GET A GRIP: Keeping Seniors, Injured, and Weak Dogs Safe at Home

GET A GRIP: Keeping Seniors, Injured, and Weak Dogs Safe at Home

Feb, 15

Older dogs and those with injuries or balance issues can have trouble moving around the home, especially on slippery surfaces like tile or wood floors.  Some dogs react to slippery floors by not wanting to get up or walk - they lack confidence and will elect to "stay put" rather than risk slipping.  Pets that are nervous about moving around can become even weaker by inactivity.  Other dogs are less self-protective or fearful, and do not think twice before attempting to run to the front door or food bowl regardless of their condition.  These pets can easily injure or re-injure themselves by slipping on slick surfaces.  Providing dogs with good traction in the home helps them gain confidence, remain active, and reduces their chances of getting hurt. 

There are many indoor traction and safety options for dogs. What solutions might work best for you and your dog?  Let's take a look at these options:

  • Trimming dog's nails
  • Nail cap grippers
  • Topical paw pad applications
  • Traction socks
  • Dog boots
  • Cohesive bandage
  • Modifications to the home

Trimming Nails

One thing is certain-unless you're using nail cap grippers on your dog (where a slightly longer nail is helpful), short nails reduce slipping and improve traction (conversely long nails reduce traction and can cause a dog to slip).  If you hear your dog's nails "clicking" on the ground as they walk across the tile or wood floor, chances are their nails are too long.  If their nails are too long, their paw pads have less contact with the floor.  Paw pad skin is slightly abrasive and provides good traction.  When nails are too long, less pad skin is in contact with the ground and therefore, the dog has less traction.  Proper nail trimming and maintenance are so important for a dog's wellbeing that there's even a Facebook Group with other 120,000 members dedicated to the subject of nail maintenance in dogs! 

Electric nail trimmers have come a long way!  I use an electric Dremel sander, which still works great after 10 years!  But now Dremel makes a pet-specific version and there are other electric nail sanders specifically made for pets of all sizes. 

Nail trims do not have to be stressful.  To desensitize your dog, run the nail trimmer while petting your dog or giving him a treat until he gets used to the "buzzing" sound.  Then, firmly hold one nail in between your thumb and index finger and lightly brush the nail trimmer against your dog's nail.  Holding your dog's nail will help to absorb the nail trimmer's vibration.  Pick one nail to file down and do so for just for a few seconds.  Even if your dog seems comfortable with the trimming process, jump to another nail.  Do not stay on the same nail for too long; this will distract the dog and also reduce the chance of the nail getting too hot from the trimmer.  You can always go back and continue trimming the nail after you've done a few others.  The idea is to rotate from nail to nail, smoothly and quickly.  Start with only 2-5 nails as tolerated per session.  End on a positive note.  You can revisit nail trimming later in the day or even the next day.  There's no huge rush to get all the nails trimmed in one sitting; after all, your dog lives with you.

Nail Cap Grippers

  • Nail cap grippers are rubber nail covers or nail rings that are applied over the pet's nails - the paw remains uncovered and the paw pads can breathe - this is important because dogs sweat through their paw pads so it's not a great idea to keep dog paws covered for long periods (unless the paw cover is breathable).
  • Because they do not cover the paw, nail grippers can be left on for days or weeks at a time.
  • Your dog's nails can be left a little on the longer side - this may be the ideal choice for a dog that is very sensitive about having their nails trimmed.
  • Nail grippers can be tricky to apply - The Toe Grips company makes excellent nail grippers, and also made some helpful videos on how to apply them successfully.  

Topical Paw Pad Applications (e.g., PawFriction)

  • Non-toxic, sand-like powder that is applied directly to paw pads using adhesive (also non-toxic).
  • If you have a long-haired dog, your dog's hair around the paw pads might need to be trimmed.
  • The topical powder may need to be reapplied every couple of days or more. 
  • This may be another good option for pets who do not like their paws covered, and for pet parents who prefer the convenience of not having to apply and remove footwear every couple of hours.
Traction Socks
  • Traction socks are usually made of a breathable cotton blend and allow the paw to breathe so they can be left on all day while the pet is indoors.
  • Traction socks also provide a layer of protection to the paw and help to support the digits.
  • For a dog with a painful foot, you can also apply 2 layers of traction socks, one inside the other (2 socks on 1 foot).  This will help add comfort and additional support to the paw.
  • Socks should only be worn indoors (though they can be temporarily waterproofed - see below).
  • We recommend socks with safety straps to help them stay in place and a completely rubberized foot as socks tend to spin on a dog's paw.  These double-sided traction socks are also recommended and they come as a set of 6 per pack.

I'm a big fan of traction socks!  They are inexpensive, can be left on all day while the dog is indoors, can be layered for added comfort, they provide good traction, and most dogs don't mind wearing them.  I always have several pairs in my home either for traction, or for comfort, or even to protect my dog's paw if he accidentally tears a nail.  If I want to bring my dog outside for a quick potty break, I cover the socks with a piece of Press 'n SealPress 'n Seal sticks really well and does a great job of temporarily "waterproofing" the socks.

Dog Boots

The trouble with using dog boots to provide indoor traction is that a dog's paw is essentially round, and booties (or anything that is not really snug and form-fitting) tends to spin on the dog's paws, especially when they are transitioning from a lying down to standing position.  Then, you end up having the "traction" tread material on the top of the foot, and the slick non-treaded material at the bottom of the foot, which may cause a dog to slip even more.

