“Doc, Molly can’t get up the steps anymore.”
“Hunter always used to sleep in bed with us but he can’t jump up there now.”
“Sasha is really stiff after she gets up from a nap, even with the new bed we bought for her.”
It helps to look at pets’ ages in comparison to ours. Cats and dogs under 20 pounds are considered senior at age 8 and geriatric at 11-12. Dogs 21-50 pounds are senior at age 7 and geriatric at age 11. Dogs 51-120 pounds are senior at age 6 and geriatric at age 66. Dogs over 120 pounds are senior at age 4 and geriatric at age 7. These are guidelines and may not hold exactly true for each individual. If you think about a person you know (or even yourself if the shoe fits) who is age 60, chances are good he or she has experienced aches and pains in multiple joints, and may even had surgery on a knee or a hip.
Pets experience degenerative joint disease (DJD), which occurs due to stress over time on joints. It may be hastened by the presence of an old injury or due to abnormal shape of the joint (hip dysplasia is an example). Degenerative joint disease is the number one cause of chronic pain in pets. Many cases of DJD are not surgical, so we have to focus on preventing further damage and alleviating pain and discomfort. This often involves a combination of supplements, drugs, physical therapy, modifying the home, and use of products to assist the pet in moving around. Later this week I’ll be writing about ways to alleviate pain in older pets. For now, let’s focus on physical therapy, home modifications, and mobility assistance.
PT for Pets
It may seem a bit crazy to give physical therapy to dogs and cats, but it really can be beneficial for them and is something you can learn to do at home. Because older pets often aren’t up moving around as much, their muscles, tendons, and ligaments tend to stiffen. So while Fido is laying in his bed, do some gentle flexing and extending of his front and back legs. Use your fingertips to knead into the thigh and back muscles. If you have observed a certain body part seems to be worse than others, you can apply alternating cold/heat to that area (I suggest no more than 5-10 minutes of each, and never leave a pet with a heating pad unattended!!). For dogs with severe issues, you may want to seek care from a veterinarian who specializes in rehabilitation (see American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians). Rehab vets use many tools, such as underwater or land treadmill, laser therapy, chiropractic, therapeutic ultrasound, and other therapies to help pets.
Home Modifications and Mobility Assistance
Slipping on the non-carpeted floor seems to be a huge issue for pets who are unsteady on their legs. Providing traction by adding throw rugs with rubber grip on the back is a simple (and reversible) solution. Some dogs will accept wearing booties to improve their traction. Navigating steps is another problem. If there are just a few steps leading outside, a non-slip ramp (either purchased or home-made) may be an option. If there is no way to avoid steps inside the home, your dog may benefit from wearing a harness that allows you to provide support to the back end while walking. There are many brands available, and I have heard good things about the “Help ‘Em Up Harness.” A ramp or small step stool can be used to help your dog or cat get onto the bed or couch. I’ve talked to a number of pet owners who’ve invested in a new bed for their senior dog or cat. What I’ve heard is that sometimes they use them, and sometimes they don’t. One thing to consider is that while a big plush squishy bed might sound appealing to lay in, it could be hard for your pet to get out of. A memory foam bed offers a firmer platform yet still conforms to the body as your pet lays on it.
One thing I’m sure of, people are ingenious when it comes to making things easier for their senior pets! Leave a comment and share with others what you have done at your house for your dog or cat. Have a great Monday!