Pete sighed a slight moan as he slowly rose from his fluffy, poly-filled bed. Favoring his left leg, the 10-year-old dog limped to his water bowl, took a long drink and gimped back to his treasured spot next to the wood stove.
My aging hound dog’s arthritic hip pained him, and he needed some comfort.
I called our veterinarian, and he suggested a simple solution: a heated pet bed. The gentle warmth, he said, would soothe Pete’s joints and lessen the pain he was feeling.
After a quick trip to our local pet supply store, I set up Pete’s new heated lounge — a thermostatically-controlled memory foam pad covered in cozy fleece — and placed it next to his other bed. Curious, he sniffed it, pawed it and circled it, finally settling his rump on the warmed edge.
It’s now his new favorite spot.
Not Your Average Pet Bed
Unlike a standard, poly-filled bolster bed, nesting bed or pad, heated pet beds add warmth to a dog or cat’s sleeping spot. Their main purpose is to provide comfort to pets if they’re cold or suffering from joint pain or sore muscles, says David Wohlstadter, DVM, CCRT, a senior clinician and emergency room veterinarian at BluePearl in New York.
“Heated pet beds help to reduce pain, promote joint mobility, add flexibility and increase blood flow,” he says. “And they help keep dogs and cats warm, whether they’re indoors or outdoors.”
They also help to keep older pets warm, adds Narda Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA, with the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“Those of my clients who have opted for heated beds did so for an older, arthritic animal who seems to appreciate the heat,” she says. “Heated beds may provide comfort for geriatric patients for whom some heat helps, and for those whose living conditions don’t provide enough ambient warmth.”
Pet owners can choose from several types, Wohlstadter says, including bed warmers, heated pads and self-warming beds.
- Bed warmers are pads that are heated in the microwave and inserted into an existing bed. Good for heating indoor and outdoor pet beds, the hot water bottle-type pads typically stay warm for several hours.
- Heated beds plug in like an electric blanket. They often include thermostatic safeguards, automatic shut-off features and chew-resistant cords to prevent accidental burns and electrocutions. Cozy fleece or sheepskin covers make them extra comfortable.
- Self-warming beds use special fabric, materials and filling that retain or reflect the animal’s own body heat, making them energy-efficient and safe for unsupervised use while keeping pets toasty.
“I’ve seen several older dogs that have really benefited from heated beds with a supportive memory foam mattress,” Wohlstadter says.
Robinson, too, has treated pets that have found relief with the warmed pads.
“Years ago, I treated several cats in one household that had all become geriatric teenagers,” she recalls. “Their mom and dad had some heated beds for the cats that the cats absolutely loved, especially for sustained comfort at night. I do believe that these beds added comfort and quality of life, but I also knew that their parents were diligent about safety and temperature control of the beds.”
Health Benefits From Heated Pet Beds
Though just about any dog or cat appreciates a warm lounging spot when it’s drafty and cold, pets with particular ailments and medical conditions, like these listed below, can really benefit from the heat, Wohlstadter says.
- Arthritis: This joint disease that can have inflammatory and non-inflammatory causes results in joint pain, swelling, inflammation and stiffness. A heated pet bed helps by soothing a pet’s painful joints and loosening tight muscles.
- Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is a condition in which an animal’s ball-and-socket hip joints do not fit together properly, causing damage to a dog’s hip joints that results in pain and difficulty while walking and standing. A heated bed may help ease the pet’s pain and stiffness.
- Spinal Injury: Pets with spinal injuries or medical problems with their spines, like intervertebral disk disease, may find that a heated orthopedic bed helps them rest with less pain.
- Advanced Age: Older pets in general may find a heated bed more comfortable than an unheated one, as heat helps increase circulation and improve flexibility.
- Muscle Injury or Soreness: Younger pets can benefit from a heated bed, too. Active dogs with sore or injured muscles, such as working dogs or those that do agility, may find that a warm bed will loosen tight muscles, boost circulation and give them more spring in their step.
So how do you know if your dog or cat would benefit from a heated bed? Keep an eye on his behavior, Wohlstadter says, and if your pal starts moving tentatively or showing signs of pain or stiffness, take him to the veterinarian for a checkup.
“If you seen your pet limping, having trouble getting up or jumping, splaying his legs or taking on a different gait, that might be a sign that there’s some orthopedic or neurologic problem going on,” he says. “Take your pet to the veterinarian for a physical exam to check for arthritis or a muscle injury.”
Depending on the diagnosis, a toasty pad could do the trick — and you’ll know it when it’s working.
“If the bed is indeed providing comfort, the pet many enjoy it and spend more time laying in it,” Robinson says. “Perhaps they are less still when they emerge and seem overall happier.”
Choosing A Heated Pet Bed
When selecting a heated pet bed, first consider how you (and your furry pal) plan to use it. Will your dog or cat need warmth all day long, or only for a few hours at a time? Will it be used in an outdoor house or indoor crate? Will you or another responsible human be around to supervise?
Safety is of utmost importance, Robinson says.
“Making sure they cannot chew any cords or get overheated are paramount aspects to consider when choosing a heated bed for your pet,” she says. “Ideally, there should be a feature for temperature control, and there should always be an escape from the heat as desired. Some beds have automatic off/on features so that the bed only goes on when the animal’s body weight activates it. That way, it’s not on all day, which will help reduce the risk of overheating and fire.”
Wohlstadter believes pet parents should avoid using the plug-in heated pads if dogs or cats are left with no one to watch them.
“Avoid using the plug-in heated beds when you’re not home,” he says. “They can be a fire risk. And if you have a chewer, watch out. If they chew on the cord, that could cause burns in the mouth or electrocution.”
For pets who need a warm, cozy spot for extended periods of unsupervised time, Wohlstadter recommends one of the self-warming or heat-retaining beds. A microwaveable bed warmer can be used for shorter stints, he adds.
“If you’re going to be gone all day, use a bed that retains heat,” he says. “The microwaveable warmers work for shorter periods of time, but you have to be careful that it’s not too hot.”
Pets with decreased sensation should be supervised when sleeping in a heated bed, adds Robinson.
“If an animal has a medical condition in which they can’t feel that they are being burned — as in sensory loss due to a neurologic issue— or if they can’t move away — because they have mobility impairment — they may be getting overheated and don’t have the ability to either sense it or move away, and then suffer ill effects,” she says.
One last caution from Wohlstadter: Make sure the bed you choose is the right density for the particular pet.
“With arthritic pets or those that have trouble getting around, consider how squishy the bed is and how that will affect their balance,” he says. “It’s like walking on a trampoline versus walking on a soft, eggcrate pad. One will provide more support and balance than the other.”
Warm Pet, Happy Home
If your four-legged pal needs some extra warmth to soothe sore joints or muscles, talk to your veterinarian about how a heated pet bed can help.
Ours sure helped Pete. Since buying the plug-in heated pad — which he absolutely loves — we’ve also swapped his poly-filled bed with a self-warming bed for times we can’t be around to supervise. It still sits by the wood stove, so he stays extra comfy and warm.
Now we just need to figure out how to keep the other dogs and cats out of his bed!