An adorable puppy or kitten is hard to resist, but senior dogs are something special; in fact, more and more people are adopting seniors every year. Sure, you don’t get cute baby animal Instagram pictures, but what you do get is a pet that knows how to be part of a family.
If you’re thinking about adopting a senior dog, here’s what you’ll need to know:
Senior Dog Adoption Considerations
Senior pets do have issues that younger ones don’t, and the most significant of those are medical. Even a healthy older dog will develop vision, hearing and musculoskeletal problems to some degree, and at a certain point these problems will start to make themselves known. And with these medical issues often come higher vet bills, special diets and supplements.
Other considerations for senior dogs include lower activity levels and (possibly) shorter tempers due to diminished eyesight and hearing, age-related neurological decline or chronic pain. And, perhaps the worst part, they just won’t be with you as long. It’s heartbreaking to lose a beloved pet no matter how many years they’ve been part of the family, and it can be daunting to contemplate adopting one that may only be with you for a short time.
The Advantages of a Senior Pet
With that said, the advantages of adopting an older pet far outweigh the disadvantages. Senior pets are:
- Already house trained
- Used to living in a home
- Have a mature personality, so you know what you’re getting
- Used to human work schedules
- Lower energy
- Have lower adoption fees (especially during Adopt a Senior Pet Month)
- Have cute white eyebrows and grey muzzles!
With apologies for anthropomorphizing, one of the most satisfying and touching aspects of adopting an older pet is that they tend to be very grateful to be back in a home. Many senior dogs who have ended up in shelters have gone from a “safe and happy home with beloved humans” to a “loud and noisy shelter with many strangers” literally overnight, and watching them deal with these bewildering circumstances is very difficult. No matter how loving and caring the shelter staff and volunteers are, it’s still not a real home. And that is why adopting an older pet is one heck of a mitzvah.
Helping Your Senior Dog Get Adjusted
If you do adopt an older pet, the same guidelines for integration into your home apply as for younger pets, but you’ll also want to do the following:
Be more observant – during the settling in period in a new home (about a month), most pets will be a little bit shut down while they get the lay of the land. Most animals tend to mask infirmities such as failing hearing/eyesight or chronic pain when in uncertain circumstances, and pets are no exception. You’ll also want to be on the alert for behaviors such as separation and generalized anxiety, inappropriate elimination and resource guarding.
Check for depression – it can be difficult to distinguish the settling in period from the symptoms of depression, but many pets who have ended up in the shelter because of the death of their previous owner may show signs of depression such as lethargy, diminished appetite and lack of interest in their surroundings.
Keep dietary considerations in mind – even pets who have iron stomachs under normal circumstances may have problems going from their regular diet to shelter food to a new regular diet in your home in a relatively short period of time. Keep their diet bland and introduce new foods slowly so you don’t get surprised by (for example) explosive lactose intolerance issues.
Introduce to other pets slowly – a lot of senior dogs don’t appreciate “puppy energy”, and with all of the recent upheaval they may be prone to snap first and ask questions later. Keep your current and new pets separated and introduce them to each other slowly; don’t toss them into a room together and assume they will figure it out amongst themselves.
Jamie Damato Migdal, CPDT-KA and CEO/Founder of FetchFind, has been innovating within the pet industry for over 25 years. A sought-after consultant and public speaker, Jamie has built four national pet service companies and has wide-ranging industry expertise in education, technology, business development, sales, marketing and management. Her fourth and current company, FetchFind, provides staff training and engagement, as well as digital marketing and other business solutions, to pet care service and pet-friendly companies around the globe.