Best Dog Bed for Older Dogs: Pain Free Designs (Elevated,Bolster, Mat)

best dog bed for older dog

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This is an in depth read and discussion regarding the best dog beds available for older dogs based on STYLE and we are going to cover a lot of ground.  So, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and make sure you’ve allocated some time before heading into this lengthy article. 

Dog beds are an expensive investment and this is meant to be a detailed, helpful guide for choosing the right dog bed (the first time) for your older dog.  Would your dog be better off in an elevated bed or a partial bolster bed?  How about a full surround bolster style vs. a flat mat? 

A lot of that will depend on what health ailments your dog is suffering from because each design was intended help in different ways. 

But before that, if you’re wondering about an orthopedic dog bed, please read this article first: Best Orthopedic Dog Bed. Because it’s dedicated to JUST orthopedic beds and you’ll learn how to distinguish between real orthopedic beds vs. orthopedic clever marketing. 

This post is about styles of beds, elevated dog beds vs bolster dog beds, vs. part bolster, vs. mats and pads.  We are going to talk about why each has been designed and will review the pros and cons of each style so you know what might work best for your dog’s limitations, abilities, ailments, sleep habits and overall stage in life.

Here we go… 

Elevated Dog Beds

The first thing that might pop into your mind when you think “elevated dog bed” is a trampoline with flimsy tubular metal legs. This, I assure you is the elevated dog bed of the past and the benefits of today’s high quality elevated dog beds far outweigh their bad wrap for ugliness.

Are elevated beds good for dogs?

Yes. If your dog is medium, large or giant breed, consider an elevated bed.  If you have multiple dogs who like to share, consider an elevated bed.  And if your dog has hip dysplasia, arthritis, allergies, incontinence, or suffers from calloused elbows, definitely consider an elevated dog bed.

Not only can an elevated bed help these dogs live a more comfortable life, the elevated dog bed has come a long way in their looks and style. 

Let’s review the pros and cons of choosing an elevated style dog bed.

Elevated Dog Bed Pros & Cons

Pros for Your Dog

Joint Cushion: The elevated dog bed is ideal for preventing achy joints from coming into contact with cold hard surfaces.  Any human over the age of 35 knows that sleeping or sitting on even a carpeted floor with a blanket underneath feels awful on our bones (especially the hips).  Your dog’s joints are no different.  Elevated dog beds mean zero contact between bones and hard surfaces and that’s a big relief for joints.

Callous Reduction:  If your dog suffers from elbow callouses, these callouses are usually caused by the constant abrasion between her elbow and the floor or bed while going from a lying to standing position.

picture of dog's calloused elbow. Very common in large breed dogs and caused by abrasion against material when standing.
Calloused Elbow in Process of Healing

An elevated bed changes the way your dog will go from lying to standing and this change alleviates the friction that causes calloused elbows.

Friendlier for Hip Dysplasia & Arthritis: Large dogs will have an easier time getting out of an elevated bed. If you’ve ever seen a large dog get down from a sofa, they usually don’t stand up on the sofa and then jump down.  Instead, they set their front paws on the floor and maneuver off.   Most elevated dog bed manufacturers understand the difficulties for these dogs and offer options on the leg height. The perfect bed height relieves strain on your dog’s hind legs by allowing your dog to lower his body onto the ground vs. raising his body from the ground.  Gravity takes over with an elevated bed and your suffering dog reaps the benefits.

Temperature Control:  Floors can be too hot, too cold or too damp all which contribute to dog discomfort.  Elevated beds allow plenty of air circulation and this means that your dog’s bed temperature will closely match ambient (room) temperature. 

Dampness Relief: Dampness in the ground can penetrate the thickest of materials.  Take camping as an example; we’ve learned that sleeping on top of a cot or air mattress will result in a drier, more comfortable sleep.  The same hold true for an elevated dog bed. 

Low Allergen:  If your dog suffers from a multitude of allergies and has chronic skin conditions related to environmental allergens, then an elevated dog bed could change your dog’s life.  No foam or filling or toxic flame retardant soaked materials to worry about here.

Pros for YOU

Washability: Elevated beds are some of the simplest to clean.  Most styles allow and encourage a good outside hosing and the materials stand up to harsher disinfectants like Lysol wipes or sprays.

Cleaner Smelling: Because they are so easy to clean, you’ll do it more often which reduces allergens and the buildup of smelly dead skin cells.

Best for Accidents:  An elevated bed is a winner when living with an incontinent dog, or a dog who is prone to accidents while sleeping. Besides being easiest to clean, you can slip waterproof material underneath the bed to help protect your floors.  Your dog won’t wake up saturated in her own urine and your floors will still be completely protected.  You can use cheaper material under the bed, like heavy mil plastic, tarps, garbage bags because your dog won’t be lying directing on them. You can drape fabric around the bed to hide the plastic lying underneath.

Longevity:  Good elevated dog bed makers offer replacement parts and some even offer warranties against destruction. Being able to replace frame parts or replace the fabric is budget friendly option.

Cost: In general, a high quality elevated dog bed will cost less than the same sized high quality dog bed that is filled with material.  The frame and fabric design costs less to make and you benefit from the lower cost to manufacture.

