Dog Sydney HoelscherOur pets are more than just pets. They are our best friends and family members. As they age, they often need help to navigate their surroundings and to be comfortable in their everyday life. We generally consider a dog or cat to be “senior” when they reach seven years of age. Larger dogs, unfortunately, have shorter life spans. Cats tend to live longer than dogs, so depending on weight and breed, some cats may not be “seniors” until they reach 10 or 11 years of age.

How Can You Help?

1. Raise their food and water
As your pet ages, it may become more difficult for them to lower their neck to eat food or drink water. Purchase or build a raised platform to elevate the food and water bowls. Food bowls for cats should be placed in a location where your cat can approach from any direction and not be forced to have their back exposed to other animals in the household. Cats may actually need their food and water dishes moved to a lower location as jumping can be difficult or painful.

2. Modify the Litterbox
For older cats, arthritis pain can make it difficult to jump over the side of a regular litter box. There are litter boxes on the market with lower openings designed for older cats, but you can also use a storage bin with an entry way cut out in the front. If you have more than one cat, make sure to have one more litter box than the number of cats that you have.

3. Buy or Build a Ramp

Arthritis is a common problem in dogs as well as cats. An easy home modification to allow easier access to the house for your dog or cat companion is to build a ramp or shallow stairs. A ramp or stairs allow your pet the same freedom and access to couches, windowsills, beds and cars that they had when they were younger.

4. Enhance your Staircase
Many older pets hesitate to use the stairs due to muscle weakness or joint pain. An easy modification you can make to your stairs is to install non-slip treads or a carpet runner to give extra traction. If your pet can no longer make it up the stairs at all, place their bed in a warm area downstairs so that they have no need to use the stairs. 

5. Prep your Floor
Non-slip rugs, carpet runners, or even yoga mats provide better traction for your pet. Seek out materials that are easy to wash and do not absorb stains and odors easily.

6. Buy an orthopedic bed
If your dog displays any the behavioral symptoms of joint problems, an orthopedic bed is specifically designed for their needs. Small dogs may benefit from sleeping in a bed relative to their size because they get cold more easily and may feel insecure in a larger bed. If your pet is an older cat, place their bed close to resources like food, water and their litter box, but not too close to it. Cats often enjoy a quiet, dark, enclosed style of bed. Make sure it is easily accessible as some elderly cats have difficulty climbing and jumping.

7. Create a routine
Dogs and cats are creatures of habit, so keeping their daily routine consistent will help mitigate anxiety. As cats age, anxiety can be caused by confusion as they begin to develop some cognitive (brain) dysfunction and vision impairment, so a regular daily routine and consistent placement of your cat’s litter box, bed, and food is important.

8. Lighting
Be sure to provide adequate lighting at night whether it be indoors or when going outside. Many elderly pets tend to have some degree of vision impairment. This, coupled with weakness, pain, and instability caused by arthritis, can cause anxiety and hesitancy to walk in poorly lit areas. Please schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians to discuss other ways to address your senior pet’s comfort. Many older pets suffer from arthritis pain and various age-related changes. Although this list of home modifications will help, most pets need medical intervention, such

Although this list of home modifications will help, most pets need medical intervention, such as, laser therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, pain medication, physical therapy, etc. Our pets are an important part of our family and bring us so much happiness, laughter, stress relief and fun. We owe it to them to make their later years as comfortable and fun as possible.  

Dr. Brian Hoelscher is a veterinarian at Animal Hospital of Verona. He has extensive training and experience in the field of advanced veterinary dentistry and oral surgery. Dr. Hoelscher's medical interests also include canine behavior and oncology (cancer).