Think about the last time you traveled and slept on an uncomfortable mattress. Did you wake up sore and stiff? That’s if you even got to sleep at all. Now think about your senior dog. If his bed isn’t comfortable, he can’t call the concierge and request something else. As the ultimate bed and breakfast proprietor for your dog, it’s your responsibility to ensure a proper bed for Bowser. And for a senior dog, the proper one might mean going orthopedic. Find out what makes an orthopedic dog bed the way to go, and why.
Orthopedic Dog Beds Explained
But first, what makes a bed orthopedic at all? Not surprisingly, there aren’t hard and fast rules.
“There is not a standard height, softness, bed fill material, etc. that needs to be met in order for dog beds to be labeled as orthopedic,” says Tara Klimovitz, DVM, CCRT, with Perry Hall Animal Hospital in Baltimore. “When I tell families that their dog needs an orthopedic bed, I am referring to one that is memory foam or similar fiber fill to relieve the trauma to pressure points while the dog lays down so that no part of their musculoskeletal body feels the hard floor beneath them.”
Tracy McKenzie, VT, CCRP owner/operator of the Animal Rehabilitation Centre (ARC) in Toronto, gives some additional guidelines: “A bed that will address orthopedic needs will be a minimum of 2 inches of foam or very soft material that has give to it to accommodate the pressure points on the dog’s body where bony protrusions are, namely hips and elbows.”
Why Orthopedic Dog Beds Are Needed
As dogs age, they are more prone to arthritis and other ailments, just like us. According those interviewed for this article, the following canine conditions make orthopedic beds your senior dog’s other best friend:
- Arthritis (from mild to severe).
- Other joint problems.
- Hip dysplasia.
- Generalized muscle loss associated with old age.
- Dogs that have had orthopedic or neurological surgeries or conditions.
- Bone injuries (fractures, luxations, etc.).
- Soft tissue injuries (tendons, ligaments, etc).
In short, it is very important that a bed will alleviate pain, according to Stephanie Sorenson, a certified veterinary assistant who works in the rehabilitation department of Seattle Veterinary Specialists. And as the list above indicates, there are many potential sources for pain. An orthopedic bed should take away any painful pressure points your dog experiences.
Selecting An Orthopedic Dog Bed
Orthopedic beds come with a variety of features. Consider your dog’s sleeping style to help determine what your dog needs. For example, our senior Bull Terrier, Medusa, primarily sleeps in two positions I have dubbed “the sprawl” and “the dog ball.” She often uses the bolsters to rest her head.
In fact, bolsters are the No. 1 feature McKenzie recommends.
“Most dogs prefer to have something to snuggle into or rest their head on,” she says. “The neck and shoulders can become overworked in older dogs, and bolsters will provide that support for a more comfortable lying down position.”
Others cited the internal material as the most important factor.
“The quality of the foam is most important — thickness, structure, density, integrity,” says Brittany Jean Carr, DVM, CCRT, currently an American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Resident at the Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis Junction, Maryland.
For some people, that translates specifically to memory foam.
“I personally believe the most important feature of an orthopedic bed for senior dogs is memory foam to conform to their body the best,” Sorenson says.
Carr adds that some beds have a layer of memory foam on top of orthopedic foam to provide even more comfort.
“[Memory foam] will contour to all of the nooks and crannies that are different for all dogs,” Klimovitz says. “Some have more muscle retention, some have muscle atrophy, but memory foam will account for all of that. Memory foam is soft but doesn’t ‘wear out’ to [the point] where with continued use they end up actually feeling the floor surface through the worn cotton padding.”
That said, an orthopedic bed won’t last forever.
Cleaning Orthopedic Dog Beds
“Replace the bed when it becomes depressed/flattened and no longer has give to it,” McKenzie recommends. Her test tip: “It should bounce back if you press your hand into it and remove it quickly.”
Carr says you should replace the bed if you notice the foam is worn or flattened.
“If the bed ever acquires an odor, it should be replaced,” she adds, “even if the foam is not worn down.”
Some beds have removable covers that you can wash to reduce those stinky smells.
“Most of the covers have a water-resistant property to them that helps protect the foam if the bed is soiled,” Carr says. “Keeping the foam clean and dry will allow it to last longer. This is not only more hygienic but also more cost effective.”
If the cover can’t be removed, consider using a blanket on top that can be washed as often as necessary.
While an orthopedic bed is going to be more expensive, going for quality in your initial purchase may prove to be a bargain in the long run.
“Buying a orthopedic dog bed with a higher-quality orthopedic foam will not only last longer and typically be more cost effective, but it will also keep your dog more comfortable,” Carr says.
You could also consider McKenzie’s approach if you are unsure about the bed and your wallet can take multiple hits.
“I would be more apt to buy less expensive beds and replace them often for sanitary purposes and to ensure the integrity of the cushion,” she says. “This is also because you won’t know until you get it home whether your dog will like it and you may not be able to return a very expensive bed.”
As Klimovitz said, when a dog bed is labeled orthopedic, it is also more expensive. So make sure you are buying something that will actually help your dog.
Other potential properties for orthopedic beds include the elements fire and air — as in heated and air-filled. Experts had hot and cold reactions toward these.
“I like heated beds but with supervision,” Klimovitz says. “I don’t advocate they be used when owners are not home to make sure they are not harmful.
Carr specifically doesn’t recommend a bed that uses an electrical heating pad to heat the bed, because of the risk of burns.
“Heated beds should be used with great caution, especially for dogs with mobility problems that may not be able to move away from the bed to avoid overheating,” McKenzie says. “Senior dogs that have less muscle and tissue are more at risk of burns over bony protrusions. The risks of a heated bed (burns) far outweigh any potential benefits.”
As for those other elements, McKenzie said she’s had clients try both water beds and air-filled beds. She’s unconvinced on whether either offers real benefits to pets.
What Size Bed For Your Dog?
Along with the bed’s material and features, another factor for you to consider for your furry friend is the size.
“Typically dogs with orthopedic or neurological conditions prefer beds that are appropriately sized for them, meaning that they do not have to excessively curl up to fit into the bed as this puts more pressure on their joints and soft tissues,” Carr says.
McKenzie points out that the bed should be large enough for the dog to be able to stretch out on his side.
The bed’s diameter in relation to your dog isn’t the only measurement that should influence your decision.
“You should consider the ease at which your dog can get into and out of the bed without your assistance,” Carr says.
McKenzie says that the bed should not be so tall that your dog has to pick his limbs up too high to get into it.
“For small dogs it’s safe to stick with 2 to 3 inches and a maximum height of 6 to 8 inches for larger dogs.”
Regarding the bed’s shape or the benefits of an additional pillow, Carr recommends speaking with your dog’s veterinarian for further advice as to what is best for your dog’s condition.
When it comes to selecting the right bed for when senior Spot snoozes, take your time and consider what will work best for him based on daily habits and sleep preferences. After all, your dog spends a lot of time in bed. And whether he’s a Retriever or a Doodle, it’s worth keeping him comfortable in his golden years.