Making the decision to adopt a pet can be both exciting and difficult. Choosing which dog to bring home can be overwhelming. There are so many different choices between animal shelters, breeds, levels of obedience, size, gender, special needs, and of course, age. Unfortunately, many people overlook adopting a senior dog for various reasons such as vet bills. The most common reason is that many people simply just want a puppy. In this article, we will discuss:
- What defines a senior dog
- Things to expect if you decide to bring home an elderly pooch
- How to care for a senior dog
What is a senior dog?
Many think defining a senior dog is as simple as recognizing the age of the dog and multiplying it by seven. However, it’s actually a lot more complicated. Dogs can technically be considered a senior between the ages of five and 10 years old. However, this number varies greatly depending on different aspects such as the overall health of the dog, state of their organs, species, breed, and size.
Outside of these factors, there are other ways that can determine if a dog is reaching his or her senior years. Many of these signs aren’t hard to spot because they are quite similar to people. For example, senior dogs can experience dementia which could cause them to look lost or confused in familiar spaces. Other examples include loss of mobility or not getting excited to go play at the dog park or go for walks. While this isn’t guaranteed in every senior dog, it is just some of the common signs dogs show us when getting older.
It is important to remember that dogs are as unique as we are. The way that ageing will impact them is incredibly unique. Just because a dog is listed as a senior at the pet rescue does not mean they will be having accidents, require expensive medications and frequent vet trips, or that they won’t be able to walk, see, or hear properly. There are dogs that are considered seniors that are more active and in better health than those that are considered puppies and there is nothing wrong with that. The senior label is simply an easy way for shelters and adoptive parents to see where the animal is in their life and what potential special needs you can expect now or in the future when adopting this dog.
What to expect when adopting a senior dog
Senior dogs are some of the most unappreciated and dismissed dogs in animal shelters. This is because many people worry about large and frequent vet bills as well as a shorter life span, which is never an easy thing to deal with no matter how long your companion has been in your lives. While all of these reasons are completely understandable, senior dogs need a loving forever home too.
When adopting a senior dog, there are many upsides you can expect that might even make a senior the perfect match for you. For instance, they’re perfect if you are a quiet person who likes to relax or you have a loud and hectic household full of high energy people. Senior dogs are incredibly mellow, and in a lot of cases, they’re very low maintenance. While they still require regular bathroom breaks, they won’t necessarily require the amount of exercise you would be expected to give a puppy. Speaking of bathroom breaks, senior dogs are almost always potty trained which can be incredibly appealing to those who don’t want to deal with the process of potty training a puppy.
While their age may turn off some people, it can actually be a blessing in disguise. When you bring home a senior dog, you aren’t in for any surprises. You won’t take home a 25-pound puppy and end up with a 100-pound beast within a few weeks. What you see is what you get. Additionally, they are very wise and know all of the rules and what is expected of them. They understand that they should ask to go outside to use the bathroom, they know how to walk nicely on and off a leash, and they almost always understand that chewing should be left to toys and not furniture or personal items. Senior dogs are incredibly good listeners and despite popular belief, you can definitely teach an old dog new tricks.
Another worry people have when adopting a senior is the bonding experience. Many express worry that because the dog isn’t a puppy they won’t bond to their adoptive parent. However, in a lot of cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many senior dogs have been abandoned and have special needs that require a bit more care. This can actually create a stronger bond than you would expect. While it makes more sense that your bond would grow stronger with age, it can also grow stronger with needs. These dogs know they have been saved, they know you are helping them, and they appreciate it.
The most important aspect of adopting a senior dog is that you are saving a life. These dogs are overlooked and almost always end up at the bottom of the animal shelters’ least desired list. Even when they are completely healthy and ready to explore the world, they could end up being unwanted because of their age and that simply isn’t fair. Whether a senior dog has one month or five years left, they deserve to live out their last years as their best years in a warm, safe, and loving home.
How to take care of your senior dog
Every dog is unique. They all come with their own individual strengths and weaknesses. When adopting a senior dog, it is important that you are aware of all of his current medical issues and overall state of health. The best way to do this is to talk to the animal shelter and the vets involved. Additionally, it is always highly recommended that you take the dog for a vet check-up as soon you have adopted him. This will ensure that everything is up to date and nothing has happened since the last check-up.
The most important thing you can do to take care of your senior dog is to ensure they get regular check-ups. Check-ups are the best way to find lumps, bumps, and any other issues that aren’t showing symptoms. Senior dogs experience ageing in various ways at different stages in life, so there is no guarantee what your dog will or will not experience. Paying close attention to your companion and truly learning their behaviour is the best way to ensure they are doing okay. Some of the things you can watch out for are abnormal cognitive behaviours such as looking or acting lost and confused. Additionally, older dogs—especially ones that have been surrendered or abandoned—can experience depression and anxiety. This can wreak havoc on your dog’s well-being and should be treated like any other disease or illness.
Monitoring how much they eat, drink, and how frequently they use the bathroom is also important. You want to make sure they are getting enough hydration and nutrition, as well as using the bathroom enough. Discharges, inability to urinate, and abnormal bowel movements are all signs that something might be wrong. Additionally, dental health can tell you a lot about age, history, and health. Dental disease is common in senior dogs and while it isn’t always serious, you should keep an eye on it. Bad breath, inflamed gums, and difficulty breathing can be signs of ageing as well as underlying health problems that should be examined.
Caring for a senior pet involves a bit more than just watching out for abnormalities in their health. In fact, one of the best ways to take care of your new companion is to ensure they are getting clean water, healthy quality food, and adequate exercise. The first step you should take before bringing home your senior companion is to ensure that your home is geriatric proof. This involves making sure that any dangerous spots are guarded such as stairs and pools. Furthermore, if your dog suffers from vision or hearing loss it is important you make the home as safe and easily accessible as possible. Hearing and vision loss can seem like impossible problems to deal with, but dogs actually handle them well once they learn the layout of the home and adjust to their new routines.
The process of adopting a pet can be incredibly stressful, and senior dogs are no exception. But with the right amount of preparation and support, you can adopt a senior dog with the least amount of stress and worry. The next time you are at the animal shelter looking to adopt a pet, consider a senior dog. It is easy to look at the downsides and think they might end up being expensive or sickly, but that isn’t always the case. It is guaranteed, however, that saving a senior dog’s life will be one of the most priceless and rewarding things you’ll ever experience.
Cover photo by Brett Jordan/Unsplash