Benefits and Challenges of Adopting a Senior Dog

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month!

Is your home in need of a loving, cuddly, and appreciative companion? November happens to be National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, and there are hundreds of elderly dogs in our community that are in need of a good, loving home to live out their last years. Unfortunately, when many families go to shelters or pet stores to find an animal to bring home, the puppies, kittens, and younger pets get chosen over their senior roommates, often leaving senior dogs in shelters for years at a time, with many never even getting the chance at a good, loving home or the opportunity at a life outside of their protected kennel.

Maybe you can be that hero to save a dog from euthanasia or give a previously abused pet another chance at a happy, fulfilling life! It is never too late to share a bit of love your home has to offer! If you’ve ever considered adopting a dog, please consider exploring the idea of adding a senior pet to your home!

If you’re interested in adopting a senior pet, please reach out to your local Humane Association or local shelters in your area. You can also visit the Milwaukee Humane Society for more information.

So just what age is considered a “senior” dog and why are so many in shelters? Well, that answer varies widely depending on the breed of dog, however, many dogs are considered to be in their senior years around the time they turn 7 or 8 in “human years.” According to Pet Finder’s website, senior dogs may wait up to four times longer to be adopted than other dogs, and are also the ones who spend the most amount of their lives living in a shelter with many not getting adopted at all. Many of these senior pets likely had homes previously, but were given up due to death of their owner, their owner relocating to a place that doesn’t allow pets, change in family status or income, and even the addition of a new baby to the family. While we know many families in search of a new pet desire puppies, there are many benefits to adopting an older pet that may leave you feeling rewarded and thankful for your new canine companion.

Benefits of Owning or Adopting a Senior Dog

Perhaps you’ve had your dogs since they were puppies or maybe you’re one of the kind-hearted folks who gave a senior pet a new, loving home. Whatever the case may be, if you have a beloved senior pet at home, or are considering adopting, you may find yourself feeling happily satisfied by some of the benefits they provide! Owning or adopting a senior pet has many advantages to enjoy while letting your beloved pet live out his golden years in the best, happiest way!

1. When adopting a senior dog, there aren’t a lot of surprises! The shelter or society where you get your dog will often have the important information you need to determine if the pet will be a good match for your home. You will be able to know ahead of time about their temperament, training, personality, activity, and size, and can choose your new beloved pet based on your family’s preferences. If you have young children in your home, for example, you can make sure to find a dog that gets along well with kids. If size is important to you, you can be sure you won’t get a dog that will grow to be bigger than you are! Additionally, if you’re looking for a dog that needs extra walking or activity, you can also ask about the dog’s activity level and needs to be sure you’ll be a good match. Whatever your family’s needs and preferences, you can be sure there is a senior dog out there waiting and ready to be the companion to bring into your home, and we are always here to provide our services if you need assistance with pet sitting or getting your dog the exercise he needs!

2. Senior animals have already been trained, requiring less work on your end. Adopting a new kitten or puppy requires teaching them where to go potty (and more importantly, where NOT to go). House training a young kitten or puppy is very time consuming and a lot of work, so adopting a senior dog who has already learned where to properly go potty will save you and your family a lot of time and stress. In addition to being housebroken, senior dogs also usually know many commands already, so they know the basics and will transition into your home rather easily.

3. Senior dogs are less destructive (typically)! Unlike a new puppy who will find shoes, clothes and other valuable items around the house to chew on, most senior dogs have already broken those habits and are less likely to exhibit inappropriate behaviors.

4. Senior dogs are still trainable! While most adult or senior dogs are housebroken, there is still training that can be done! If you wish to train your senior dog on how to have appropriate social interactions, how to properly use a leash or how to heel, for example, it is often never too late to teach your dog these important skills.

5. Senior pets are calmer. While many kittens and puppies are full of never-ending energy, many older pets tend to be less aggressive or hyperactive. While some senior pets will still have a lot of energy and need plenty of physical activity, they can be a great choice for the elderly or families with young children. If you or other members of your family need assistance getting your beloved pet the activity he needs, please send us a message today. We are here to help!

6. He is ready to be loved on! Many senior pets that are taken in from a shelter have had unstable histories, many having been abused as puppies or in their younger “adult” years. But if you know anything about dogs, you know they are often some of the most forgiving and innocent beings that often just desire love and affection from us!

7. Senior dogs are ready to be your companion. With many older dogs having come from homes of neglect or even abuse, an older and wiser dog is going to be able to notice the love coming from you and the home you provide. If you adopt a senior pet, you are essentially saving that animal’s life and in turn become a hero to them. What could be better or more rewarding than making the last years of a pet’s life the best possible?

Challenges of Adopting a Senior Dog

While these great benefits make bringing a senior dog into your home incredibly rewarding and humbling, it’s also important to know the challenges that may come along with your responsibilities of being an owner of a senior pup, as some may require some additional needs that younger dogs and puppies may not necessarily require.

1. Senior dogs may need additional preventative care. Just as we humans tend to need more medical care as we get older, our senior pets may also need a few extra visits to the vet, depending on any medical needs they may have. However, just because a dog is considered a senior, it does not necessarily mean your pet isn’t healthy! A senior pet can still have many, many years left to live, and it’s often not until they’re much older in human years that they become more likely to have a medical issue. Be sure to talk to your pet’s veterinarian to be sure you’re meeting the medical needs your new pet may have.

