Puppies and kittens are a lot of fun, but they are also a lot of work. If frequent feedings and equally frequent potty breaks, aren’t for you, consider senior pet adoption and welcome an older animal into your home.
Whether your pet is from a senior dog rescue or a direct kitty rehoming situation, remember that the best thing you can give any new pet is the time and space to settle in to unfamiliar surroundings. It can take a month or more for new pets to get used to unfamiliar people and circumstances. Be patient, consistent and kind while your new buddy learns the ropes.
Here are six other ways to welcome a senior pet into your home:
Commit to Re-Potty Training
The good news is that most senior pets are already potty trained. Keep in mind that those pets have been house trained for their old home, not their new one. It’s very common for new pets to have accidents in strange environments, mostly due to stress and change. Be patient with them while they figure out the potty spots and expectations, and be consistent with feeding and walking so that they can get on a regular schedule.
Unless your cat came with a supply of preferred litter and litter box, you’ll want to start with a simple box and standard litter, and figure out preferences from there. If you have a big apartment or multi-floor house, put several kitty relief stations throughout the home so going potty is convenient (and, ideally, private).
Carve Out a Separate Space
If you’re introducing a new pet into a home that already has resident pets, you don’t want to let them all “sort it out” amongst themselves without guidance or supervision.
Start by keeping your new pet in a separate area (a pet proofed and baby-gated room or large pen) where they can still see and smell the other pets and humans, but not physically engage with them. This will allow the new pet to have space and time to get adjusted to the other animals and people in the home, and is for the pet’s safety and comfort as well as your own.
Change Their Diet Gradually
Most pets adopted from shelters and rescues come with a small supply of food, enough to keep you going for a few days while you decide what brand of food fits your pet’s needs as well as your budget. The rule here is to make any dietary changes slowly: every day, add in a small amount of the new food to the old food, adjust overall amounts accordingly, and watch to see if your pet has a poor response to the ingredients (such as diarrhea, vomiting or hives/itching). Don’t get so attached to the idea of what you want your pet to eat that you ignore what your pet actually can eat, for example, some dogs do better on kibble than on wet food, and some cats prefer canned food over dry.
If you’re adding in supplements like fish oil or glucosamine, do that gradually as well. This is especially important when adding oils to food, start small, and let your pet build up a tolerance. If you have questions about the appropriate nutrient profile for a senior pet, talk to your veterinarian, and do your research.
Set Expectations Upfront
Your first impulse when bringing home a senior pet may be to smother them with love and let them get away with all sorts of behavior to make up for the rough times they may have recently had. That said, It will be easier and safer for everyone if you set expectations right up front. If the furniture or countertops are no-go zones, be consistent in reinforcing that. If you don’t want your dog rushing the door whenever someone comes over, use good space management techniques like tethering or baby-gating. If you have children, teach them to respect the pet’s boundaries and remind them that the pet has been through a lot of upheaval and needs space and time to settle in.
Also note that many pets adopted from rescues and shelters will have incomplete behavioral histories, and you won’t be able to predict how they will react in any given situation. Respecting the pet’s boundaries will help prevent bite incidents and a return to the shelter.
Seek Professional Advice
Even before consider senior pet adoption, ask a certified trainer or behaviorist to do a home and suitability assessment. You may start out with the best of intentions in wanting to give a senior pet a home, but if your other dog is a 9-month-old puppy, that 15-year-old, nearly-blind Chihuahua probably won’t be a good fit. If you have a vertical townhouse with all of the bathrooms and living spaces upstairs, putting the only litter box in the basement is going to set up the elderly cat with osteoarthritis up for potty failure.
It can be hard to objectively assess your own living situation, so if it’s within your budget to hire a trainer for a few hours of consultation (both pre- and post-adoption), you can set up your new senior pet for success right from the start.
Schedule Vet Visits
With your senior pet adoption can come senior dog and cat problems. Your new pet will have received vetting and a basic health checkup at the rescue or shelter before joining your family, but it’s important to take them into your vet to establish a health and wellness baseline. Are their knees wobbly, do they have cataracts, do they have patchy fur or dry skin? Some issues may be stress-related and/or a function being in a shelter and will resolve on their own as they settle into a new diet and home. Other issues may be age-related, and knowing what’s what will help you to track changes and potential health concerns going forward.
Senior pets have a lot to offer new families, and if you have the space and resources to welcome a new-old companion into your home, you’ll have the pleasure of spending those golden years with a pet that is “aged to perfection.”
A graduate of The University of Chicago, Melanie worked in academia and finance for many years before joining the companion animal community. She believes that a good education fosters compassion, informed advocacy, and a deeper understanding of animals as they really are. She is passionate about effective communication, and in addition to her freelance writing and editing gigs she has a burgeoning career as an instructional designer. Melanie lives in Chicago with her overlords—a flock of super-smart companion parrots and a Chi-Puggle mix named Hattie.