Products That Improve the Lives of Senior Pets
Car Ramps or Steps
It can be more and more difficult for older dogs to jump up into the car, especially SUVs and trucks where are higher off the ground. A ramp or set of steps can help tremendously. Not only do they help the dog, but they help preserve our backs as well - it's a lot easier to lead a big dog up a ramp then it is to try to heft them in and out of the car. Dogs that are particularly weak or wobbly should also be put in a mobility harness when leading them up the ramp.
- A wider ramp is easier for bigger dogs to navigate.
- Look for a ramp that's sturdily built, without a lot of 'bounce' (this is less of an issue for smaller dogs).
- Textured ramps are better for traction. You can also add traction on your own as well, using anti-slip tape or safety tread.
- The ramp should be long enough to provide your dog with a gentle incline, rather than a steep slope.
- Look for a ramp that's rated for your dog's weight (and higher, ideally).
- A telescoping or folding ramp can help to preserve space.
Selecting a ramp for a big dog is even harder. Here are some tips on choosing the best dog ramp for large, older dogs.
Indoor Steps or Ramps
Cats and dogs who love to join you on the couch or on the bed may have a harder time getting there as they age. Steps can help them to more gently and safely navigate their way there.
- Steps should be textured or have some sort of material that assists with traction.
- Measure the height of your bed or couch to ensure you get steps that are high enough.
- Wider steps are easier for larger dogs to navigate.
- Look for steps that are rated for your dog's weight or higher, if possible. One of the most common complaints in the reviews for dog steps is that the steps feel 'flimsy', especially for bigger dogs.
- Siderails are a good option for timid dogs who are afraid that they'll fall off.
- Some steps will fold down for easier storage.
Mobility Harnesses and Slings
Many pets experience a weakening in their hindquarters as they age, or general stiffness that makes it harder to get around. A mobility harness or sling can help both you and them; for example, they can be used to help them up or down the stairs, or help take them out for a potty break. The mobility harness or sling can prevent a lot of back-breaking lifting or bending.
- Get the right type of harness or sling. Some are meant for hind-end lifting, others for the front end, and still others support both ends. Simple slings are handy for a quick assist for a bathroom break, helping into the car, etc.
- Some harnesses and slings have 'male' or 'female' versions. They should not impede your dog's agility to urinate.
- Handles and straps should be adjustable or long enough so that you don't have to hunch over in order to assist your dog.
- Wider, padded straps will help to alleviate any chafing issues for the dog.
- Harnesses or slings should be easy to adjust, put on, and take off.
- Harnesses and slings should be taken off when not in use.
Non-Slip Rugs and Stair Treads
Slippery floors can become too daunting for older dogs who don't have good traction. Non-slip rugs and stair treads can give them confidence and help to prevent injury.
- Non-skid rug runners are great for making 'pathways' around the house on the hard floors.
- Rubber, non-slip rug pads are another option. They're not pretty, but they're more affordable and easy to clean.
- Carpet stair treads are a good option for staircases. They're affordable and easy to install.
Back Seat Extenders or Bridges (for the Vehicle)
Many older dogs experience some stiffness when moving about. Sitting or lying down isn't as easy or comfortable, and the narrow seats of a vehicle don't make it any easier. A back seat extender or bridge gives them more room to move about comfortably, without worrying that they'll fall into the gap between the front and back seats.
- Measure the back seat of your vehicle carefully. Make sure you also measure the distance between the front and back seats - you'll want to choose an extender that can easily cover this gap, with room to spare. Even a few inches can make the difference between whether the extender or bridge fits properly.
- Look for an extender or bridge made up of sturdy material - not the soft, fabric type that's only meant to help keep the seat clean. The soft kind can be treacherous for old dogs who aren't so stable on their feet; they might not realize that they're not stepping onto a solid surface and can mis-step and sprain a muscle.
- There are a couple of types of extenders: the platform type, which simply extends over the gap between the front and back seats; and the type with storage.
- You might need to clip a blanket (or other non-slip material) onto the extender if your dog finds it slippery.
Creaky joints and arthritis pain isn't uncommon in aging dogs and cats. A number of supplements are available to help ease stiff joints and pain. Some people have even reported their pets becoming playful and active again.
- Give it time. Supplements can take up to 1 month or more to start making a difference.
- Every pet is different. You may need to try various supplements before finding the one that works best for your pet.
- Get the right supplements for your type of pet, eg. dogs should get dog supplements, cats should get supplements specifically formulated for cats.
- Try different forms of supplements. For instance, if your pet doesn't like to take pills, try a treat form of supplement instead, or a liquid form.
- Follow the dosage instructions.
- Consult with your vet prior to starting supplements if your pet has any medical conditions.
Coats and Jackets
Doggy coats and jackets aren't just to make them look pretty (or indulge us humans with something cute). Various health conditions can cause pets to lose their fur or otherwise become more vulnerable to the cold. Many become more sensitive to cold temperatures when they older, too.
