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As your pet ages, she/he may find it difficult to access her/his usual nap spots or enjoy her/his favorite activities. But making a few simple home and lifestyle modifications can help transition your pet from adult to senior living without sacrificing the routines and activities she/he loves most.
Our pets live shorter lives than we do. And while old age is not a disease, it does bring about changes to the mind and body that we should acknowledge and, ultimately, embrace. By anticipating our pets’ changing needs and recognizing the subtle signs of aging, we can make adjustments to the home environment and to activities of daily living (ADLs) that will make our pets’ lives easier and more comfortable as they enter their senior years. Which is what we, Abbotsford Animal Hospital, want to help you do.
The single most common change pets experience as they age is diminished mobility. So facilitating their mobility is an important aspect of environmental modification and enrichment. Our goal: to help our pets enjoy as many of their usual ADLs for as long as possible.
Start by walking through your house, and try to view your living space the way your cat or dog might. Where would you like to hang out or rest quietly? Can you see outside to watch the birds, the squirrels, and the sky? Are there easy ways to get to different areas of the house? Are there stairs that must be navigated or slippery floors to cross?
Make a list of areas that may require modification, and then read on to discover some simple solutions.
Slippery floors can be treacherous for aging pets as they lose their strength and coordination. Nonskid area rugs can help provide more sure footing over slick surfaces, but they can be tough to clean when soiled. Interlocking foam squares, on the other hand, are an excellent solution. Marketed as a floor covering for workout spaces, these tiles are a brilliant option for creating an inexpensive nonskid surface for pets. You can also cut them to size, modifying any room or hallway.
Once you’ve constructed a nonskid floor surface, clear the way. Ensure that older pets won’t have to negotiate over or around obstacles to reach their favorite resting places or the litterbox.
Litterbox style and placement are a real concern for older kitties. Try placing a litterbox on every floor of the house, and remove the lids to make them easier to enter and exit. Even better: Ditch the conventional litter pan and use a shallow storage container.
For both dogs and cats, consider creating multiple resting areas by placing additional beds in favorite family gathering spots, but be careful when choosing a bedding surface. Our instinct is to choose thick, fluffy materials, but this can create an unstable surface that may be difficult or even painful for your older pet to negotiate. Egg-crate or memory foam provides a more comfortable and stable surface.
Depending on your house rules, gaining easy access to their favorite furniture spots or window ledges may be important for aging pets with reduced mobility. Carpeted stairs or ramps can help pets access the sofa or bed. A well-placed ottoman may serve the same purpose. It won’t take long to teach a cat or dog that using these step-ups makes getting to their desired destination easier.
Vehicle entry and exit is also easier with a ramp. Several manufacturers sell ramps you can stow in your vehicle or hitch-mounted platforms that provide a step up into the back of cars. Just be sure to choose one that is wide and sturdy enough for your size pet.
There are too many assistive devices for pets to list here, and this is a growing market. From walking carts, leg braces, and body vests to harnesses, nonslip booties, and slings, these innovative devices are all designed to assist with mobility and preserve pets’ ADLs.
For cats and dogs experiencing age-related changes, modifying their ADLs is important for preserving their joie de vivre. The key is to re-create these activities in a way that doesn’t contribute to pain.
Exercise and sports. Fetch is a beloved activity that’s easy to modify. Rather than throwing the ball up, requiring your pet to jump, throw the ball along the ground. Instead of throwing the ball 50 or 60 yards, shorten the distance. For cats who like to chase a feather toy or laser pointer, modify how quickly you move the toy, and don’t force your cat to jump.
Mental games. Mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation. Keeping our dogs and cats engaged in their world can help maintain their quality of life and reduce boredom. Use interactive food toys that require your pet to work for a small portion of her meal. Hide multiple small meals around the house to simulate hunting. Install a window platform or rearrange your furniture so your pet can watch wildlife out a window or glass patio door.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is an inflammatory joint disease that occurs in approximately 50 percent of cats and dogs across all ages, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, and may occur even more commonly in older animals. OA causes pain and stiffness in affected joints, severely limiting your pet’s mobility as she ages. This condition can develop following joint injury, but it can also develop wherever there is joint instability or a defect in the joint surface. Overweight pets are especially vulnerable to OA, because the fat that accumulates in these pets secretes inflammatory and pre-inflammatory hormones that contribute to the disease process. Being overweight also makes the progression and signs of OA more difficult to manage because of the chronic, repetitive strain and pounding on joints.
In the early stages, OA signs may be subtle. Owners may notice a reluctance to do certain activities. Clinical signs like limping may not appear until very late in the disease — if at all. Regular evaluation by your veterinarian is an important component of early detection and intervention, and there are many strategies for retaining and enhancing strength and function. Medications, proper nutrition, and rehabilitation can help support and maintain both joint comfort and function. Weight loss may also be a critical component of OA management. To maximize your pet’s ability to live life to the fullest, partner with your veterinarian and set the stage for success!
Talk with your veterinarian about the best dietary plan for your aging pet. For overweight pets, getting to an ideal body weight is a critical component of healthier aging and maintaining their ADLs. Your veterinarian will work with you to establish a diet and exercise plan to keep your pet at a healthy weight and address her unique nutritional needs as she ages.
With a little imagination and assistance from your veterinarian, you can modify your home environment and create a rich life for your aging pet. After all, these senior citizens deserve the opportunity to live happily ever after!
If you have any questions or concerns, you can always visit or call us – we want to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Abbotsford Animal Hospital - Caring for Pets for People in York Region, Aurora, Newmarket, King City, Richmond Hill and the GTA.
DR. ROBIN DOWNING DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CCRP