Portability:  This is a factor to consider when the elevated bed is for a large breed (small elevated beds can usually fit anywhere)   Here is why it’s a pro:  If you have a small car and need to travel with your large elevated dog bed, you can dissemble the bed and still have lots of room for luggage or other travel needs. 

My senior dog is 90 pounds and his bed is the size of a small sofa so I understand the challenges of taking a big, bulky bed on vacation. For the most part, he and his bed will take up 50% of the space in my jeep, a bed that comes apart is a welcome solution for our longer trips.

Companies that Make Elevated Dog Beds

So who leads the pack in elevated dog beds?

Kuranda Elevated Dog Beds (product link)


K-9 Ballistics Elevated Dog Bed (product link)

These companies are spending time and money on research and development and they have enough confidence in their design to offer warranties that go beyond defective manufacturing.  You can click their link to see pricing and more reviews by dog owners who have these beds.

Elevated Dog Bed Cons

Cons for Your Dog

Adjustment Period: Some dogs take right to the elevated beds while others need some reassurance.  If your dog is hesitant to hop on, there is a very easy fix.  Place the elevated dog bed right near your sofa or right near your bedside (if it’s for the bedroom).  If it’s near your sofa, wait until you’re ready to watch a movie and gesture for your dog to come onto his new bed.  Make it comfy, share some popcorn or other treats and he should soon adjust.  As time goes by, you can move the elevated bed closer and closer to your ideal location. Use the same concept for an elevated dog bed near your bedside.

Unsure Footing:  If you think your dog doesn’t like the way it feels underfoot (squishy, gives too much) this workaround usually works within a few days:  Create less “give” by installing boxes or stacked objects underneath.  Things that work well are books, magazines, rolled towels, plastic bins, thick comforters etc., the idea is to provide support. 

After a couple of days, remove an inch or two of the support and then again a few days later.  You’ll notice your dog adjusting to the progression and soon enough she should be able to handle the bed with nothing underneath as intended.

Paralysis or Lameness: If your dog suffers from paralysis or lameness of any limbs and cannot step up onto objects, this bed is likely unsuitable unless you are willing to install a ramp (which some owners do).

People Cons

Attractiveness:  Elevated style dog beds have come a long way, but still, some owners think of them as trampolines.  If an elevated dog bed is right for your dog and will provide her with the most comfort, adding an attractive, washable mat will help the bed blend into the room.

If you are a person who is good at creating multi-functional objects or if you’re a skilled sewer or wood worker you can take a plain, elevated dog bed to a new level.  You can fashion an amazing bed skirt that matches your furniture or you can install wood panels and make it look like you had an expensive, custom dog bed built.  Sky is the limit with creativity…just make sure you don’t use things that could hurt your dog like pins or buttons.

Portability: Again, this applies mostly to large breed dogs.  Depending on the size of your dog and the size of your car, this may or may not be an issue.  However, if you have Great Dane and a tiny car like a Volkswagen Beetle, you’ll likely need to disassemble the bed when traveling with your dog. But at least it’s possible.  If you have a large car or SUV or Minivan, you should not have to disassemble the elevated bed.

This concludes our discussion on elevated dog beds and we’ll now move onto Bolster style dog beds. 

Bolster Style Dog Beds

A bolster bed is the type of bed that has built in support walls sewn into the bed (usually removable). The bolsters can be full surround or it can have just partial bolstering.  Dog beds with bolsters that go all the way around the bed are marketed as “full surround” or “wrap around” dog beds.

Partial bolster dog bed styles could be any of the following styles below. Please know that every picture is clickable and will lead you to pricing and reviews on amazon.

1 Bolster – contains either a back bolster or side bolster

2 Bolster – marketed as a “right angle” contains both a back bolster plus one side bolster
3 Bolster – marketed to as “couch style” contains a back bolster plus bolsters on both sides but NOT across the front.

We’ll divide bolster beds into two categories: Full Bolster and Partial Bolster and talk about the pros and cons of each style separately.  

Are Bolster Beds Good for dogs? 

Yes, both full surround and partial bolster beds offer a very specific purpose. Dogs who sleep in curled positions, suffer anxiety or are stress prone might benefit from a fully bolstered bed.  However, if your older dog has trouble lifting front or back paws, or likes to stretch out, a partial bolstered dog bed is the better choice.

Let’s review the pros and cons of bolstered dog beds so you can see if a dog bed with bolsters is a good fit for your older dog.

Full Bolster Dog Bed Pros & Cons

These bolster beds provide a sense of security and wall of support all the way around the bed.  They can be rectangular, oval or round and you pick the size by measuring your dog while they’re sleeping. Each manufacturer will have their own instructions.

Full Bolster Beds – Pros for your Dog

Secure Feeling: This is the closest your dog will get to feeling like a swaddled baby.  If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, hates thunder or stresses out easily, she may do best in a fully bolstered bed.

Relaxed Muscles:  For dogs who love the curled sleeping position, the full surround bolster provides enough support to allow your dog to relax his core muscles.  This will result in a better sleep quality and give your dog the best chances of full restorative sleep.

Draft Protection: The best protection against drafts is to place your dog’s bed in a draft free zone.  But these built-in bolsters do a great job of deflected the occasional draft that might occur when doors or windows are open.  Short haired dogs definitely appreciate draft free bedding.

Built-in Pillows: If your dog likes to sleep with her head off the ground then she will likely enjoy the bolsters and use them as pillows to rest her head. 

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