2. Senior pets have a harder time with change. Your senior dog may find he has a harder time adapting to changes in the home as many may do best with a fixed routine. The decline in their ability to handle stress and change comes from a reduction in some adrenal hormone levels and changes in the brain as they get older that can cause your pet to not handle these changes as well as they used to. If you need help keeping your pet on normal dog-walking routine, please reach out to us today and we can work together to keep routine and consistency a part of your dog’s daily life!

3. Senior dogs need activity and moderate exercise. While many older dogs may have lower energy levels, they still need to be encouraged to stay active. Just as regular exercise helps us humans in our overall health and well-being, our canine counterparts need regular, moderate exercise to keep their digestive system and cardiovascular health at their best. Make sure not to overly exert your pet; if he starts to pant or show signs of fatigue, it’s best to stop. Follow their cues and don’t expect your senior pet to play for extended periods of time as they did when they were younger. All of us at Milwaukee Paws Pet Care know the demands of providing your pet with the exercise and activity he needs. If you’re looking for someone to help step in when you can’t be there, or you need help encouraging your dog to get the exercise he needs, reach out to us anytime!

4. Senior pets develop eye and vision changes. As dogs get older, their eye and vision will change, often developing cataracts as they approach their senior years. Since dogs use other senses such as smell, they often do fine with the reduced ability to see and adjust relatively easily to their surroundings. If you notice your pet having a harder time with mobility or believe he may be developing eye or vision changes, schedule a visit with your veterinarian and be sure there aren’t any additional conditions developing.

5. Your senior pet may acquire specific health problems. From stomach and intestinal problems, to diabetes, diseases of the nervous system, and even cancer, your pet is at risk for some of these common health problems found in older dogs. Additionally, they are more likely to suffer from some muscular, skeletal and joint problems as they age. Scheduling regular visits to your veterinarian will remain important so you can work together to “catch” these issues and find the best treatment plans based on your pet’s medical needs.

Some additional challenges or health concerns you may experience with your dog include: hearing and balance concerns, chronic ear infections (especially for dogs with floppy ears), urinary incontinence, kidney issues, limb weakness, mental illness, respiratory infections and liver disease.

While some of these challenges can seem scary and may make some not want to consider adopting or caring for a senior pet, the treatment often is not as complex and scary as you may expect. Additionally, there are things you can do to help keep the senior years of your dog’s life the best and healthiest as possible.

Tips to help meet the special needs of your senior pet:

1. Ensure proper diet and nutrition. Senior dogs need special types of food that will be easier for them to digest. Additionally, they have different caloric intake needs and may need specific supplements. Senior dogs also may have a harder time keeping off extra weight, so try to limit treats to help keep your dog at his ideal weight. Work together with your veterinarian to find a specialized diet to meet your dog’s caloric and nutrient needs.

2. Schedule regular veterinarian visits. Just as your vet will help make sure your dog is on the proper diet, your veterinarian will also be able to watch for signs of disease, working to prevent more problems in the future. Prevention is key! Depending on your pet’s needs, you should see your veterinarian anywhere from every six months to once a year. Your vet may do a more in-depth work up including blood work, dental care and a more complex physical exam to look for signs of disease common in older pets.

3. Watch for common warning signs from home. Pay attention to changes in your dog’s condition in between vet visits. If you notice symptoms such as: decreased appetite, increased thirst, difficulty breathing, poor hair coat, vomiting, decreased urination, decreased interest in play, changes in alertness, or coughing, it is time to see your vet. These can be common signs of kidney disease, urinary tract disease and/or heart disease. The sooner issues are caught, the more likely you and your vet can find a treatment plan to best meet your beloved pet’s needs and give them the best chance at a long, healthy life.

4. Care for your dog’s mouth. Since dogs are also at risk of dental and gum diseases, it is important that we keep our dog’s teeth clean! You can brush your dog’s teeth and/or use dental treats and toys to help keep them clean. If you need further tips and ideas how to keep your dog’s mouth healthy you can bring this up at your dog’s next vet visit.

5. Be aware of your dog’s limitations. If your dog has limited mobility or has arthritis, for example, it can be helpful to position your dog’s food closer to his bed so that it is easier for them to reach. Additionally, if your home has stairs, you can keep your dog’s toys, food and bed all on the same floor of the house so your beloved dog doesn’t have to make the trek up and down the stairs.

6. Ensure proper and adequate exercise. This will help keep your dog’s joints and muscles healthy. If your senior pet isn’t used to moderate exercise, start slow and increase activity gradually. And make sure to talk to your veterinarian to help tailor your dog’s needs. Requirements for each dog may vary based on their health, size and breed.

Bringing a senior pet into your home can be an exciting and rewarding time in you and your pet’s life. Keeping these benefits, challenges and special needs in mind when caring for your pet will likely help lead to longer, happier and healthier years with your senior pet.

Worried you won’t have time to care for your senior pet? We have you covered! All of us at Milwaukee Paws Pet Care understand that your pet’s needs are complex. We offer in-home pet sitting, allowing your pet to maintain their routine, reducing anxiety while you are away. Additionally, we understand your beloved pet may have complex medical and behavioral needs, so we offer a wide variety of services to help ensure your pet gets the love and attention he deserves. Please send us a message anytime and we can help relieve some of your worries!

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