Cat looking out window on wintry day

Growing older isn’t optional for your pet, but a lot of the suffering that goes with it can be, particularly during the colder months. The aches and pains that go hand and glove with getting to the upper reaches of middle age and beyond can be minimized during cold weather in three easy steps, without much effort or expense on your part.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to turn up the heat on the problems of old pets in cold weather.

Ease the Environment

When you think about where your pet will sleep, think soft and think warm. Today’s pet product companies have pulled out all the stops, offering an astounding array of beds in all shapes and sizes. For older dogs, especially large ones, check out beds made of therapeutic foam that conforms to your pet’s body shape while supporting every joint. Some of these beds come ready to plug in, but you can turn any of them into heated sleepers by adding a pet-safe heating element.

For cats, heat that’s all around like surround sound will keep them feline groovy. Look for a heated cup-style bed with plush insides. As far as your cat’s concerned, the only thing better than that would be sleeping on your warm belly.

Of course, a comfy bed isn’t the only way to make your older pet comfortable. To increase mobility for dogs, look for slings to support rear ends, booties to stop slipping, and steps that make it easier for your pet to get on the couch or into bed with you. And many older dogs appreciate a warm jacket when they go outside on cold winter days.

Take Off the Pounds

We veterinarians see a lot of overweight and obese pets — more than half of all pets fall into one category or another. Being a fat cat is funny only if you’re Garfield. For real cats, it means a shorter lifespan and a sicker and more painful one as well. Overweight cats are at higher risk of developing diabetes, for example, and extra pounds make creaky joints even more painful.

It’s much the same situation with dogs. If your dog doesn’t have a waist or your cat’s waistline makes him appear pregnant, work with your veterinarian on safe, effective weight loss. This advice isn’t just for winter, though; to keep your pet healthy, keep him trim all year long.

Get to the Vet

While soft beds and leaner bodies have always been best for our pets, it’s only in recent years that veterinarians have been able to offer medications, supplements and other measures that can reduce or even eliminate the pain of osteoarthritis. All pain-management plans need to be developed by your veterinarian — guessing with over-the-counter pain meds can kill your cat (acetominephen) or cause ulcers in your dog (aspirin).

Modern prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can seem like miracle drugs, and the risks of using them can be greatly minimized by following your veterinarian’s recommendations for checking for kidney and liver problems before and during long-term use. You also need to be aware of the signs of a problem: Stop giving the drug immediately and call your veterinarian if you observe vomiting or lethargy, or if your pet stops showing interest in eating. These drugs help millions of pets, but I would not be doing my job as a veterinarian if I didn’t alert you to potential problems. I know your veterinarian will do the same.

Complementary and alternative medicine also has much to offer dogs and cats suffering from chronic pain. Acupuncture, physical therapy and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can help promote better joint functioning and improved mobility. Again, talk to your vet about options for your pet.

Keeping your older pet comfortable in the winter is easy — and it’s up to you. Ease your pet’s pain and he will enjoy the season far more, and that means you will, too.