Automobile conversion for a disabled dog
Converting your car
The purpose of an automobile conversion for a disabled dog is to enable your dog to get into the car with a minimum of assistance. Your dog may have trouble jumping up onto the seat of the car due to age or disability, and you may have difficulty lifting a large dog into a car safely. Removing the rear seat of the car eliminates the need for your dog to jump. Your dog can simply step into the car with a little steadying from you.
If you think you are not strong enough to take a back seat out of a car, you may not realize how easy it is to do. It requires less strength than you might think. In the following pictures, you will see the steps to converting the back seat of a Saturn station wagon for an aging golden retriever. Cars vary according to make and model, but this will give you a general idea of what is involved. (Click photos to enlarge.)
Supplies used for this project:
- 3' x 4' entry mat
- Socket wrench
- Screwdriver or something to poke a small hole
- Old magazines
Here is what the back seat looks like before conversion. The height of the seat is 19" from the ground at the back and 22" at the front. This is how far your dog would have to jump to get in.
Begin by opening up your car and taking out the bottom part of the back seat. You may find that it simply comes out by tugging up on it. In some cars the seat is all one piece. In this car, the seat consists of two pieces, a plastic frame underneath and a light upholstered foam cushion on top. The upholstered cushion comes out easily by pulling up on it near the back where the seatbelts are. The plastic frame is held in place by the seatbelt anchors and does not come out until you remove the seatbelts. Use the socket wrench to unscrew the seatbelts.
In this picture the upholstery has been pulled out and the seatbelts have been removed. The plastic frame is ready to lift out.
Once you have lifted out the plastic frame, you will notice that the floor under the seat is uneven. It needs to be leveled if your dog is going to lie on it comfortably. In this picture, old magazines are being used to level the floor.
Now you are ready to put in the mat. Take your scissors and cut the mat in half lengthwise. If you are using a 3' x 4' mat, you will have two strips 18" wide and 4' long. Lay them in the car where the seat was, and mark the places where the seatbelt bolts should go. Poke holes in the mats and screw the seatbelt bolts back into the holes, holding the mats in place. As you can see in this picture, the mats overlap slightly for a perfect fit. If you want to screw the seatbelts themselves back into the car (instead of just the bolts), you can. You may want to use the seatbelts with a safety harness to hold your dog while travelling. It is a good idea to crawl around on the mats to see how they will feel to your dog. If the surface does not feel smooth, you may want to add or move magazines.
This is what the car looks like sitting in a parking lot once conversion is complete. Now that the seat is gone, your dog has to step up 14" to clear the doorway. Most large dogs, like the golden retriever this conversion was done for, can step up that high without jumping. Dogs who are weak in the rear may still need help to get their back end up into the car once their feet are inside. In that case, you still risk a fall or a hard sit. If you are going to have to park in a parking lot or driveway, you may still need a rear harness to ensure your dog can get into the car safely without injury.
This final picture shows the easiest way to get your dog into the car once you have completed the conversion. If you park your car right next to the curb (with the tires touching the curb so there is no gap) your dog can walk into the car from curb level. The floor of the car is even with the curb, and the threshhold is only a little higher. Use this trick at home, and try to use it wherever you go, such as to the groomer's or the vet.
This conversion really does make it easier to transport a large dog with mobility problems. The car in the photos passed state inspection no questions asked, but laws may vary from state to state so check whether it is legal where you live.
When you are ready to put the seats back into the car, it is important to reinstall the seatbelts correctly. Seatbelts must be tightened to the proper torque to ensure they do not fail in a crash. This requires using a torque wrench and tightening them according to specs. Get a professional mechanic to do it for you if you do not have a torque wrench or do not know the specs for your car.
Buying a car that is already converted
If you wish to buy a car that is already adapted for a large dog with mobility problems, you may want to consider the Honda Fit. The rear seats flip up like movie theater seats and lock in place, leaving a bare floor. It is like buying a car that has already been converted.