When it comes to how we are put together, there really isn't a huge difference between you and your best pal. So how come your bed and what you expect your dog to sleep on are so different?
Fortunately, things are slowly starting to change for the better.
Orthopaedic dog beds are all the rage right now.
Undoubtedly a top quality orthopaedic dog bed can be highly effective in improving the quality of life of all dogs suffering from arthritis, hip dysplasia, joint and ligament complaints and all elderly dogs that may require extra support and warmth.
Regrettably, there is no legal or technical definition of what constitutes an orthopaedic dog bed. Everyone has a broad idea but the term is more of a marketing label than one backed by scientific research. Want to sell more dog beds? Call them orthopaedic!
Generally speaking, if a dog bed completely eliminates all painful pressure points, provides uniform support for correct spinal alignment, retains its shape and is of sufficient height to facilitate access and egress it is an orthopaedic dog bed.
For dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia or other joint / ligament complaints orthopaedic dog beds should be very much the bed of choice. Equally, with older dogs and heavier, larger breeds this HAS to be the route to go.
Orthopaedic dog beds help to eliminate pressure points and allow blood to flow through key joints as your dog sleeps. If the blood flow is restricted your dog may be visibly more creaky, stiff and restless.
There is compelling evidence that providing a fully supportive bed and looking after your dog’s sleeping posture is advantageous for ALL dogs. Yes, a suitable bed may cost more but if this prolongs the active life of your pet and reduces the chance of veterinary treatments in later life for any number of musculoskeletal complaints it must surely be worth it.
First of all let’s eliminate what are clearly NOT orthopaedic dog beds. Any bed that is simply ‘filled’ with a material like blown polyester fibre, chunks of foam, polystyrene beads etc. does not retain a defined shape, provides little long term support, quickly degrades and becomes lumpy and provides poor insulation from cold floors is not orthopedic.
Dog beds need to be thick and bounce quickly back into shape. We like to use the punch test to sort the men out from the boys – Place the bed on a concrete floor at punch it as hard as you possibly can. If you don’t end up in A&E list the bed as a possible ‘maybe’.
Take into account also the shape and size of the bed. ‘Nest’ type beds may look cute and snugly but be careful to buy one that is sufficiently large to allow full unrestricted movement so your dog can stretch out fully as well as curl up. We would always advocate buying as large a bed as possible for your dog for full unrestricted movement. Do not fall into the trap of buying a bed to fit a suitable space in your kitchen / utility room etc. and then hope that your dog simply adjusts itself to accommodate the space available.
Don’t forget the height of the bed also. A thick, deep filled bed not only is likely to provide good insulation but it should also allow your dog to get in and out of bed with ease. This might not be an issue while your dog is young, fit and active but will become a key factor as your dog ages. As a guide apply gentle palm pressure on a prospective bed and look for a height of at least 6”.
The most widely accepted type of orthopaedic dog beds are those made with memory foam. This is a type of polyurethane that moulds to shape and becomes more pliable as it gets warmer. It provides excellent support in thinner slabs than ordinary foam and hence is often bonded to regular foam to provide additional height and ‘bounce’.
Dog bed manufacturers love it - it's cheap, light and easy to cut and shape and can be highly effective. There are however, a few caveats that are worth highlighting.
It is heat sensitive. This makes it stiffer and slow to adjust to your dogs shape if it is cool. Memory foam is also very dense so once it is warm it doesn’t dissipate heat very well which can lead to your dog becoming uncomfortably hot especially in today’s centrally heated homes.
It pays to check the thickness of memory foam in a bed. It is expensive compared to regular foam and manufacturers can cut corners whilst benefiting from the ‘Memory Foam’ label.
Similarly, beware of cheaper variants such as egg crate foam, memory foam crumbs, shredded memory foam, and lower density foam - these, in our opinion and experience, are wholly ineffective as a dog bed filling.
Lastly, and it’s a big one, foam and memory foam can have a distinct chemical smell when purchased. This may be totally innocuous, but unfortunately an alarming amount of foams use potentially toxic chemicals in their manufacture or are subsequently treated with a seriously worrying cocktail of fire retardant chemicals. The foam may contain Volatile Organic Compounds that off-gas over time and / or can be ingested by your dog.The chemicals can result in allergies and skin conditions but have also been shown to contain several known carcinogens.
Make sure that you satisfy yourself that any memory foam in your dog bed does not contain any chemicals that could be hazardous to your dog’s health.
Unfortunately, most dog bed manufacturers have a price point to reach which means that foams can often be imported from low cost producing countries that pay little or no regard to the use of potentially hazardous chemicals.
So is there a viable alternative?
We decided that the best solution for our own Waterproof Orthopaedic Mattress was to go natural as much as we possibly could. This means no foam of any description and the extensive use of cotton, wool and wool felt used to surround a central core of pocket springs for optimum comfort and support.