Movement is integral to your pet’s physical and emotional wellbeing, but age-related changes can make everyday mobility painful, difficult, or impossible. Although your senior pet may be slowing down, they can continue to have a great quality of life.
Understanding your senior pet’s reduced mobility
Similar to an elderly human’s body, your aging pet’s body has undergone natural degenerative changes—especially their joints. Senior pet mobility is also influenced by age-related vision changes (e.g., poor depth perception or reduced contrast), hearing loss, muscle atrophy, reduced cognitive function, decreased balance and coordination, neurologic conditions, and generalized weakness from various health conditions.
The greatest contributor to senior pets’ mobility issues is arthritis (i.e., degenerative joint disease [DJD]). Arthritis is a progressive inflammatory condition in which healthy shock-absorbing cartilage has worn away, resulting in painful bone-on-bone movement. Arthritis can develop in one or more joints, with one or both sides being affected. Pets may alter or reduce their movement to avoid pain, resulting in progressive muscle loss, worsening stiffness, and compensatory injuries. Unmanaged arthritis has a negative impact on a pet’s quality of life, and often leads to humane euthanasia.
Signs that your pet is struggling with mobility
Limping and vocalizing signal that your pet is struggling with their mobility—and often by the time these signs appear, treatment may be futile. Because pets instinctively hide pain and weakness, they are likely to express discomfort in less-apparent ways such as:
Mobility issues in cats are often not obvious, despite the fact that up to 90% of senior cats show radiographic evidence of arthritis. Since arthritis in cats typically occurs bilaterally, they often do not limp, but may walk in a hunched or crouching posture. You can also watch for other signs, such as:
Age-related changes are normal—but mobility decline does not have to shorten your pet’s life. Schedule an in-clinic appointment with our Dr. Treat team to explore your pet’s options for effective pain relief and improved mobility.
“Mobility issues in cats are often not obvious, despite the fact that up to 90% of senior cats show radiographic evidence of arthritis.”
Your pet’s mobility exam
Accurate diagnosis is the first step to helping your pet who has mobility issues. Our comprehensive physical examination includes taking a thorough history to learn about your pet’s home life and habits, a close evaluation of each joint—including range of motion and flexibility—a neurologic evaluation to test your pet’s nerves and reflexes, and a gait analysis to observe your pet in motion. Finally, your Dr. Treat veterinarian carefully assesses your pet’s pain, and may order follow-up testing including diagnostic blood work or imaging (e.g., X-rays or ultrasound).
“Unmanaged arthritis has a negative impact on a pet’s quality of life, and often leads to humane euthanasia.”
After diagnosing the cause of your pet’s mobility problems, your Dr. Treat veterinarian creates a mobility care plan addressing their most important needs. Your pet’s mobility treatment plan generally includes pain management (e.g., anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxers), at-home modifications, supplements (e.g. omega 3, chondroitin, glucosamine combinations) and we may recommend referral for rehabilitative therapies such as massage, laser, or underwater treadmill therapy.
At-home help for your senior pet
To improve your pet’s mobility and restore their confidence, we recommend you make some simple home alterations. Our Dr. Treat team encourages you to consider your pet’s daily routine, and their paths throughout your home by looking for obvious physical barriers that could be hazardous now or in the future—including stairs, elevations (e.g., the car or furniture), uneven surfaces, and slippery floors. Consider whether your pet can reach—on their own—the area of your home where you and your family spend the most time, and whether your furry family member has a place there where they can rest. The following recommendations can make your home more accessible for your senior pet:
Install pet ramps
Stairs and jumping can be hazardous for senior pets who lack strength, flexibility, and balance. Ramps that have textured surfaces provide a safe and secure way for your senior pet to reach their favorite places (e.g., the car, couch, or bed) without risking injury. Introduce pet ramps gradually to protect your pet’s confidence. Start with the ramp on the ground and praise and reward your pet for any interaction. Gradually increase the angle until your pet is comfortable using the ramp at its designated spot.
Help your pet get back on their paws
Pain, weakness, and reduced body awareness (i.e., proprioception) can cause senior pets to lose their balance on slippery surfaces. Restore your pet’s grip—and their confidence—by introducing products such as Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips and PawFriction by Pawtology.
Use rugs, runners, or yoga mats
Strategically place rugs, rug runners, and yoga mats in home locations where your pet needs extra support. In addition to placing these goods in the home areas where your pet routinely walks, consider putting them where your pet likes to rest. They will appreciate having an improved gripping ability when rising from a reclining position.
Block access to stairs
For significantly impaired pets, Dr. Treat recommends using a baby gate or similar barrier to restrict your pet’s access to stairs. If your pet suffers from a neurologic condition or cognitive dysfunction, you may wish to confine them to a smaller home area to prevent them from injuring themselves by falling or slipping.
Increase grip on slippery steps
Pets who have mildly affected mobility issues benefit from stair runners, nonslip stair tape, or a similar application. Apply these items to all steps that your pet may use—including those leading to the garage, basement, or outdoors.
Give them a lift with a pet harness
Providing physical assistance and mobility support to medium- and large-size dogs can be challenging, and may increase your back injury risk. Mobility harnesses—such as the Help ‘Em Up Harness—are an easy and ergonomic way to safely assist your dog whether they need help getting to their feet or going outside to eliminate. Harnesses feature front end, hind end, or full body support options to cater to your dog’s specific need, and are made with sturdy grab handles and neoprene material for easy cleaning.
Provide a supportive bed
Have you thought about your pet’s bed lately? Lumpy uneven stuffing and worn-out foam do not provide even support for your pet’s joints. Select a supportive bed that features an even layer of moderately firm padding. Avoid overly plush or memory foam beds—which may sink and move when your senior pet tries to rise from a reclining position. Ensure your pet’s new bed has at least one low side so they can easily enter and exit.
Encourage low-impact exercise
Despite your pet’s mobility challenges, they have plenty of safe and beneficial options for exercise. Low-impact physical activities improve circulation, relieve stress, and help your pet retain their current strength and mobility levels. Ask your Dr. Treat veterinarian to suggest exercises that benefit your pet’s ability and physical condition.
Your aging pet’s mobility is directly linked to their emotional and physical wellbeing. Preserve and prolong your senior pet’s health and quality of life by ensuring they receive routine veterinary care with our Dr. Treat team. You can conveniently schedule online or in the app.