Families finding ways to comfort older dogs, cats

Lap of Love of Michigan makes in-home visits to help care for elderly dogs and cats

LAKE ORION, Mich. - Toby has been a part of Amy Eby's family for 13 years. She brought the rescue dog home when he was just 6 months old, but those puppy years are well behind him.

"He is struggling mostly with his mobility, (getting) up and down the stairs, even just to lay down, in and outside, his hearing, his vision a little bit, too," Eby said.

Eby scheduled a hospice consultation appointment for Toby to make sure she was doing everything possible to make Toby comfortable.

Dr. Courtney Graham, a veterinarian and owner of Lap of Love of Michigan, performed a hospice examination at Eby's Lake Orion home.

Graham's services through Lap of Love include in-home euthanasia as well as hospice or palliative care for older dogs and cats. During home visits, Graham focuses on appetite, hydration, pain and mobility.

"It's not necessarily an ending of life," said Eby. "It's making sure that end of life is more comfortable."

"The goal of today's appointment was to sort of help her ensure that Toby's quality of life is as comfortable and happy and pain free as he can be," Graham said.

Graham offers five simple steps to improve the quality of life and comfort for elderly dogs and cats.
For elderly dogs:

If owners feel their dog might be uncomfortable, they can contact their veterinarian regarding medications or supplements that can help decrease pain. Signs of discomfort, according to Graham, include panting, restlessness, tucked tail, reclusive or aggressive behavior, depression and vocalizing.

Keep food and water bowls where pets will use them, including in multiple areas or levels of the house. As a pet's mobility declines, Graham said a dog will not have as much motivation to travel long distances for food and water.

Graham said good hygiene is also crucial for pets. Elderly dogs commonly get infected with urinary or fecal inconsistencies. It is important to keep them as clean as possible, from both a hygiene and a comfort aspect.

Orthopedic pet beds are easier for an elderly dog to get up, use ramps for vehicles or pet stairs inside the house to get onto a couch or bed will improve a pet's mobility and quality of life. Using nightlights help those with poor vision find their resources overnight.  

Eby put a mat at the bottom of her stairs to keep Toby from falling when he comes down the stairs. Graham recommends mats across hardwood and tile floors to get pets from one carpeted area without falling or slipping.

"They can't say to us, 'You know, Mom, I'm having a hard time with these steps now.' And you might see them stilted with the steps, but they can't say, 'I'm afraid that when I get to the bottom of these steps that I'm going to fall and that fall is really going to hurt and it's going to hurt for a long period of time,'" Graham said.

"I think the baby gate at the top of the stairs is a great idea. I didn't think of that, because as he is now losing his vision some, in the middle of the night he tends to get up more just to protect him at the stairs, just to protect him at the stairs," Eby said.

Graham recommends stimulating dogs' minds with new toys, play dates and short walks to help keep them tuned in to what's going on around them.

For elderly cats:

If you sense your cat is in pain, consult a veterinarian about medications and supplements that can help increase comfort and reduce pain.


Resources for your pet need to be accessible. Keep food and water in multiple rooms or levels of the house. As cats get older, their mobility decreases, and they will not be as apt to search for food and water. Keeping their food and water in multiple areas of the house helps encourage proper hydration and food intake. As well as keeping food and water in multiple areas of the house.

"Dogs might not want to get up and move to their food and water bowls as much as they used to, or cats either. Cats are big for that. They don't drink much anyway, and if you don't have their water bowls in their general vicinity, they drink even less, which is hard on their kidneys," Graham said.

It's also important to keep litter boxes where cats can access them easily. If the sides of the litter box are high, one side can be cut down and used as the door of the litter box.

Cats love to be warm. Putting a bed in a warm area of the house will improve the cat's comfort level. Graham recommends ramps to help them get onto couches and beds, as well as nightlights to improve a cat's vision in the dark.

Play with your cats to stimulate its mind and it will keep them interested in life and what is happening around them.

Graham also prescribes a "love prescription" for both dogs and cats. She said you should love your pets 30 minutes, twice a day for everyone's benefit, as well as strengthening the bond you have with your pet.

"It maintains the human animal bond, because honestly, that's what you want to do to keep that bond and to have our pets and our pet parents happy, everybody happy," Graham said.

For more information on Lap of Love of Michigan, click here.

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