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For the Love of Old Dogs: Should You Adopt a Senior?

I love old dogs. There is something about their gentle companionship and greying faces that is so very sweet. Sure, puppies are full of adorableness and exuberance and hard to resist - and that's why they're a far more popular adoption choice then old dogs in an animal shelter. But there seems to have been a gradual increase in interest in adopting a senior pet ... social media is full of stories of old dogs needing homes, and loaded with comments expressing interest or just well wishes.

Old dogs arrive in animal shelters all the time. Sometimes it's due to a case of neglect, including medical neglect when owners don't provide appropriate care for the aging pet. Sometimes a heartless owner will dump an old dog because they just don't want to deal with them anymore. Some senior dogs are found abandoned or as 'strays'. But it's not always like that... sometimes there are genuinely sad and real reasons why old dogs are surrendered. These can include things like an aging owner who moved into a long-term care facility, or an illness or financial struggles that make it impossible for the dog to be cared for the way it needs to be.

Regardless of the reason, it's tough for a senior dog to suddenly be uprooted from their home and end up in a shelter. A shelter environment can be stressful for any dog - strangers coming and going, unfamiliar noises and scents can be frightening.

Senior pets are still full of love and life and have much to offer. Many people who have adopted seniors pets swear that they'll continue to adopt seniors because it's been a richly rewarding experience. It is, however, not for everyone. It's admirable to want to offer an old pet a loving home where he can live out his retirement years - but despite good intentions, adopting any animal requires careful consideration about whether or not that animal is a good fit for you. Here are some things you can realistically expect when considering the adoption of a senior pet.

What You See Is What You Get

A puppy's full-grown size and appearance - coat thickness, for example - can be somewhat of a guessing game. In terms of appearance and size, adopting a senior pet certainly has its advantages! Assuming the animal isn't ill or still recovering, you'll know his adult size, weight and approximate energy level (although this can sometimes vary once he is comfortable in his new home!).

Why is this important? Size and appearance aren't superficial reasons for deciding whether a pet is a good match. They can be cause for consideration for things like:

  • How much you can lift or carry: if you have to help an aging dog up or down the stairs, or into the car, could you manage the weight?

  • If the dog is still active: can you handle his strength or exuberance, especially if he hasn't yet been taught manners?

  • Appearance: a dense or thick coat could mean lots of grooming and lots of clean-up - are you up to this task? For instance, missing patches of fur could indicate an underlying medical condition, and could mean that the bare skin patches extra attention to be kept healthy since they don't have that protective layer of fur.

Older Pets Are (Generally) Require Less Exercise

Note the word, "generally". There are many senior pets who have ample energy and still require a significant amount of exercise. A 10-year-old Husky, for example, is still likely to need a lot of exercise in-between naps on the couch.

If you don't have the time nor the inclination to go for daily, rigorous walks, an older, less active dog may be a good choice for you. If you're hoping not to have to go for walks at all, though, a cat might be a better choice - barring any medical conditions that make walking too difficult or unsafe, even older dogs need regular exercise to keep their muscles strong and their bodies functioning better.

Older dogs are often more content to just hang out, but ready for an outing, too. Many are happy to lounge around with you and enjoy some quiet companionship... but show them the leash, and you might just get the happy-dance.

Temperament of Senior Pets - Are They Calmer?

Older pets often have calmer, more relaxed temperaments. They don't generally require the same level of supervision in the house as a younger pet, leaving you more time to attend to other things (or just share a snuggle or a nap with your pet).

But again, it depends on the pet: dogs and cats who naturally have fearful or anxious temperaments are likely to still retain that fearfulness or anxiety as they get older. Young, exuberant dogs may grow up to senior, exuberant dogs. Getting older doesn't automatically cause their temperaments to change to calm and relaxed. A young dog who loves to greet his people loudly and enthusiastically will probably still do the same when he's older - even if he's a bit slower or a little clumsier.

Likewise, pets who never had the opportunity learn boundaries - or were never taught - don't automatically develop good manners just because they get older. They can learn (and often learn quickly), but they need to be shown patience and consistency, and given the time to figure out what you want from them.

