One of the major issues our aging pets’ experience is loss of mobility. Mobility issues cause stress for our pets and for us. When your pet begins to experience mobility issues, you should be looking for changes in behavior:
- Is he/she having a more difficult time urinating or having bowel movements?
- Are they urinating less frequently, or have they quit marking?
- Do they seem uncomfortable jumping up on the couch or the bed the way they used to?
- Are they lying in different areas of the house and avoiding others?
- Have they stopped wanting to go up or down the stairs or do they seem afraid to do so?
Below are some basic things you can do to make sure your pet is comfortable not only physically but emotionally:
- Provide good traction: Tile or wood floors can be a huge obstacle for your pet. Use rug runners, bathmats or yoga mats to give them a nice ‘runway’ to walk on. Use something that is easy to move (but does not slide) and is easy to clean.
- Water/Food Bowls: Make sure your pet’s water and food bowl are in a location that they can get to easily. Choosing raised food and water bowls are helpful as many elderly pets begin to experience neck and back discomfort. Multiple water bowls around the house will help your pet make shorter trips to get a drink. Dehydration is common and dangerous in older pets.
- Stairs: Stairs can be very scary to a dog that has arthritis or neuropathy. Try to make an area downstairs comfortable for them so they do not feel they need to try to use the stairs as frequently. Baby gates can be invaluable if your pet wants to follow you and has struggled on the stairs. We want to prevent any falls which can further affect their mobility or cause an injury. There are all kinds of options: Ramps for the car, Ramps for the house, and Stairs for your bed!
- Harnesses: There are great harnesses, such as the Help Me Up Harness, that you can purchase that give your dog the assistance they need. Or you can use a towel under their abdomen as a sling. You will be surprised how much they appreciate the relief!
- More times outside: When a dog becomes arthritic, going to the bathroom outside becomes a painful chore. This discomfort may cause your pet to hold their bowel movements and urine for longer periods. Or when they do ‘go’ outside – they don’t go as much as they should. Then when they are back in the house – they need to go unexpectedly. Make the effort to let your dog go outside more often and provide an area that is ‘ok’ for them to use in the home in case of an emergency. This helps them physically and emotionally – because they KNOW they aren’t supposed to potty indoors. Potty Pads near the door or artificial turf made for this purpose are excellent choices. As frustrating as accidents may be, do not punish your pet if they happen. Your dog is naturally opposed to making a mess in his home. She will be as upset about it as you are.
- Lower the Litter Box: Some litter boxes have high edges and your cat may need to ‘jump’ into it – purchase a litter box that has lower sides (or a RAMP) and it will be easier for your cat to use their bathroom. Check that the litter isn’t too deep for your cat. Older cats may struggle with sinking into the sandy surface.
- Lower your cat’s food bowl: Many people feed their cats on a higher surface – especially when they have dogs in the house that like to steal their cat’s food. Place the cat’s food bowl on the floor – but barricade the dog! Most cats do not show signs of arthritis – so if you see your cat’s appetite decrease, try to make the food bowl more accessible in case that is the issue.
- Pain Medication and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: See your regular veterinarian and discuss any behavioral changes you are seeing. There are many medications that can be prescribed to help with anxiety, pain management and arthritis. Too many people don’t see their veterinarian during their pet’s senior years because they do not think there is anything that can be done – however – there are MANY safe medications that allow pets to live much more comfortably!
- Canine Dementia (also known as Canine Cognitive Disease CCD): This is very similar to human dementia and it is a difficult disease to watch as it progresses. Your dog’s personality may begin to change, and they will be more confused about the normal patterns of their day and begin pacing more frequently as well as having difficulty sleeping through the night. Talk to your veterinarian about changes you are seeing in your dog. There are several medications that can help slow the progression, and there are other ways to help with your dog’s anxiety, so a visit to the vet is vital. Here is a resource that will describe some of the signs and changes you may see with CCD: Whole Dog Journal (CCD Signs and Symptoms).