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  • Writer's pictureKaty Stanlake

Winter care for our senior pets

Winter can be a tough time for our senior pets, especially during these colder months. Current research estimates that four out of five older cats and dogs suffer from arthritis. But what can we do?

The first step is to identify this disease. Arthritis is a chronically painful condition but can be hard to spot. Being a chronic pain type, its consistency and intensity increase gradually, therefore our animals accept it and modify their behaviour and the way they move to compensate for it. This is different to acute pain where they might yelp or guard against it. Many arthritic pets will still chase a ball or jump up onto surfaces, but these temporary distractions will only delay the sensation of pain, and they can feel worse for it afterwards.

Click here to access our dog Mobility Challenge and here to visit our cat Mobility Challenge. Why not see if your pet’s behaviour has changed?

For those pets that have a score of 28 or less, changes can be made to help relieve your pet’s discomfort. Often small adjustments to both the management and environment of our pets can help alleviate their pain and prevent further trauma. So, let’s take an insight to our senior pet’s daily routine during these dark, cold winter months.


The reduced range of movement (ROM) overnight can cause aching and stiff joints in the morning. A warm, supportive, comfortable bed, which is easy to get in and out of, will help your dog get the rest they need. Floors with good traction will stop any slipping and jarring of the joints. Orthopaedic and heat reflective beds are ideal, and a bedtime jacket might also be a consideration.

Gentle massage or passive ROM exercises can be done before they get up. This helps to refresh the joint fluids and gently stretch the supportive tissues around the joint. Demonstrations on how to do this safely are run by our nurses through our mobility clinics.

Slips, trips and stumbles also increase unnecessary injury and pressure through already sore joints. Something as simple as creating clear, well-lit pathways to toileting facilities or food bowls, with non-slip flooring can really help. During wet and icy weather outside when it can get quite slippery, it may be better to delay a walk for a few hours, or again think about traction on surfaces outside. Trimming claws and the hair under the pads can increase traction and keep the toes comfortable.

Climbing or jumping in/out of vehicles can be another hazard which puts extra strain through joints and increase the risk of slipping or stumbling. Again, ensure that lighting is appropriate with a torch, or better yet invest in a dog ramp. After exercise, prevent chills and keep the large muscle groups warmer by drying your dog off and perhaps invest in a jacket that helps wick moisture away from your dog’s coat.

Admittedly the short daylight hours and less than ideal weather conditions can make it difficult to get out and about. Enrichment activities can replace the walks, but just remember to reduce the amount of calories that your dog is consuming by between 5-10%. This will help prevent any unnecessary weight gain which will lead to further strain through the joints.


It is often much harder to identify arthritis in cats as they tend to be secretive about pain and being vulnerable. During the winter they tend to avoid the weather conditions outside which presents an opportunity to assess for behavioural changes.

Has where they sleep changed/sleeping period extended?

As a rule, cats prefer to sleep somewhere high and away from household traffic, in order to get the appropriate rest they need. Arthritis can make it painful for cats get to these places, so something as simple as a ramp to their favourite spot can really help. Multiple sleeping options with supportive bedding at various heights allow them to choose the most appropriate bed for them. Pet safe heat sources either over or under bedding can also be used to help ease joint pain.

Are they toileting in alternative areas of the house?

With the cold and wet winter weather our cats may be more inclined to stay indoors for longer periods. We therefore need to ensure appropriate toileting facilities are available, particularly for our older, less mobile cats. Maintain at least one litter tray for each cat in the household plus one other and place them in different locations. Toileting is an extremely vulnerable time for cats, so litter trays will need to be in a private yet accessible area of the house, so if your older cat spends time upstairs, don’t keep both litter trays downstairs. Consider how easily your senior cat can access the litter trays too. Stepping over a deep-sided tray may be uncomfortable so try something shallower. A finer substrate in the tray will be more stable to stand on, which will be easier on arthritic joints.

If you are worried about your pet's health or mobility, please call your usual branch and we can arrange an appointment with our Pain and Mobility Clinic team.

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