Adopting a Senior Dog: 7 Tips for a Furbulous Experience

Adopting a Senior Rescue Dog

Adopting a Senior Dog: 7 Tips for a Furbulous Experience

Adopting A Senior Rescue Dog Yukon Indiana Wallis

Yukon (9), Indiana (15), and Wallis (10)

Everyone loves a puppy (including us!). But not everyone has the time and energy to commit to living the puppy lifestyle (Housebreaking! Teething! Training! Oh my!). If surviving the puppy phase sounds like a lot to you, consider adopting a senior rescue dog.

The Benefits of Adopting an Older Dog

“Opening your heart and home to a senior dog is deeply rewarding. Older dogs who have lost their families are especially grateful for a second chance,” says Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D., who is the Executive Director at The Grey Muzzle Organization, a group in Raleigh, North Carolina, that improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other non-profit groups nationwide.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DVA, DACVAA, DACVB, professor emeritus at Tufts University, and co-founder and CEO of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies in Salisbury, Connecticut, says, “Adopting a senior dog can be a wonderful experience for someone looking for a low-key roommate.” However, “low key does not necessarily mean boring,” he notes. According to Martie Crone, Vice President and Case Manager at Old Dogs New Digs, a Maine, nonprofit organization, dedicated to helping homeless and displaced senior dogs, “Older dogs need less exercise than younger dogs” — but they still like to have fun!

Lunghofer points out, “With a senior dog, what you see is what you get. Older dogs are usually house trained and well past the teething stage.” Crone concurs, noting, “Many have had some training and know commands.”

Adopting A Senior Rescue Dog Lisa Lunghofer

Lisa Lunghofer

What Exactly Makes a Dog Senior?

People talk about dog years, but oftentimes, incorrectly. Dodman notes, “Like humans, dogs experience five Life Stages including juvenile, adolescence, adult, senior, and geriatric. Most dog breeds are considered senior by age seven.” However, size matters. “Small dogs tend to live longer so they may not be considered senior until they are in their teens,” says Crone.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Before you rush out to adopt a senior rescue dog, consider what you are and are not capable of. You may need to administer medications, spend a bit more on certain foods, commit to regular vet care, and deal with developing medical conditions.

“Regardless of a dog’s age, it’s always a good idea to spend some time candidly considering your lifestyle and, most importantly, the amount of time you can make for a pet companion in your life. As a person living with two geriatric dogs, I can tell you from experience it is not a part-time job but rather a full-time commitment that will necessitate patience and compassion,” says Vivian Zottola, MSc, CBCC; Anthrozoologist; CCBS Research Associate at Center for Canine Behavior Studies.

Similarly, Lunghofer says, “When adopting any dog — senior or not — it’s important to be sure the dog is a good fit for your lifestyle. For example, some senior dogs are high-energy, while others are happy to snooze the day away. It’s critical to consider what would make a good match for you in terms of temperament, energy level, and health care needs.”

Be sure you are willing to be patient with your senior dog. Dodson reveals, “Your patience will be tested as you live with and care for an older dog as they may be or become a picky eater, may need more time walking outdoors, and may become confused from cognitive dysfunction. They may begin to shadow or follow you more as they lose eyesight from cataracts and have trouble hearing.” It’s your job to help them accommodate their new circumstances and challenges of growing old.  He adds, “Their world will change on them and they will rely on you to help guide them.

Adopting A Senior Rescue Dog Dr. Dodman

Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Questions to Ask a Rescue Organization

While staffers at a rescue organization may know a bit of an older dog’s history, they cannot know it all. Reputable organizations get to know the animals they take in before adopting the dog out, so through time and observation, they should be able to share insights with you.

Dodman states, “From a personality perspective, seniors who have flourished will display who they are when you meet them and most have great personalities!  You can expect an older dog having lived a long life and with experience under their belt to require little if any house training, leash training, and other manners training. That said, dogs do come to us with learning history, and an evaluation to assess baseline behaviors by a qualified professional is always a good idea. You want to know if the dog you adopt regardless of age is okay with other dogs or cats if you have them.”

