Senior Pet Comfort
NEW TRICKS FOR OLD DOGS (AND CATS): HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PET’S COMFORT AS THEY AGE
Now that I’ve entered my 40s, I’m becoming more aware of the importance of joint health. My sleeping position seems to matter more now, and if I over-work my body one day, I know I’ll feel it the next. The same can be said for our canine and feline friends. Once they reach middle age – approximately 5-7 years old for dogs and 7-8 years for cats – it’s time to start thinking about preserving and supporting their joint health. Today let’s discuss a few things you can consider to help improve your pet’s comfort and mobility as they age.
Our pets spend a large portion of their day resting, so let’s make sure they’ve got a comfortable, supportive bed in a good location. When searching for a bed for your dog or cat, you might want to try several different options with different materials to let your pet decide which they prefer. Consider trying a memory foam bed (Bedsure Dog Bed) or an extra-cushioned fiber fill bed (Hugo and Hudson Dog Bed). Some cats prefer open beds (Love’s Cabin Cat Bed), while others want a bed that provides more privacy (Bedsure Cat Bed & Cave – we’ve had this bed for over a year now and it’s holding up very well!).
The location of your pet’s bed is equally important. Particularly during the cold weather months and any time the temperature dips overnight, it’s a good idea to place their bed away from external walls, windows, and doors. Make sure they’re not in a drafty location or directly under air conditioning vents. I also recommend placing their bed in a more quiet area of the house, away from the hustle and bustle.
OTHER THINGS YOU CAN DO AT HOME
There are many great products now to help your senior pet get around more easily. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips: Does your senior dog slip or seem hesitant on your wood or tile floors? It’s not unusual for older pets to develop mobility issues related to arthritis and weak muscles. These problems can make it more difficult for them to navigate slippery floors. They are also more likely to injure themselves in the event of a slip or fall. Toe Grips are small rubber rings designed to improve your dog’s ability to walk on slick floors – they fit around each nail on the front and rear paws, and they are easily applied either at home, by a groomer, or at your vet’s office. You can find those here Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips .
- Rugs and Yoga Mats: In addition to Toe Grips, it can help to place runner rugs, yoga mats, or other non-slip mats strategically throughout your home to facilitate your dog getting from one place to another without slipping.
- Stairs/Ramps: Senior dogs and cats who regularly jump on and off furniture such as couches and beds are at increased risk for injury of their back and limbs, including muscle strains and sprains, ligament tears, and intervertebral disc problems. Pet stairs and ramps (such as these Best Pets Supplies Stairs ) are a good option to allow your pet access to their favorite places while lowering the risk of injury. Be sure to look for products with a non-slip walking surface AND a non-slip bottom so they stay safely in place.
- Support Harness: For pets with back injuries, arthritis, or weak rear limbs, even a bathroom break in the backyard can be difficult. Some owners find it helpful to use a support harness such as these (Coodeo Dog Lift Harness; Pick for Life Dog Lift Harness ) to provide extra stability and assistance to their pet as they walk and as they posture to eliminate. In a pinch, you can also consider using a rolled-up towel as a sling underneath their tummy. **Reminder: do not leave a support harness on your pet for long periods of time without first consulting your veterinarian.
THINGS TO DISCUSS WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN
When it comes to medical management of joint problems and other age-related mobility concerns, there are many options that your veterinarian may recommend. Here are a few you may want to discuss with your vet.
- Joint supplements: Depending on your pet’s needs and health status, there are many options here, with Dasuquin and Cosequin being two of my favorites. This is due to the amount of research that supports their efficacy as well as my own clinical experiences with positive outcomes for my patients. Both product lines feature options for both dogs and cats. Antinol is a newer product for dog and cat joint health. Although I don’t have much personal experience with it, I’ve heard good anecdotes from other vets.
- Mobility Diets: There are some good mobility support diets on the market these days, specially formulated to support joint health and improve mobility. Hill’s and Royal Canin are two companies that have put a good deal of research into their mobility diets. Be sure to discuss with your veterinarian whether a diet change is appropriate for your pet.
- Pain Medication (dogs): For dogs with normal kidney and liver function, your veterinarian may recommend episodic or daily use of anti-inflammatory medications such as Rimadyl (generic: carprofen) or Metacam (generic: meloxicam). These medications can be very beneficial, but remember to follow your vet’s recommendations with regards to the frequency of monitoring their lab work when taking these medications long-term. Gabapentin is also often used as an adjunct to NSAIDs, and has a relatively large safety margin for dogs and cats. **Remember – human pain medications, such as Tylenol and Advil, are in many cases toxic and thus are NOT advised for dogs and cats unless specifically recommended by a licensed veterinarian**
- Pain Medication (cats): Cats are not able to metabolize NSAIDs as well as dogs can, so in general medications like Rimadyl and Metacam are NOT recommended for cats. In certain circumstances, Metacam may be used at an extremely low dose in cats; however, this is still very uncommon in the US and should only be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian with plans to closely monitor kidney and liver values. In most cases, vets consider all NSAIDs to be off-limits for cats.
- Solensia: This is a new product developed for cats to reduce arthritis pain. It is a once-a-month injection administered by your vet. This medication attaches to certain feline receptors involved in the pain pathway to help reduce the nerve signals that cause the cat to experience pain. I don’t have any personal experience with this product, but I’ve heard some promising things from my colleagues so far.
As with so many other medical issues, joint pain and impaired mobility is a complicated problem that often requires a multifaceted approach to management. If there was just a single treatment that worked for all dogs or cats, this would be easy. But more often than not, it takes some trial and error to find what works best for your individual pet. I encourage you to work in concert with your veterinarian to find a mix of approaches that helps your dog or cat get the spring back in their step and adds quality to their remaining years.