Your dog may need help to walk if their hind legs are very weak or paralysed, for example during recovery from IVDD (intervertebral disc disease). Some of these dogs cannot move their hind legs at all. Others are able to move their hind legs a little but cannot yet take proper steps.
Why use a hindquarter sling?
Without any help, these dogs either fall or drag their hind legs along the ground when trying to walk. It’s not a good idea to let your dog drag himself along. Firstly, dragging can damage the skin where it scrapes along the ground. Secondly, your dog will find it very hard to walk properly again once they’ve got into the habit of dragging themselves along. A good way to learn to walk is to be given some physical support while ‘having a go’ at walking. The aims of sling-walking are to keep the dog safe as they try to walk, and to help them learn to walk.
When to use a hindquarter sling
Take your recovering dog out for toileting (to pee and poo) for up to five minutes at a time at least three times daily. Ask your vet to advise you on how many times to take them out per day. If your dog can’t walk (if they fall, drag themselves along, or keep placing their paws upside-down) help them with a hindquarter sling.
Above: If your dog cannot walk without knuckling or dragging their paws, support their hindquarters with a sling. (Photo is of Bean owned by Christian and Lena)
Choosing a hindquarter sling
There are three main types of sling:
1) A simple ‘scarf-style’ sling. This is a long piece of fabric that loops under the dog’s belly. This is the type of sling most often used for dachshunds and other small dogs. You can get a similar effect by using a long scarf. Some people (myself included) prefer a purpose-made sling to a scarf because its strappy handles offer more precise control. Good slings have adjustable handles so you can set them at the right height. Then you won’t need to stoop.
This type of sling should be soft and not too narrow, otherwise it will dig into your dog’s belly. For boy dogs, it should also not be too wide, otherwise your dog won’t have room to pee. For boy dogs, the width of the sling should be a little less then the distance between the front of his thigh and the front of his prepuce. If the sling or scarf is too wide, you may need to fold it back onto itself at the front to leave space for your boy dog to pee. The sling shown below was from Dedicated to Dachshunds with IVDD, an amazing charity that loans out equipment for dachshunds in the UK (Registered Charity number 1199050). To request a loan, to buy one of these slings, or to support their great work, get in touch with them here.
Above: A scarf-style sling supports your dog under their belly (Photo: Walter owned by Rachel Williams)
Above: Here is Darcy Dolittle about 10 days after coming home from surgery for IVDD. A pink scarf is being used here as a sling. Without the lead and sling, Darcy’s rear end tended to sway and tip over, and her paws would knuckle upside down or drag. Here, the lead and harness are used to slow Darcy’s front end, while the scarf sling gives just enough upward lift to avoid falls. Now and again, the sling is lowered a little to encourage Darcy to step or stand with little to no support.
2) A hip-lift sling. This sling has two holes, one for each hind leg. It offers support around the hind legs where it’s needed. These slings have strappy handles. Choose a sling that fits snuggly enough to give support but that doesn’t pinch or chafe your dog’s skin. It should leave room for your dog to pee and poo. The handles should adjust so that you can support your dog without stooping. You may need to search around to find the sling that best fits your dog.
Above: A hip-lift sling gives support just where it’s needed. Photo: Attie owned by Maia D’Costa-Kalsi and family
3) For large breeds and tall dogs, a short-handled hip-lift sling that supports the hindquarters is a good investment. I can recommend the help ’em up harness. It has a handle for the owner to hold just over the dog’s rump. This system offers good support for safety and comes together with a good chest harness. Instead of having long straps, the handles of the help ’em up harness are short and strong, like suitcase handles. This gives great control but makes this system less useful for small dogs such as dachshunds.
Lead and harness
While walking on a hindquarter sling, keep your dog on the lead. This is important. Not only does the lead stop your dog from rushing off, but it also helps to slow their front end down so that they can learn to step with their hind legs.
Above: Use a lead to slow your dog so that their hind legs have a chance to step. (Photo: Burt owned by Vicky Watt-Hedges)
It’s far better to attach the lead to a good chest harness than to a collar. Firstly, the lead attachment on a harness is further back then it is on a collar, so it helps to spread your dog’s weight more evenly as they learn to walk again. Secondly, the neck is a delicate area. It’s therefore best not to attach the lead here, especially while the dog is relearning how to walk and may lose their balance now and again.
Should I get a lead that is attached to a hindquarter sling?
It’s generally not a good idea to have the lead attached to the sling. The problem is that the lead and sling do two different jobs and must therefore be controlled separately. The lead slows the dog down in a backward direction. The sling supports the rear end with a little upward lift. If sling-walking your dog correctly, you should find yourself moving the lead and sling handles in different directions to one another.
Never do ‘tail walking’!
Never try to support your dog’s weight by their tail! ‘Tail-walking’ can be painful for the dog, and it can cause bruising and longer term damage to the rear end of the spine and/or to the delicate nerve roots.
Support your dog with a sling instead. If you don’t yet have a sling, use a scarf, long towel or, very tiny dogs, a fluffy bathrobe belt.
Further information to help your dog during IVDD recovery
This website contains plenty of information about caring for a dog with back or neck issues. Try going to IVDD and clicking on links on that page to start exploring this free resource.
For a complete and practical guide to home care, we recommend The IVDD Handbook. This is a comprehensive home care guide for dogs with IVDD (disc extrusion or ‘slipped disc’). It’s also suitable for those with certain other back or neck problems including FCE and traumatic disc. Use this book in conjunction with talking to your own vet. It contains:
- clear practical guidelines for each stage of recovery
- illustrated how-to guides for everything from sling-walking to home exercises
- notes on when to contact your vet
- an illustrated guide to understanding your dog’s surgical report
- advice on keeping your recovering dog happy and content
- a section on maintaining your own wellbeing while caring for your own dog
- example daily routines suitable for dogs at each stage of recovery
- hundreds of colour photos showing what to look for and how to help your dog
- an index, glossary and colour-coded chapter to help you find information fast.
How to get your copy
Click here to buy or look inside The IVDD Handbook.
Order the book to be delivered to you from the US if you live in Australia, New Zealand or Singapore. For further details, click here.
Links to the book on this page are provided as part of the Amazon Associates program. Buying the book after clicking on one of these links will earn the author a small commission, thus contributing to the ongoing running of this website.
Booking an appointment
For bespoke supervision of your own dog’s recovery, you are welcome to contact me to arrange a video consultation appointment. To book an appointment, use the contact form here or email me at [email protected]. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Please note that these contact details are for appointments only. I offer home visit appointments, when appropriate, for dogs and cats living near me in North Herts, UK. Video consultations are available for both local and distant patients.