Adapting the Environment for Your Senior Dog
Dogs are incredibly adaptable individuals, so a senior pooch with mobility issues will most likely do whatever he can to keep himself moving when necessary. But you can help him deal with his loss of locomotion by adjusting his environment to meet his current needs.
Getting around your home and into your car may be easy for you, but for a dog who has locomotion limitations, home turf and car entry may seem like obstacle courses. Slippery floors, steep stairs, high-car entrances, and chilly indoor temperatures can make your creaky-jointed pooch uncomfortable. You can make minor alterations that ease your pooch's pain and lessen the challenge of negotiating her home turf.
Some alterations you may want to make include
- Ramping up. If your senior companion can't hop up into your car the way she used to, make it possible for her to forego hopping altogether. You can get a slanted ramp that lets her walk up into your car rather than jump into it — which gives her sore muscles and joints some much-needed relief and spares you from lifting her into the car.
- When you're not using your doggy ramp, tuck it behind the driver's seat. Such placement prevents the ramp from becoming an airborne missile if you must stop suddenly.
- Stepping up. Senior dogs who can't get themselves up on a couch or human bed will probably welcome some carpeted steps to preclude the need for jumping. A company called Dog Bed Works sells such products in two-step, three-step, and four-step sizes.
- Bedding down. Sure, your dog didn't mind sleeping on the cold, hard floor when she was younger — but now that she's older, she may enjoy having some heat and some cushioning. Soft, cushy beds can cradle your four-legged friend in soft-as-a-cloud comfort. Orthopedic beds —also known as egg-crate beds, because the mattress looks like the inside of an empty egg carton — have special foam linings that can add to your dog's luxury. Some orthopedic beds even have heating elements to increase that sense of ease. You can find good dog beds, orthopedic and otherwise, at any pet superstore.
- To keep your senior comfy no matter where she is, try placing beds not only where she usually sleeps at night, but also at other favorite places in your home. There's no law against a dog having more than one bed!
- Giving her some stockings. Many older dogs have calluses on their elbows from years of lying on hard floors and other surfaces. The constant rubbing of the dogs' elbow on the floor causes the hair to wear away and the exposed skin to thicken. A callus can actually protect the elbows, but if it gets painful, a product called DogLeggs can help. The product looks like a stocking that's open at both ends, and it's lined with fleece. Simply pull the stocking over your dog's paw, onto her leg, and over her elbow. You can order one or more pairs of DogLeggs, which are custom-fit to your dog's measurements.
- De-flooring it. Bare floors can be tough on your older pooch because they don't offer any traction. You could install wall-to-wall carpeting in your home, but a cheaper option is to add some rugs in strategic places. Make sure, though, that the rugs adhere to the floor either with their own backings or with backings that you buy. If you feed your senior in the kitchen, which probably has a bare floor, putting a rug in the feeding area can help her stay on all fours while she eats
- Warming up. Most elderly people are more sensitive to cold temperatures than younger folks are, and most elderly dogs are the same way. Your mobility-challenged senior will probably feel much more comfortable if you turn up your thermostat a couple of degrees in the winter and use a little less air conditioning in the summer.
- Giving her a raise. Or, more accurately, giving her dishes a raise. A dog whose back hurts or has trouble bending down will be grateful to eat from dishes that are lifted up from the floor. Many pet-supply companies sell platforms that you can set food bowls on; you can also rig up your own doggy place setting simply by placing the food bowls atop a low bench.
- Do not raise your dog's dishes from the floor if she's at risk for bloat, a potentially deadly condition in which gas fills the stomach and compresses the surrounding organs. Dogs who are at risk include large dogs with narrow chests, dogs who've already had bloat, or dogs with one or more relatives who've had it. A dog's risk increases with age, and the condition can be fatal if left untreated.
One of the toughest aspects of caring for a dog who's losing mobility is the feeling that you're alone in the task. Able Dogs, an electronic mailing list, can put you in touch with other owners of mobility-challenged dogs.