There are many changes that can occur in our pets as they age. These changes may require us to care for them differently than we may have when they were younger.
This 4-part series/guide is intended to help you recognize the signs or symptoms common in your senior/geriatric dog and cat pets and offers suggestions for you to help them stay comfortable, safe and happy as they advance in age. Part 1 – discusses pain and mobility issues. Part 2 – relates to loss of some of the senses such as vision and hearing. Part 3 – discusses appetite, hydration, and elimination issues. Part 4 – discusses behavioral changes pet experience with aging.
Mobility will decrease in pets, with time, due to a combination of factors. Arthritis causes direct pain as the cartilage in joints is lost. It also results in a decreased range of motion in affected joints, making it difficult for pets when they are getting up/rising or laying down and just a general difficulty in getting around. Muscle and nerve weakness can occur with aging and lead to difficulty in the pet lifting its limbs properly to walk. This may result in dragging or scuffing of the nails on the ground, pets not being able to “keep up on walks” or pets tiring quickly. It can also make it difficult to get around on slippery floors. Decreased mobility may result in your pet laying down most of the day; this can result in further muscle loss, worsening weakness, “bed” sores resulting in infection and swollen legs from decreased circulation and lack of movement.
Addressing lack of mobility will vary on a case to case depending on the severity and each pet’s particular needs. The following list outlines things that you can do that can help your pet with decreased mobility:
- Placing non-slip rugs, bath mats or yoga mats on slippery floors to provide traction.
- Trim excess hair that may be between toes that can reduce your pet’s natural traction.
- Move food and water bowls to a location where they can be easily accessed. For cats, this means having the food on ground level so they do not have to jump up onto a counter or walk downstairs to get to it.
- Use a litter box with lower edges to prevent the need to climb or jump into the box.
- Harnesses or slings can be used to help dogs stand from a lying position, or help them walk with our assistance. The Help Em Up Harness (www.helpemup.com) is a comfortable harness worn daily that has handles over the shoulders and hips that caretakers can use to help lift dogs into a standing position or help them walk out to potty, get more easily into a vehicle, etc. Even a beach towel used like a sling could be helpful if your pet isn’t amenable to wearing a harness.
- Toe Grips – (www.toegrips.com) are non-slip nail grips that fit on a dog’s toenails to provide traction on slippery floors. They can be worn continuously but will need to be replaced about every 1-3 months.
- Use ramps to minimize the number of steps a pet has to maneuver to go from inside to outside or when entering a vehicle.
- Medications — there are many safe and effective medications to treat arthritis pain such as anti-inflammatories, joint support medications, pure pain-relief medications, etc. to help keep pets active. Speak with your veterinarian to discuss appropriate options for your pet.
- Referral for Acupuncture can be helpful in supporting nerve function and strength.
- Use of baby gates to protect pets from accidentally falling down stairs and limiting your dog’s access to feline litter boxes or food bowls.
- Comfortable bedding in a variety of areas to choose from.
- Keep active – take your pet on short walks, if tolerated, to maintain muscle mass. Use treat puzzle toys for both dogs and cats to exercise both mind and body. Focusing on the task of obtaining a treat will help keep minds sharp and help with muscle strength and coordination. Laser pointers or cat dancers are good toys for indoor cats.
Pain can come from many sources: arthritis, certain disease processes like disc disease, joint swelling, and muscle fatigue. Signs of pain to watch for, include heavy panting, pacing, whining, laying or sitting in an abnormal posture or location and even lack of appetite. There are safe and effective ways for treating the different types of pain our geriatric pets may experience such as oral and injectable medications, Laser therapy, referral for acupuncture or physical therapy can be combined to help treat and control pain. If you feel your pet is in pain from an age-related condition, please call us at 262-781-5277 for an appointment today or request an appointment online to have one of our veterinarians assess your pet and determine the cause and the right course of action to ease its discomfort.