

Climbing up the stairs can be hard as well. A dog with weak back legs may not have the leg power to push themselves up each stair tread. Dogs that can use the stairs on their own may become tired or stop part way down and refuse to take another step. Supporting your dog with a harness as they use the stairs provides stability, balance control, and helps dogs to establish trust. They know you’re supporting them and helping them to safely use the stairs. 

Added Comfort and Support While in Their Wheelchair

Wheelchair compatible lifting harnesses offer the best of both worlds. Not only do they provide lifting support whenever your dog needs it, but they make it easier to get your dog into the wheelchair and create a comfortable support system for the wheelchair as well. 

3. Which end your dog needs support most

There’s no one reason why a dog loses the ability to walk or stand. There are many mobility condition that impact a dog’s ability to move and every paralyzed dog’s experience is unique to them. Which means your dog needs a lifting harness that will best suit their needs.

Are your dog’s legs weak in the front or back?

Choosing the right harness for your dog is as simple as knowing where they need help and support assistance most. Dogs with front leg weakness are going to need a different style harness than a dog who has weak back legs.

How weak are your dog’s legs?

Additionally, the level of support your dog needs will vary based on their leg function and leg strength. Ask yourself, is your dog completely paralyzed or are their legs just losing strength? Are they able to stand up on their own? How often does your dog lose their balance? Answering these questions can help determine where your dog needs the support is key to getting them the right lifting harness. A harness can help pet’s dealing with weakness in their front legs, back legs or all four legs. 

Body harnesses and slings are best for dogs who still have some mobility and are able to support themselves using either their front or back legs. Although you can suspend and lift a dog completely off the ground with the right lifting harness, this is usually best for short periods of time. A dog needing full body support while maintaining their independence should be using a wheelchair to improve their mobility. 

4. The different styles of canine support harnesses

There are a wide selection of support harnesses available. Each lifting harness is designed to help pets based on the level of support they need as well as where a dog needs the support the most. A dog experiencing weakness in all four legs will need a much different level of support than a dog who is just starting lose strength in it’s hind legs.

Hind End or Rear Harness

Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness

A rear support harness slides up a dog’s back legs like a pair of pants and attaches over the top of their back. Most rear harnesses feature handles that are detachable and adjustable. An adjustable handle is very important, all dogs (and their owners!) are different heights and the handle should be long enough that you can comfortably support your dog without bending over or straining your back. Hind leg weakness is incredibly common in pets of all ages. And a dog is more apt to need rear leg support than front leg support.

Keep in mind, pets diagnosed with a degenerative condition or those whose mobility loss will worsen overtime need a harness that can change with their mobility needs. Always choose a harness that can adapt and be used with a wheelchair late in life when it becomes necessary. 

Support Sling for Mid-Body Support

Support sling for dogs

A sling style support is best used for dog’s who can still support their own weight, but are unsteady on their feet. Vets often recommend a sling support to use during recovery since they offer more control than using a bath towel.

A support sling offers pets gentle mid-body support, usually wrapping around a dog’s abdomen to lift them from underneath. This is the best harness option for dogs recovering from surgery or injury, especially from TPLO or cruciate surgery. Because the sling avoids both the back and front legs, healing wounds on the knee and hip are safe from rubbing or direct contact from the support system.

Front End Harness for Pet’s with Weak Front Legs

A front lifting harness allows you to support and stabilize a pet with front limb weakness. In most cases a dog with front leg mobility loss can still stand and take a few steps, but will begin to sink, wobble, or lose their balance after a few minutes. A front support harness provides both lift and support from under a dog’s chest and abdomen to support a pet’s front legs. Most front harnesses feature a handle across the top that can be used to lift your dog as you walk next to them.

Total Body Harness for Weak Front and Back Legs

full support harness for senior dog

A full support lifting harness supports the entire body. This style of harness usually features a two part system, one for the front legs and one for the back legs. Most total body harnesses are pretty adaptable to suit your dog’s needs. The front and rear harnesses can be used separately or combined together to give your dog complete lifting support.

While wearing a full support harness a pet is supported in both the front and back which makes a total body harnesses durable and safe enough to lift your dog completely off the ground when needed. 

Rear Support Leash

A rear support leash is the simplest, most affordable, and easiest style lifting harness to use. Featuring two loops, the leash slips up  the back legs to give a little boost in the rear. This style of rear lifting harness can be put on while a dog is laying down and used to help them stand up. A rear support leash is ideal for dogs with temporary mobility loss or need to reduce the pressure on their leg as it heals. 

5. A Harness Provides Additional Support During Rehabilitation

Most dogs struggling with mobility issues and leg weakness benefit from canine rehabilitation. Rehab exercises allow them to work on rebuilding their strength, maintain muscle mass, and increase their stamina. Because so many pets in rehab are recovering from surgery, an injury, or trying to stay mobile they often need assistance to stand and walk as they work with their rehab therapist. A harness offers a pet the support they need so that they can keep up in their rehab sessions. Support harnesses can be utilized during underwater treadmill sessions to keep dogs upright and are often used to lift up or reduce the pressure on a limb that can’t bear full weight yet. 

Dogs are active animals and they are happiest when they are able to run and play. Providing your paralyzed dog or cat a little extra support will help them to live the active lifestyle they need. Still not sure what lifting harness is right for your dog? Talk to your veterinarian or rehab specialist for what style harness is best for your pet. Not only can they help you choose the right harness for your pet, they can teach you how to use it.

Buy a support harness or lifting harness for dog mobility loss

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