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As our pets age, their needs change just like ours do. As the owner of two 14 year-old dogs, I am personally seeing the impact of arthritis, decreased mobility, sensory changes, decreased vision and loss of hearing.

So what can we do to help our furry companions be more comfortable and safe at home? How can you senior-proof your home for your dogs and cats? 

Home Modifications For Aging Dogs

Ramps and stairs – Ramps and stairs can be especially helpful for dogs who have difficulty navigating steps or who struggle to get up and down from furniture. Look for ramps and stairs that have a non-slip surface and are sturdy and secure. For example, if your dog is having trouble getting up and down the stairs, you can install a ramp or a set of stairs that are less steep than your current stairs. You can also buy small sets of easy-to-navigate steps to help them comfortably get on the couch or bed. Truth: I have stairs for every couch in the house and a set to help our pups reach our bed. While I’ve tried various styles, here are the two that our dogs like best: High Density Foam Dog Stairs and Foam Linen Dog Steps

Baby gates – If some of your rooms are more dangerous for your aging dog (think slippery floors or only reachable by a set of steep stairs), consider blocking off their access to those rooms with a set of baby gates. It’s not popular – but it’s better than watching them tumble down the stairs.

Non-slip flooring – Older dogs may have trouble with slick surfaces, such as hardwood floors. Adding a non-slip surface, such as a rubber mat or carpet runner, can help them maintain their footing and prevent slips and falls. Also be careful about the products you choose to wash your floors – some make them much more slippery than others. 

Orthopedic beds – As dogs age, many develop arthritis or other joint problems. Investing in an orthopedic bed can provide them with extra cushioning and support, reducing joint pain and stiffness. Finn loves his.

Raised feeding dishes – For dogs with neck or back problems, raised feeding dishes can make it easier for them to eat and drink comfortably.

Doggy diapers – Incontinence can be a common problem for aging dogs. Doggy diapers can help prevent accidents and keep your home clean and odor-free. We’re not at this point yet – but I’d certainly consider it if became a problem. 

Scent markers – As dogs age, their sense of smell may decrease, which can be disorienting. Using scent markers, such as lavender or vanilla, can help them navigate their home by providing familiar smells.

Warm clothing – For dogs with thin fur or who feel the cold more easily, investing in a comfortable coat or sweater can help keep them warm and cozy. While our dog Brella has rebelled against clothing her whole life, she took great comfort in wearing her red sweater IN the house this past winter. 

Outdoors – When you’re modifying your home for your aging dog, don’t forget your yard! If your dog is experiencing hearing loss or dementia you can expect their recall to be slower, or even impossible. Make sure there aren’t any gaps in the fence that might lead them to inadvertently getting lost. 

Harnesses and slings – Harnesses and slings can be used to provide additional support and lift for dogs with mobility issues. Look for harnesses and slings that are adjustable and provide support to the hips and back legs.

The less change, the better – If your aging dog is experiencing dementia or loss of vision, be careful about changing furniture location or making big renovations – just moving tthe couch to the other side of the room can be confusing. The more your dog has to change how it moves through the house, the more stressful it is. 

For Aging Cats:

Low-sided litter boxes – Cats with arthritis or mobility issues may have trouble getting in and out of high-sided litter boxes. Switching to a low-sided box can make it easier for them to use the litter box comfortably.

Soft bedding – As cats age, they may become more sensitive to hard surfaces. Providing soft, comfortable bedding can help them sleep more comfortably. And we all know how much cats like to be comfortable. 

Elevated food and water dishes – Elevated dishes can help cats with neck or back problems eat and drink more comfortably.

Accessible perches – Cats love to climb and perch, but older cats may have trouble jumping up to high perches. Providing accessible perches, such as window seats or low bookshelves, can help them continue to enjoy their favorite activity.

Pet stairs – Just like for dogs, pet stairs can help cats with mobility issues navigate their home more easily.

Soft lighting – As cats age, their eyesight may decline. Soft lighting can help them see more clearly and navigate their home with confidence.

Interactive toys – Keeping older cats mentally stimulated is important for their overall well-being. Interactive toys, such as puzzle feeders or laser pointers, can provide mental stimulation and help keep them active.

Emotional Support for Aging Dogs and Cats

In addition to physical modifications and adaptations, it’s also important to support your senior pets emotionally. Just like humans, pets can experience anxiety, loneliness, and other emotional changes as they age. Here are some ways to support your aging pet emotionally:

Spend quality time with them – Spending quality time with your pet can help reduce their stress and anxiety levels and provide them with comfort and companionship.

Keep them mentally stimulated – Keeping your pet mentally stimulated can help prevent boredom and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Interactive toys, puzzle feeders, and training sessions are all great ways to keep your pet engaged and stimulated.

Monitor their behavior – As pets age, their behavior may change. Be observant of any changes in their behavior, such as increased anxiety or aggression, and consult with your veterinarian or a professional pet behaviorist if needed.

Provide a safe and comfortable environment – Ensuring that your pet has a safe and comfortable environment, with access to their favorite toys and comfortable bedding, can help reduce their stress and anxiety levels.

Provide regular veterinary care – Regular veterinary care can help identify and address any underlying health issues that may be contributing to your pet’s emotional changes. Your veterinarian can also provide advice and recommendations for managing any behavioral changes that may arise.

I can’t tell you how much I wish I hadn’t been tasked with becoming an expert in modifying my home for my senior pets – like all pet owners, I wish my dogs would have stayed young and healthy forever. But the changes I’ve made – and the ones I’m ready to make as they continue to age – will make a world of difference in keeping them comfortable, safe and happy at home. 

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