Saturday, February 23, 2013

Home Accommodations - My House Looks Like a Doggie Nursing Home!

Steps, Ramps, Rugs and Alternative Flooring

So my dog has arthritis, can I really do something right now to help them?  You can do lots with small accommodations to your home.  Think, what does your dog do daily?  Where might he be adding trauma to his joints?  Where does he have the most trouble?  Are there any dangers in my home for my mobility-impaired pup?

After Oscar's initial episode of severe pain with his arthritis  - the first thing the vet said was, "REST".  This meant short walks on leash, no stairs, no jumping, she said I should even consider crating him.  Um, I have an insane Boston Terrier that thinks he is invincible and can do anything.

Like for instance this:

Oscar already had senior doggie steps up to the bed.  It took him all of 3 minutes to learn how to use them like a pro.  He surely is not acting like a 12 year old in this video.

There are many options out there for dog steps, many are expensive, my favorite ones only cost $30.  I have used Pet Gear Soft Steps II from Target for 3 years now and they are still in good shape. You will probably have to order them online as I don't think they carry them in most stores. I also have some fancy ones kind of like this but by far I actually like the cheaper ones. You can also build your own out of Styrofoam and felt but the supplies also cost about $30.  See how here.

Oscar had used these steps for sometime until it became clear that he liked to use the stairs to get up into bed but would jump down to get out of the bed and after his diagnosis this was going to be a serious source of trauma on his back.  Every time he jumped from the bed I worried about his becoming paralysed.

So, I'm kinda ashamed 
to admit this but, eventually, I ended up on the floor.  Literally, I disassembled my bed, my friend built me a 1" frame out of two pieces of plywood ($20 for supplies) and my mattress has been on the floor ever since.  I admit it, my body hurt for about a week.  I have a really nice mattress so that is probably the only thing saving me. 
But after 2 years of sleeping on the floor, I can say MY balance and ability to spontaneously levitate up has much improved - and it inadvertently cured my sleep walking. Win!  I still miss my bed and LOVE it when I get to stay in a real bed from time to time.

The Dogs Like the Bed Being on the Floor

Now you seriously do not have to be as crazy as me and start sleeping Korean-style.  It worked for me.  What you may have to do though, if your dog is used to sleeping with you, is re-train him to sleep in a dog bed next to your bed.  If your dog is small enough, you can add bed elevators to your bed so that the dog is unable to get in and out of the bed.  It may sound cruel if your dog has slept with you its whole life but it can save his back and give him longevity.  Remember any fall or any trauma could cost you a lot of money (say $1,500 in one instance for me) and cause your dog a lot of pain!

When Oscar was diagnosed with spondylosis and arthritis, I was actually living upstairs in an apartment with about 30 steps downstairs, off the porch and into the yard.  To add to this, I also had a deaf dog to walk (my dear sweet angel Oliver is no longer with us).  The vet made it clear.  The less stairs the better and she would prefer NO stairs at all while healing.

My solution was haphazard to say the least. 
Walking down 30 steps carrying a 28 pound dog dragging while along a smaller dog on a leash, and hoping he would keep the same pace, was clearly dangerous.  Especially because I am damn clumsy myself.

Within a week it became clear to me: I must move to a ground level apartment.  Now, I know this is not feasible for everyone, but it was for me.  I happened to mention my apartment search to a neighbor downstairs and as if it was a "gift" from the universe, he said "Hey, I'll swap apartments with you if it means you don't have to move."  A week later I was moved downstairs!  A minor change of location avoided a cataclysmic change from the three of us eventually falling down a flight of stairs.

This did not completely solve the stair problem though.  I still had five steps to get from the porch into the yard.  It was manageable but I called on my handy friend again to help make me a ramp.  This sounds difficult, but seriously it was so easy to do.  We build a ramp for Oscar to get up and down off the porch out of a few pieces of wood and some AstroTurf for less than $20 in about an hour.  Almost 2 years later, we still use it every day - and I do believe this has been a life saver for my dog.  See Building A Ramp for the Monster.

Other things to consider are using well placed rugs or alternative flooring.  I found that as Oscar aged, he started to have more difficulty even getting into the bed on the floor.  I knew this was part of the progression into old age, so I had to start making new accommodations for him. This is why I ended up making the Felt Steps - because I could customize the height.  And also why I added rugs to either side of the bed.  Hardwoods suck for old dogs.  They lose traction when they need it most.  I found that placing nonslip (this is the important part) rugs on either side of the bed gave him traction back and greatly increased his ability to get into the bed and not fall while doing so.

One option that I have only dreamed of so far is adding alternative flooring to particular parts of the house.  If you have carpet, this is not really needed.  But if you have tile, hardwoods or other slick surfaces, your baby needs floor support.  My Orthopedic Vet has specialized flooring but you too can add this to your home.  You can get the rubber puzzle piece flooring used in children's playrooms or they have some particularly made for pets at RubberCal.  Note though that I personally have only used this flooring at the vets office.  I chose to go with non-slip utility rugs like this.

But my dream is something like this:

I have made some pretty drastic changes to my home which I believe have given my dog a safer, longer life.  I don't expect anyone else to do this.  You have to still live your life in your own home.  But hopefully this will help you to start thinking of what small changes can increase the safety of your dogs joints.

I will continue to add additional resources as time passes but Handicap Pets also has options for ramps and stairs, though they are pricey in my opinion.

Also there is the question as to Can my dog learn to use these accommodations?  Usually they can, because the dog soon notices it's easier than the old way.  But I will also ask a trainer to speak to this in a future blog.

Back when we had a "real bed" Oscar would always 
lay with his chin on the end of the bed just like this.

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