As our furry family members become seniors, they are affected by “old-age” ailments such as reduced vision and hearing, arthritis and cognitive decline. There are a few simple things you can do to help make your home more comfortable for them as they adjust to these changes.
Just like us hoomans, as our pets get older they can get a little creaky and arthritic. Laying on hard or thinly padded surfaces can cause discomfort. Ensure that your pet has enough resting spots that have plenty of padding. Beds that are low to the ground are preferred so they don’t have to step or jump up. You can even get beds that have an in-built heat mat which they will love.
As they age, their sight can start to deteriorate. Removing clutter (without making any changes to the furniture layout) will help them navigate their way around the home without difficulty. Be cautious of introducing new furniture or obstacles as they will need to adjust to this in their space.
Cats love jumping up to high hiding spots and dogs are often jumping onto beds and sofas. This can become cumbersome and even painful for arthritic pets so providing a ramp or additional platforms to eliminate or reduce the jump will make them more comfortable when finding their favourite spots. Their spacial awareness may also be affected so it’s worth considering all areas they have access to and whether there is potential for an injury or fall. For example garden retaining walls should be blocked so they can’t go over the edge and baby gates could be used to minimise stair use or a ramp installed instead. If their food, litter and bed are across multiple levels of the house it might be worth putting these closer together.
Hard floors such as tiles and floorboards can be extremely tricky for senior pets to navigate as they lose muscle strength in their legs, have a reduction in balance and thus become less stable. As their legs slip out from underneath them, there is a big risk of slipping and injuring themselves. Carpet runners, rugs or even yoga mats can be placed around the home to help your pets get around with confidence and ease. Keeping their nails short and hair on their feet clipped short will also help them use their pads to grip.
Senior cats may avoid using their litter tray if the edges are too high as it is difficult to step into which can be stressful for them. You can purchase a low-level litter tray or make one out of another item i.e. old baking dish, cut up cardboard box or storage containers. It may also be worthwhile adding an additional tray somewhere else in the house as older patients tend to toilet more often and sometimes have difficulty getting to the tray in time.
Exercise is crucial in making sure all joints regularly carry out their full range of motion. Controlled exercise such as walks on leads or treadmills means you can make sure your dog is not working too hard. Swimming is an excellent non-weight bearing activity for arthritic patients. Be sure to let them exercise at their own pace and stop if they seem tired or sore.
Senior pets do not cope with heat as well as younger pets so in Summer it’s important to provide them with a cool environment and easy access to water and shade. In Winter senior pets really benefit from a warmer house so crank that heating or offer them a heated bed or hot water bottle (make sure it is well covered to prevent burns). In their senior years it might be worth making your outdoor pet an indoor pet, particularly at night e.g. providing a warm bed in the laundry for an outdoor dog or making sure your cat comes in at night.
Both Ends of the Lead
Tim Norris is a Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner who offers private consultations at your home to assist with implementing the above and give you some simple skills to held your senior pet including physiotherapy and acupressure points. For more information check out Both ends of the Lead.