How to help manage stiffness and mobility difficulties in your Pet

 

Winter Pet Care for older pets
 

Those of us with arthritis and other joint problems can be particularly prone to feeling the weather at this time of year, literally feeling the cold and damp ‘in our bones’; and this is no different for our older - or even younger - pets that suffer from joint disorders.


Common signs that dogs or cats may be showing if they are suffering with joint pain

Dogs and cats may both have four legs and be (for the most part) covered in fur, but that is often where the similarity ends and how these two species express signs of joint pain and discomfort are often very different:

Dogs:

  • Slowing down during walks/exercise
  • Difficulties standing unaided (especially on slippery surfaces)
  • Stiffness after lying for extended periods or following exercise
  • Difficulties climbing or jumping into vehicles/onto furniture
  • Difficulties squatting to urinate and/or defecate
  • Difficulties reaching down to the floor for food/water bowls
  • Licking or over-grooming of painful joints
  • Reduced interaction with family members and reluctance to ‘play’

Cats:

  • Reluctance to jump onto or off higher surfaces
  • Reduced activity or more time spent sleeping
  • Matted or scruffy coats from reduced grooming
  • Licking or over-grooming of painful joints
  • Irritable when handled or stroked
  • Difficulty using litter tray or inappropriate soiling outside of the litter tray
  • Difficulty using cat flap

If you recognise any of these signs in your pet it is important to have them checked over by your veterinary surgeon. Once your vet has examined your cat or dog they may prescribe pain relieving medications and joint support supplements to help make your pet more comfortable; but there are also several changes you can make at home to help make everyday life more manageable for you and your furry friends.

 

To help you and your furry friends have a more comfortable winter we have compiled some top tips:

 

1. Warm Environment

Cold and damp is well documented to exacerbate the severity of joint pain. To help reduce discomfort for pets with joint problems at this time of year: ensure that their environment is kept free of draughts and damp, ensure that beds are placed in warm, draught free areas and thoroughly dry pets after they have been out in wet weather (even if they have only had a quick trip outside to toilet).

2. Exercise:

In some cases extreme winter weather can put a dampener on regular pet outings but it is extremely important that animals with joint problems continue to exercise (within their limits) to help prevent muscle wastage and excessive stiffness. We would advise to discuss with your veterinary surgeon when planning a suitable exercise regime for any pet with joint/mobility issues but often one of the most effective changes for dogs is to change from long walks once or twice daily to shorter but more frequent walks; helping to reduce the stress placed on joints whilst maintaining muscle integrity and reducing prolonged exposure to cold, wet conditions. 

For cats that spend less time outdoors; you can encourage more gentle and regular play by using a variety of toys (these don’t have to be expensive as most cats love to chase things like crumpled paper and bits of string – just make sure they don’t eat them!)

 

3. Placing mats or rugs on slippery surfaces:

Pets suffering from joint problems often have a degree of muscle wastage or reduced movement in affected limbs. This muscle wastage in turn leads to weakness in the legs and can make it much more difficult for your pet to maintain a grip on slippery surfaces; especially when trying to rise to a sitting or standing position. During winter, bad weather can increase the chance that laminated or tiled areas will become even more slippery. Placing non-slip mats or rugs on un-carpeted flooring can help make it easier for your pet to achieve and maintain a better grip whilst sitting or standing.

For cats, using non-slip matts outside of litter trays can help them to feel more confident when climbing in and out.

 

4.Padded Bedding 

Dogs and cats that are suffering from joint issues are often prone to pain and sometimes even swelling in or around the affected joints. Bedding with extra padding provides a soft pliable surface to help relieve some of the pressure placed on these sensitive areas. It also provides a warm area for your pet on those cold winter days.

 

5.Ramps

When a dog or cat jumps down from any raised surface the forces that are placed on the joints of the forelimbs are substantially increased; whilst jumping up onto a raised surface requires significant strength and mobility in the muscles and joints of the hind limbs. Animals suffering from joint disorders often have reduced range of movement and also the ‘shock absorption’ properties of affected joints are not as effective as they should be, leading to discomfort and pain whenever that joint is placed under undue stress.

Ramps can be used to aid your dog when climbing into and out of vehicles or - if allowed - on and off that cosy space on the sofa. Whilst ramps and shallow steps can help your cat to access their favourite, hard-to-reach places (such as a windowsill or comfy chair).

 


6.Easy access to feed and water bowls

Dogs suffering from joint problems often find it difficult to reach down to water and feed bowls on the ground. This is especially true for animals that have significant degenerative changes in the joints of the forelimbs as lowering the head results in increased force through the shoulders, elbows and paw regions. A simple way to make life a little easier for your canine companion is to elevate feed and water bowls to a more comfortable height.

For cats we need to ensure that feed and water bowls are easily accessible: move them to lower surfaces that your cat can easily reach without the need for jumping up. If food and water dishes are usually kept upstairs then find a suitable place they can be placed downstairs to reduce the need for your cat to have to climb steps (this also applies to litter trays).

 

7.Grooming

Cats and dogs suffering from joint problems may be less able to groom themselves as well as they used to which can be exacerbated by the growth of thick winter coats and wet weather; this can lead to matted and soiled fur which can cause further discomfort and stress for your pet. As a pet parent you can help with grooming some of the more troublesome spots; use soft brushes and even grooming mittens to gently remove excess fur and use pet safe wipes to help clean soiled regions. If your pet has developed difficult-to-remove knots in their fur then contact your veterinary practice for advice or visit a reputable groomer with experience in dealing with pets with mobility issues.

 

Extra tips for dog parents:

8. Support Harnesses

Dogs suffering from severe joint problems may have a substantial degree of muscle wastage or general limb weakness. For these animals the act of standing for prolonged periods unaided can be very difficult and often the act of squatting to toilet is too much for them to manage alone. In cases such as this it is worth considering the use of a special harness or sling which allows you to help provide a little extra support when needed.

9. Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy involves assisted exercise in (warm) water. Due to the buoyancy of the water there are minimum forces placed through joints during swimming or assisted ‘water-walking’ thus this type of exercise allows your dog to rebuild weakened muscles and increase general fitness levels with minimum stress placed on affected joints. We advise discussing the suitability of hydrotherapy for your dog with your veterinary surgeon.

 

Extra tips for cat parents:

10. Litter trays

Provide your feline friends with litter trays that have at least one low side to make access easier for them. Ensure that there is a litter tray placed somewhere that is easily accessible for your cat, preferably downstairs and making sure it is in a quite area with no other people/pet traffic. If you have a multi cat household then make sure you have at least one litter tray available per cat plus one extra tray (this helps reduce stress and can reduce inappropriate soiling).

 

We hope that these top tips will help you and your pet so that you can all enjoy a more comfortable winter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author

Gemma Davidson

Gemma graduated from Liverpool University in 2010 following which she went on to practice as a small animal vet. Gemma has a keen interest in small animal internal medicine, especially gastrointestinal and liver disorders.

In her free time Gemma is a keen amateur thespian and is a member of several local drama societies. Since she became a vet she has acquired numerous rescue animals and now has 3 cats, 2 dogs, and a parrot!