“When adopting any dog, it’s important to get all the information you can to assess whether the dog is a good match for you and your family,“ says Lunghofer. And don’t forget to tell the rescue workers if you have children. “Many older dogs have stiff joints and can be sensitive to children who aren’t as attuned to a dog’s aches and pains,” Crone says.

Make Some Adjustments

Depending on the age and condition of your senior rescue dog, you may want to make a few accommodations to your home — and life! — to make living easier for your new fur friend or prepare to do so over time as they continue to age.

Dodman advises, “As a natural part of aging, you should expect your senior dog will develop trouble with smelling, hearing, seeing, and mobility.” For dogs with vision problems due to cataracts, he recommends using essential oils (those safe for dogs) or plant extracts in specific areas to help them navigate the space. He also suggests using battery-operated motion-activated lights along floor areas to help them get around at night.

An elevated dish can be helpful for dogs with joint problems as they won’t have to bend down to eat. And a good quality orthopedic bed is a must as it will help reduce bed sores since, as he points out, “on average, older dogs sleep for long periods.”

Be mindful of slippery surfaces, especially if your dog has joint issues. Getting up and down on slick flooring can be challenging, according to Crone. Add some area rugs in rooms where you don’t have a dog bed to make things easier on them. And if you have stairs consider a harness to help her or him navigate going up and down the stairs. For dogs with vision issues living in homes with stairs, owners should consider using baby gates to avoid falls.

If you own a car and you cannot lift the dog in and out safely, look into purchasing a ramp to make trips to the vet or the park a breeze. Many retailers also sell pet steps for bedrooms if you choose to share your bed with your new bestie.

While most dog owners dream of having a fenced yard to let Fido run free, it isn’t a must with lower-energy animals. However, avoid the temptation to fence via technology. “Invisible or electric fences are not a great idea for a senior that isn’t already familiar with one,” says Crone. So even if you have another dog using one, don’t attempt to introduce it to an older dog, or be very cautious if you do.

Should you have other dogs, be prepared to do a meet and greet on neutral territory before bringing your new senior home. Consider using baby gates and a crate to keep animals separated as your new dog decompresses when arriving at your home. “Any dog rehomed or acquired from a rescue or shelter will require a decompression period to become used to their environment,” Zottola states. Crone notes, “A puppy may be tough for a senior dog [to live with]” so consider waiting until your younger dog matures before rescuing an older one.

Adopting A Senior Rescue Dog Vivian Zottola

Vivian Zottola

What to Expect

While it is certainly true that seniors can have more health issues than puppies, you’re not necessarily going to be your dog’s nursemaid 24/7. Lunghofer says, “Some people hear ‘senior dog’ and they think old, sick, on their last legs, and that’s really not true. There are plenty that are joyful, rambunctious, eager to hike, or go to a dog park.”

Still, some issues can crop up on the horizon. “Elderly dogs, like elderly people, are probably beginning to experience deterioration in a number of bodily systems, ranging from heart problems to orthopedic issues and sensory deterioration,” says Dodman.” Common issues include arthritis, pearly nodules on a dog’s heart valves, and even canine Alzheimer’s. Be sure to have your vet check for cancer regularly. “It is the leading cause of death in dogs,” he says.

Crone says, “Bad teeth are also common — but so is a love of attention.” Older dogs have the same amount of love to give you as younger dogs. “Age is not a disease,” says Lunghofer. “And when you adopt a senior dog, you’ll be helping bring us closer to a time when no old dog dies alone and afraid.”

Adopting A Senior Rescue Dogs Yukon


How Else You Can Help

If you’re ready to adopt, Lunghofer (and all of the experts featured in this article) encourages you to consider an older dog. “There are so many amazing dogs waiting in shelters right now for somebody like you to bring them home,” she says. If you can’t adopt yet, consider volunteering at a local shelter by walking or comforting a senior dog awaiting adoption. She notes, “Fostering is also another great way to save lives without making a lifetime commitment.” You can also donate to The Grey Muzzle Organization or Old Dogs New Digs.



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