We ultimately fall in love with a dog's underlying personality whether it's gentle & sweet, stubborn, joyful & exuberant... regardless of the pet's age.

Housebreaking, Chewing, and Destructive Tendencies

You've probably seen many claims that adopting old pets are great because they're already housebroken and they don't destroy stuff like puppies or kittens would.

This is a pretty big simplification. Dogs who were housebroken and trained when they were young will certainly have a much better chance of being housebroken and well-mannered as seniors. However, some dogs have never lived inside a house before and thus never housetrained. Others might not have been trained, even though they previously had homes. And some older dogs might have pain issues, mobility issues, dementia, or some other medical condition that causes them to eliminate inside the house.

As for destroying things: if a senior pet has never had the opportunity to learn what's appropriate or not appropriate to chew, then they may still destroy things until they've had time and the opportunity to learn what's okay. Young dogs with separation anxiety may very well become old dogs with separation anxiety.

All of these issues can be handled, if the families are willing. Medical issues can be treated or managed, and manners can be taught. Older pets tend to have a better attention span - provided they don't have dementia - and can quickly learn what's expected of them. It's definitely possible to teach an old dog new tricks!

Cost of Health Issues In Older Pets

People understandably worry about health issues that can occur with older pets. Not every older dog develops medical problems, and not every younger dog is completely healthy, either. Of course the potential for health complications shouldn't be taken lightly; the older the dog, the more likely that he may have a medical condition (or develop one), such as arthritis, that could require time, money, and management.

Every pet owner should try to prepare for the eventuality of dealing with and saving for vet bills. This applies to every pet owner, not just those with senior pets! That said, many older pets are on a daily regimen of various supplements and/or medication to help keep them comfortable. They might not have anything seriously "wrong" with them, as people often think of it - but something as common as arthritis can have a severe impact on a pet's quality of life if it isn't well-managed. It's wise to save for regular vet check-ups, supplements, medications, regular bloodwork & urine testing, dental work, plus any unexpected bills. Purchasing pet insurance is another option.

Aside from medical issues, older pets may need additional help around the house as they continue to age. This can include things like ramps and steps to help them get into the car or onto the couch; support harnesses to assist with mobility issues; orthopedic beds to help support their joints; an angel halo for dogs who are losing their sight; and carpet stair treads to help older dogs feel more secure on slippery floors.

As you can see, the costs of medical issues or just the normal aging process can add up. It's undeniable that senior pets do have a higher chance of developing health issues. It's a worthwhile endeavour to stand by our loyal friends when they need us; wouldn't we want the same?

Saving a Life

Adopting a senior pet absolutely means that a pet has been saved, regardless of age ... and it feels good to be able to help a pet that's less adoptable due to the simple fact that they're older. People can be reluctant to adopt an older dog because of the fear that we just won't have enough time with him. But no matter how much time we have, is it ever enough? The quality of the time together is what's truly valuable, whether it's measured in days, weeks, months, or years.

If the pet is a good fit for your home and your lifestyle (a very important consideration, as senior pets may need more time, money, effort, and certainly your whole-hearted commitment to their well-being)...

... and he's captured your heart and you feel that connection...

... it's time to seriously consider making him a part of your family. Senior pets have lots of love and devotion to give. They bond just as well as younger dogs! And by welcoming an older pet into your home, you save a life that could have been passed over.

Ultimately, old pets are just pets. They have the capacity to both experience and give great joy. If there's one thing that our furry friends have mastered, it's living in the moment. They're fully capable of enjoying a pat, a good meal, a fun toy, some fresh air and exercise, or a nap in the sunshine. It's a lifetime of love in whatever weeks, months, or years you have to share together. As someone who adopted a senior dog, I can say that I'd do it again in a heartbeat. If you're looking for a older animal companion to warm your days, please consider an older pet... they make great friends! The care you give them will be returned with ample love.

Senior dog

 

"Blessed is the person who has earned the love of an old dog."
(Sidney Jeanne Seward)

 

 

 

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