- Buy the right coat for the purpose you need it for, eg. a rain jacket, or a warm winter coat (or both).
- There should still be enough room for your dog to comfortably wear his collar. A hole in the coat where you can clip onto a harness is handy too.
- Coats should not be so long that they get in the way when male dogs urinate.
- Check sizing charts carefully, and read the reviews, too. Some coats run large or small. Dogs with a thinner build may need a smaller size, while broad-chested may need a size up.
- Coats that are machine-washable will save time.
Paw Protection and Traction
Tolerance to heat and cold can decrease as dogs get older. Boots, as silly as they may seem, can help to protect paws from the elements. Some older dogs also find it harder to keep their grip on slippery floors. Various types of paw protection, dog socks or boots, and paw traction pads can make it safer for them to walk on hard floors as well as give them more confidence.
- Buy the type of socks or boots that are designed for the purpose you have in mind. For example, you might want socks that give your dog more traction on slippery floors, or you might want more durable boots that are meant for walking outdoors.
- Get the right size. Look for a sizing chart and take the time to follow it carefully. Not every brand of dog boot will require the same type of measurements.
- Look for something that's reasonably easy to put on, but that will stay on. One thing we did to keep lightweight socks or booties on was to buy velcro straps. Wrap them securely, but not too tightly, on the leg over the sock/boot, just above the wide part of the paw.
- Expensive boots won't necessarily work best for your dog. I've experimented with many types of booties (my dog had degenerative myelopathy). The two that worked best for him were Grippers Non Slip Dog Socks and Pawz dog boots.
- If your dog won't accept boots for his outdoor walks, you can try paw wax instead.
Pet Waterers and Fountains
Some medical conditions (like Cushings Disease) can cause an increase in thirst. A pet waterer or drinking fountain are devices that help to keep the water bowl replenished so your pet is less likely to run out. You also won't have to run around so often, trying to keep the bowls filled all the time.
Pets with many other medical conditions may struggle with getting enough water. A pet water fountain, with the sound and sight of running water, can help to entice or encourage pets to drink more.
- Thoroughly clean the pet waterer or fountain at least once a day, and refill with fresh water.
- A removable water bowl is handy for quick clean-ups.
- A wide-mouth on the water reservoir is easier to clean.
- Dishwasher-safe is a bonus.
- Leave waterers and/or fountains in areas where your dog hangs out the most. You might need more than one, especially if your pet isn't quite as mobile anymore.
Older dogs can't always hold their bladders for very long. They might also have a medical condition, like arthritis, that makes it difficult for them to make it to the door in time. 'Puppy pads' or housetraining pads are meant for housebreaking young dogs but they're useful for older ones, too. They are absorbent and leak-proof (under normal use) and will help to minimize pets laying in wet conditions.
- Use them to line beds, kennels, car seats, furniture, etc -- anywhere your pet likes to rest.
- Older cats sometimes start to have litter box problems and may start having accidents outside the box. Line the area around the litter box for an easy way to clean-up.
- Some pads are reusable. I have these washable underpads; they come in a pack of 4 (so that I have extra when I have to throw one in the wash), they're a good size, and they contain accidents very well.
- Disposable pads should be promptly discarded when soiled and fresh ones put down.
- Dogs who are unable to hold their bladders for an extended period (such as when its people are at work), can be trained to use a specific area lined with pads.
A good, supportive dog bed can help alleviate joint soreness and arthritis pain in older dogs. Memory form or gel are popular.
- Get the right size and type of bed. Measure your dog from his nose to the base of his tail, and add 6 to 12 inches. Dogs who like to curl up may prefer a bed with 'arms' (the bolster-style beds) to snuggle up with. Dogs who like to sprawl may need a larger bed with extra space to accommodate running after squirrels in dream-land.
- Make sure the bed is rated for your dog's weight.
- A thick, soft bed isn't necessarily the best choice. If your dog has trouble getting up from soft surfaces, a firmer bed may work better for him. The dog shouldn't 'bottom up' on the bed when he's lying on it; his whole body should be supported.
- A removable, machine-washable cover makes clean-up much easier.
- A non-slip backing is important so that the bed doesn't move if your dog stumbles or is off-balance when he lies down on it. A non-slip rug pad can work as well; just place it between the floor and the bed.
- Waterproof dog beds are useful for dogs who may lose bladder control while they sleep. A waterproof liner typically sits beneath the bed cover, but over the inside of the bed to protect it from urine soaking in.
- If you intend to use the bed in a dog crate, make sure you measure the crate carefully before choosing a bed.
These are just a few of the products available that can help improve the day-to-day lives of our aging pets. Caring for a senior pet is such a blessing. While it's hard to watch them age, we need to remember that pets are talented at living in the moment and we just need to join them.