November is National Adopt a Senior month! As a dog mom who was lucky enough to love my heart dog Preston Casanova for almost 18 years ~ I have a soft spot for homeless dogs in need.
Senior animals are often overlooked at shelters and rescues, as people tend to gravitate towards puppies, kittens and young animals. The truth is, adopting older pets has a lot of advantages: they tend to be more low-key and when you adopt one, you are literally saving a life, as older animals are usually among the first to be euthanized when shelter systems get overcrowded. Plus, you’ll be giving them a warm home in time for the holiday season!
Aging is a normal process for us all, and I am passionate about the gifts older dogs bestow upon their trusted guardians. I hope my blog will help empower fellow dog lovers to help prepare new old dogs to make the best of these golden years, so that more senior dogs may experience them with grace, empathy and happiness.
Adopting Senior Dogs: Myths vs. Facts
Unfortunately, there are many presumptions people often make about adopting senior dogs that aren’t true. They may think that dogs are there due to behavioral issues, when more often than not, it is the problems the people surrendering the dogs have instead. It can be anything from financial or housing issues, or other changes in lifestyle. Some may have outgrown the novelty of owning a particular breed they wanted in the past. Death of their owners, impending marriages or new babies can also be a reason why a dog is being relinquished. There are many possibilities that have nothing to do with the quality of the dog’s temperament, health or personality! Oftentimes, a new, better-suited home will be to a dog’s benefit in the big picture.
There are so many reasons why adopting older and senior animals can be advantageous. Older dogs often already know basic manners, potty training and obedience cues, whereas their younger counterparts may not have any of these skills. This means less time, energy and work on their humans’ part when compared to puppies and adolescent dogs.
Older dogs are also able to settle into their new homes more quickly than their younger counterparts, and require less supervision. They can be easier for family homes, bonding to their new humans just as quickly as puppies, as well as less likely to be destructive as they aren’t teething and have likely lived in a home environment before.
Adding a New Senior Dog to Your Home
When you consider adding a new animal to your home through adoption, it’s extremely important to have a balance between your desires and ability to care for an animal, and what is available. Be open and honest. The mindfulness you take into the process is important. Before adopting, make sure you know as much about the dog as possible, and get a full health report. Just because a dog is older does not mean it will necessarily need more vet visits than a younger dog… Or, a dog may have a manageable disease or disability… and simply need a new family with the time and financial means to support them. It’s important to remember that all dogs are individuals, and to have an open mind, rather than clinging to preconceived notions.
There are many avenues to take to find the right dog for your family. You can check places where people post to rehome their dogs, such as Nextdoor, Facebook, other community groups or through your network of family, friends and coworkers. You can also check your local shelters and rescue groups; Petfinder.com is a wonderful website where pretty much all rescues and shelters also list their available dogs, and you can filter searches by breeds and locations, and much more.
It’s important to think about what kind of temperament you need in a dog. A temperament is not only comprised of a dog’s learned habits, but inherent traits, and determines the behavior of the dog. For instance, if you have young children in your home, you will want a dog who has had exposure to and is comfortable around not only children, but loud noises, fast movements, and anything else your particular children may do or be like, that could affect the dog.
By taking into consideration your home, family and everyday lifestyle, you can find a dog that is most suitable for you. A good resource to learn more about temperament and how tests are done to give you ideas for what to consider is the American Temperament Test Society, Inc. In addition, getting assistance from a positive dog trainer can also be invaluable, as you can have help assessing dogs with their experienced guidance, as well as have a trainer ready to help you acclimate the new dog into your home.
As with any other age of rescue/shelter dog, remember this will be a big change of several that your new senior dog will be going through. Be patient and manage your expectations, and allow your dog to decompress and familiarize his or herself with the new surroundings and routines, before expecting too much. Take it easy and make everything positive. Your dog may have lost his former family and may be grieving, and is used to things being different, so take your time and don’t have expectations that this dog will be just like the former ones you’ve had.
