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How to make your older pet more comfortable

Older pet dog laying down on a red couch

Aging tends to sneak up on us, and before we know it our fur friends are exhibiting signs of being senior or even geriatric cats and dogs. We might start to notice that as our pets get older, they start showing signs that they are struggling: They sleep more, struggle to stand up or lie down, avoid taking the stairs, or even slip and tumble on occasion. While we can’t stop them from aging, there are ways we can ensure that our pets stay safe and happy in our homes as they continue to get older. 

Along with physical changes and limitations, our animal companions might display cognitive or behavioral changes. Your veterinarian should be able to assess your pet and determine if there is an underlying medical condition that can be addressed.  

Table of contents: 

Keep your older pets safe 

The most important changes we can make in our living environments are those that keep our older cats and dogs safe. Slippery surfaces, such as tile or hardwood floors, can be dangerous for older pets and cause them to lose their footing and fall. Trimming your dog’s toenails will offer more traction from their foot pads, but it might also be necessary to use more non-slip surfaces in your home. Adding non-slip rugs or yoga mats to high-traffic areas will help offer traction on the floors. While this will help your pet stay on their feet, you want to be sure that any changes you make to benefit your pet do not pose trip and fall risks to older humans living in the home. 

Staircases, especially hardwood without carpet runners, can become dangerous for older pets who might not be able to manage both the slick surface and the steep descent. If stairs or other high places become dangerous and lead to falls, a baby gate or other barrier will be effective in blocking off the area. There is probably little risk that your aging cat or dog will jump over the barrier, so they do not have to be as firmly fixed as for a younger pet.  

Make the space more accessible for your aging pets

As it becomes harder for pets to jump, they might need help getting into certain areas. Cats especially feel safest when they can survey their domain from a high perch. Either by arranging furniture so they can still climb to a favorite spot or adding steps or a carpet covered pet ladder, you can help them continue to access these favorite places. If high perches are still too difficult to reach, creating some lower-level alternatives might be helpful. Dogs and cats might benefit from a step stool or ramp to make their way to and from favorite couches or beds.  

Keep ground level paths clear and familiar as well. Aging animals can often suffer from vision loss, dementia or other age-related confusion, and having furniture where they remember it can be helpful. Limiting clutter and using nightlights will also help them navigate their space. 

Make your older pets more comfortable: 

Most older pets have osteoarthritis or some degree of joint discomfort. Ellevet’s CBD+CBDa Feline Oil or CBD+CBDa for dogs can offer relief to aching joints. Aging dogs and cats lose muscle mass and have difficulty staying warm as well and might need new bedding in order to remain comfortable. Offering soft, supportive bedding in a warm spot or even a pet bed with a heating element will be a welcome addition for cats and dogs. In colder climates, small or short-haired breeds might need a sweater to keep them warm. 

Elevated feeding stations and water bowls can alleviate discomfort caused by having to bend down to eat. This will ease neck and back discomfort and allow them to stand or even sit comfortably to eat and drink. Placing a few bowls around the house could help keep food and water close by if mobility is limited. 

Adding another litter box can keep relief nearby and prevent accidents when cats age. You might need to change to a bigger litter box with a low side so your cat can easily move in and out of the litter box. A larger box will allow them to comfortably relieve themselves without having to crouch or curl up.  

It is also important that we stay aware of other discomforts our older pets might feel. Attention they used to love like rough head scrubs or a few good thumps on the side could now be painful, scary, or just unwelcome. Be aware of their body language and reactions to make sure you know what kinds of attention they will welcome. Certain noises could also be more irritating. Loud beeps from the microwave, doorbells, or loud music might cause more distress than they did when your cat or dog were younger.  Many older pets welcome a secure spot away from the main action of the household that they can retreat to when needed. 

Keep senior pets active: 

An essential aspect of your older pet’s health is keeping them active both mentally and physically. Older animals tend to sleep more and progressive hearing loss can mean that they sleep more soundly without interruptions, which might lead them to be less active. Puzzle toys can be great for brain stimulation and keep them engaged with a reward of treats. A game of hide and seek can be fun as can making a ‘scent trail’ with treats to be found along the way. Adding new features to your backyard such as ropes to tug or boxes to explore can offer engagement opportunities close to home. 

Your older pet might no longer be up for the long walks or hikes you remember, but shorter walks can help keep their muscles strong. Varying your route will offer the stimulation of new sights, sounds, and smells.  

This could also be a time to teach a new trick, aided by lots of positive rewards. Remember that older pets are less active and more prone to weight gain if you are using food rewards. You can offer a portion of their daily food as training treats.  

The bottom line: 

Living with an aging pet can be a stressful time. Be aware that your beloved pet will be undergoing changes and that you might be called on to offer patient assistance with many areas of their life ranging from helping them get up or lie down, feeding, and cleaning messes from potty accidents.  

Their senior years can also be an extremely rewarding time for you and your animal companions. Enjoy the time you have with your fur family and appreciate the slower pace and time for extra cuddles that you can share. Taking a few extra steps will ensure that your pet ages in a happy, safe, and secure environment. 

Sources: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/home/2023/04/25/make-home-safer-senior-dog/

https://www.petmd.com/cat/care/how-create-accessible-safe-home-senior-cats

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