The other issue with dog boots is that most are not breathable.  Since dogs sweat through their paw pads (and mouths), moisture can accumulate inside a boot if it's left on for too long.  Excess moisture can lead to skin breakdown, abrasions, and rubs.  Bottom line is that I do not advocate dog boots for long-term, indoor use for dogs who only need them for traction purposes.  

The Dog Boot Exception

Pawz Dog boots are the exception.  Though originally made to protect "big city" pups's paws from salt and chemicals on the sidewalks, these booties have since been adapted as great traction aids.  Advantages include:

  • They are made of lightweight, natural, and disposable rubber.
  • They provide circumferential traction so even if they spin on a dog's paw, the dog will still have traction.
  • Most dogs tolerate them very well.

Since these booties were not originally intended as traction aids for long-term, indoor wear, and since the neck of the bootie can be a little snug, I have made some slight modifications to the design and application so that the booties can be applied easily and be worn for up to several days at a time.  All you need is the Pawz Dog boots some Elastikon elastic tape, and a scissors.  See video below.

Cohesive Bandage

Cohesive bandage (e.g., VetWrap) is something every pet parent should have in their home.  It's an essential part of a first aid kit for any pet (or human).  It's also a terrific traction aid, it's inexpensive, and it comes in a variety of colors and patterns for even the most discerning fashionista.  See the video below on how to use cohesive bandage for traction as well as to reduce slight scuffing.

Modifications to the Home

Beyond applying traction aids to a dog's paws, an injured or “disabled” pet can be made “abled” by modifying their lifestyle and environment. Adding indoor ramps or block steps to the couch or bed can help a dog maintain independence.  Dogs need to be acclimated to using ramps or steps in both directions. Wide, gently sloping, sturdy ramps and steps with textured surfaces are most inviting and safest.

An unstable or injured pet can maintain better balance on a rubberized or carpeted floor.  Ultra-thin yoga mats are a great way to provide islands of traction on slippery floors.  Yoga mats are inexpensive, stick to floors, and provide great traction from one area of your home to another.  They are lightweight, easy to wipe clean, and easy to apply, remove, and transport as needed.  I must admit I own about half a dozen yoga mats - I love the ultra-thin mats for traction and even have one in the car to bring with me to the veterinarian's office where the floors can be slippery.  I like the thicker, more cushioned yoga mats as an alternative to a dog bed, that I can easily take with me so that my dog can lie down comfortably anywhere.

Carpet treads stick directly to most wooden stairs and instantly provide traction, turning an otherwise hazardous obstacle into one that allows safer passage.  Regardless of treads, it is always a good idea to help your dog safely up and down the stairs using a supportive harness or sling.    For short excursions, I really like this sling - it's wide-based and padded for ultra comfort.  Pet gates can also be used to deny stairway access and prevent accidental falls in a physically compromised pet.

Keeping your dog safe while in the home takes just a little effort but can go a long way toward improving your dog's independence and confidence.  The easier you can make life for your dog the easier life with be on you.

Author: Ilaria Borghese, MS, MA, OT, Thera-Paw, Inc., STAAR Conference, Vital Vet

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1 comment

stephanie fraley

January 30, 2021

Hi. 3 years ago my 12 year old chihuahua, Stella, had a catastrophic reaction to her vaccinations resulting in 2 acute immune disorders, IMHA, and a working diagnosis of GME very long story short, they gave her at most 6 months, provided she made it through the initial stages of her illness. She developed seizures because of the inflammation in her brain, and her first was a cluster tonic-clonic seizure that left her partially paralyzed. We went through dozen of specialists, medications, and treatments, I made her a wheelchair, then eventually bought a four wheeled walk-in’ wheels wheelchair, and did bathtub hydro therapy and she miraculously achieved both remission and mobility. I could write a novel on everything we went through and what a hopeless nightmare it was at times, but it isn’t relevant to this particularly. So, she is still alive and well today, but has occasional seizures and some leftover disabilities from the damage done by the inflammation and early seizures, which are neurological blindness, and weakness on her left side. I have tried every possible traction option available or that I could think to make her: socks and boots and booties just slide off of her feet(she has teensy little chihuahua feet) the traction sand came with superglue and was ineffective and painful, paws are pretty good, but make her feet swell and sweat of on for more than a couple of minutes, toenail caps were ineffective, and very a hard to remove, gymnasts grip works ok, but picks up every bit of dust and dog hair, etc, and gets in her fur and is awful to clean, walkin’ traction booties are about 3x’s too large in their smallest size, her wheelchairs were never much good for more than rehab, because she’s very small, and isn’t able to see where she’s going, vet tape was ok, but gets quite expensive(which wasn’t as much of an issue before covid) and I have yet to design a foot covering that stays on either. We occasionally use the sticky paw pads, and they aren’t bad, but they come unstuck partially, then stay really stuck to the rest of her paw pad, and pulling them off is painful for her. She wants to move, enthusiastically, but I have to limit her to a small area of my office that I’ve fenced off and carpeted with 1/2”interlocking foam pads & pool noodle bumpers most of the time because my whole house is hardwood or tile and I’m afraid she’ll slip and splay and hurt herself, but when I can watch her, she loves being able to explore and move around the house. She navigates pretty well despite her blindness, but do you have any suggestions for traction that I haven’t tried? This has been an ongoing struggle, any ideas are very welcome, and I’m moderately handy regarding making various things, so that’s not a problem at all. Thanks for the post, there is a real lack in variety of info for handicapped pet care, and even less for those with unique challenges. It’s very appreciated.

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