Can you get a good night's sleep if you share your bedroom -- and your bed -- with pets? Yes, but it can be difficult to manage.
More than half of the people coming to the famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for help sleeping reported sharing their bedrooms -- and often their beds -- with pets. While banning the pets may be the only answer for some people, there are other options to try first that will solve the problems of many.
The tips can be summed up succinctly: Keep your pets clean, keep them lean and get them on your sleep cycle. With help from your family's veterinarian, chances are that you'll soon be enjoying sleep instead of counting sheep.
Dr. Peter Ihrke, a professor of veterinary dermatology at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, knows that a scratching pet is a major annoyance. He says the problem is often external parasites -- fleas and ticks -- as well as bacterial or yeast infections, or a wide variety of allergies, all of which need to be accurately diagnosed to be treated.
Some pets also are allergic to dust mites. Dr. Ihrke says the advice given by human allergists for mites is the same as his: Enclose the box springs, mattress and pillows, and wash bed linens frequently. "That goes for dog beds, too," he says. "If you can't wash it every week or so, toss it and get one you can wash."
While skin issues -- and the scratching that often accompanies them -- can effect pets of any age, pain-related problems more frequently torment older dogs and cats. Veterinary pain-management expert Dr. Robin Downing of Windsor, Colo., says the signs of pain can be subtle: a change of behavior, such as not being able to get comfortable in bed or struggling to get onto the bed at all.
Dr. Downing stresses that while arthritis may be inescapable as pets age, the pain that causes sleeplessness -- your pets' and your own -- can be addressed. "The top thing I tell clients is to get the extra weight off their pets. Without weight management, everything else we can do will be less effective."
She also recommends more secure footing, ramps and stairs to help pets onto furniture and beds, supplements that help with joint function and veterinary-prescribed pain-management medications -- all of which ease discomfort and help pets sleep.
Dr. Downing also notes that in older dogs, dementia can have similar symptoms as pain -- but fortunately, there's a medication that may help with that, too.
The final piece of the puzzle to help pets snooze when you do is getting them on the same sleep cycle, and that can actually be fun, says Dr. Gary Landsberg, a veterinary behaviorist in Thornhill, Ontario. When a pet sleeps all day, it's no surprise that the animal may want to play all night. Dr. Landsberg says exercising pets, both physically and mentally, will help them to settle down when you do.
Once medical problems have been ruled out or treated, Dr. Landsberg says pet owners can enjoy keeping their pets active. That means shared physical activity -- play, in other words -- but it also should include keeping cats and dogs busy when you're not home. There have never been more ways to accomplish this, with a wide selection of food-filled "puzzle toys" that will keep pets moving all day.
And when they nudge you in the night? The experts say if pets' medical, physical and mental needs have been addressed, you should ignore them, so pets don't get the idea that you'll play with them whenever they want.
What if none of these strategies work? Then somebody has to sleep on the couch. You or your pet? The choice is yours.
More ideas to keep
older dogs rolling
Q: I have been reading and enjoying your columns for a long time now and always look forward to the next one. I especially enjoyed your column today on the challenges of aging in dogs, but I wish you had added information on some of the wonderful things that can be purchased for aging dogs, such as ramps to get into and out of the car, beds that can be heated, raised dishes, etc.
There are also strollers for dogs. My 12-year-old dog, Cassie, has arthritis in her elbows and shoulders. On our morning walks, she walks as far as she can, and then rides home in her doggie stroller. I've attached a picture so you can see how comfortable she is. Can you let people know there are more options for older pets?
A: You are absolutely right: There are lots of products that can help make the lives of older dogs more comfortable as they age. We love the ramps that help pets get onto beds and furniture more easily, as well as those that help give dogs a lift into and out of vehicles. Simple ramps can also help pets get up and down porch stairs, as can slings to help support weakened hind or front legs.
Not to mention, the beds! Heated beds, plush beds and beds with bolsters, leak-proof covers and cushions made of memory foam will make a long winter more bearable. For dogs whose footing isn't as secure, there are boots, tacky sprays and even stick-ons that go directly onto pads. And yes, as you note, strollers can help older pets enjoy a long walk, riding part-way or all the way, whichever they need to get by.
Your Cassie is one lucky dog, and we're so happy you shared her story with us and our readers. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing ferals better
than trapping, killing
-- The Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society says that programs which manage feral cat colonies to reduce their numbers are more cost-effective than programs that kill the cats. The group estimates that there are 87 million unowned cats in the United States, and that trap-neuter-release programs would cost $7 billion nationwide vs. $16 billion to trap and kill the animals. The issue of how best to reduce the numbers of free-roaming cats is a contentious one, with concerns not only for the felines, but also for native birds and rodents they kill to survive.
-- White is a bad color for wind turbines, according to a recent study. White attracts insects, which in turn attract birds and bats that are too often killed by the blades. Scientists tested different colors to see if the problems could be minimized, including white, light gray, dark gray, purple, sky blue and red. The best choice for not attracting insects? Purple.
-- Want to live in a dog-friendly city? Dog Fancy magazine has released its list of the top cities for dogs and the people who love them, with Provincetown, Mass., at No. 1. The rest of the top 10: Carmel, Calif.; Madison, Wisc.; Benicia and Fort Bragg, Calif.; Lincoln City, Ore.; San Diego; Virginia Beach, Va.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Salem, Ore. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.