Senior comforts at home – By Zoe Hyde (Veterinary nurse)
In addition to neutraceutical therapies and medications, there are a few key things we can to help keep our special senior pets comfortable.
Regular exercise on soft surfaces
This is paramount as we want to continue to support our pets muscle mass. When our pets loose muscle (atrophy), this can create additional pain and complications for their mobility and arthritis. Of course, not overdoing exercise is important as well, as this can exasperate their condition. Pending the pets level of arthritis, 30 minutes a day may be appropriate but your Vet can guide you with this as it will differ pending the individual. For dogs, walking them on soft surfaces such as at the beach or on the grass is a great option as it can put less strain on their joints, opposed to walking them on the pavement. Exercise for cats can include leaded walks in non-threatening areas using a cat harness, positive reinforcement training, and play time in an enclosed cat run. Similarly, rabbits and guinea pigs really benefit from “free range” time in a large, enclosed enclosure on the lawn.
If your pet is a water lover, encourage safe supervised swimming as this is amazing to maintain their muscle mass. You can even assist them swimming with harnesses with handles. If they don’t have the habit already, swimming would need to be done in a hydrotherapy pool. Of course, for cats and our pocket pets, this unfortunately isn’t an option!
This can help keep all our pets comfortable in their homes and provide a therapeutic place to rest. There are specific arthritic beds which have been designed and proven to help alleviate pain when used, such as the Australian made Barney Bed. Soft beds are also as important for our pocket pets!
Jackets and kennels if they are outside or a warm room inside; or even the luxury of a heated bed – cats especially LOVE these!
Older dogs have trouble with grip and the extra strain it puts on their muscles so providing cheap carpet runners or yoga mats over slippery floors that your dog frequents help prevent secondary muscle issues and accidental slipping.
Ramping and stairs
The jarring movement of jumping up and off furniture/in the car can put extreme pressure on our pets already fragile arthritic joints. In extreme cases, these movements which were once tolerated on their younger bodies, can cause fractures. Training our pets with positive reinforcement to use secure ramps and stairs can eliminate this risk and the strain. Having said this, ramps and stairs should be avoided with Guinea Pigs and Rabbits due to their risk of falling and sustaining a fracture.
Positive reinforcement training and environmental enrichment
Mental health is just as important as their physical health, with both tying in with another. Regular positive reinforcement training is important life long for our pets to help maintain their cognitive function. And YES, this includes cats. If you are struggling for your cat to cooperate, it’s likely you aren’t using a treat with enough high value – think chicken breast (cooked), small pieces of tuna, or Greenies. Environmental enrichment is all about encouraging pets to use their natural behaviours. Try scattering treats through the lawn, food puzzle toys such as puzzles and KONGs.