Avoid adding stress to your new dog’s life. Don’t plan to have lots of guests over to meet them right away, or force them to go into a lot of new environments. Allow them time to get used to their new home and immediate family, and go slowly from there as they are able to settle. Dogs are amazingly resilient, overall, but you don’t want to push too hard either. For more tips, refer to my previous blog about rescue dogs.
Caring for Your Senior Dog
Look for ways to make your dog’s world safer, accessible, and more comfortable.
There are plenty of tools and items that can help your dog be more comfortable and safe as they age and feel the effects of arthritis and just overall slowing down. Orthopedic beds and blankets can help them rest well with minimal impact on their bodies, and stay adequately warm and cozy. Stairs and ramps can help them with getting onto furniture and into vehicles. If your dog’s vision or hearing is decreasing, properly placed non-slip mats, gates and x pens can help them stay safe as they move around, and out of areas that may be more dangerous, or that you just want to keep them limited to while unsupervised or when you’re away from home. Clearly Loved Pets also makes some great containment options. And don’t forget your vehicle! Using a harness and a crash-tested crate can help them stay safe if there is ever an accident, in addition to having a ramp ready to help them with loading in and out.
Be mindful that, while ramps and stairs can be great options, it may be better to limit access to high furniture completely. For years, I used a ramp with my bed and small set of stairs for the couch to make it easier for Preston to get on and off furniture, without heavy impact to his joints. But then one night everything changed. I came home late and my poor baby boy had fallen off the side of the ramp, in his excitement to greet me. He was half-blind and his depth perception was simply off. From that moment on, I took the ramp away. I considered a ramp with a side and I even looked at toddler guardrails for the bed, but ultimately, I decided the only time I would allow him on the bed was when I was cuddling with him because I was so worried about him falling off.
Hardwood, laminate and tile flooring can be very slippery as well, and pose a possible hazard for falls for your senior dog. You can always invest in yoga mats or other non-slip rugs or runners for your home to make it easier for your dog. One product I use and love is my washable Ruggable area rug, which also helped with senior potty accidents. There are also innovative products such as Paw Friction and Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips that can help with your dog’s traction.
Speaking of potty accidents, it’s not unusual for older dogs to have them, so it’s important to have safe and effective cleaning products to help with these instances. Skout’s Honor and 03 Waterworks are two of my favorites. In addition, having a Bark Potty, patch of delivered sod or potty pads on a balcony, patio, or indoor area can be helpful for your senior to have 24/7 access to go potty. If you do plan on being away from home for long periods, you can also ask family and friends to check in to help with potty breaks, or hire a professional dog walker or pet sitter. Maintaining a clean environment is important for everyone in the family.
Find the Right Physical Exercise Regiment
It’s important to keep their bodies moving in a safe and low-impact way. There are many options, such as walking (especially when you’re allowing them to sniff and go at their own pace), relaxing visits to non dog parks, and physical therapy in the water. Remember to consult with your veterinarian and be mindful of what your dog enjoys and what they’re telling you through their body language. If the weather is colder or hotter, be mindful of how this may also affect them. Providing appropriate physical activity will help your dog live a longer, more fulfilling life.
The Benefits of Mental Enrichment
Likewise, it’s important to continue to engage your dog’s brain to keep them healthy and have a better quality of life. I have written about enrichment before
(link to past blog?), but some of my favorite options for seniors include the tried-and-true Kong toys for feeding meals and snacks, snuffle mats, and sniffaris. Sniff-focused walks are especially great because it also combines the physical activity component! There are also plenty of great training activities you can take part in, like targeting, playing games like 101 Things to Do with a Box, or taking a nose work class. There are lots of options and again, having a trainer you can work with can be a great way to get help to find the best activities for your dog.
Build an Army of Senior Medical Support
I credit Preston’s extensive team of medical experts for his quality of life. By the age of 17, our extended family grew to include three holistic vets, two oncologists, one internist, one ophthalmologist, one cardiologist and one physical therapist. Seek out the support of a holistic or integrative medicine vet, along with specialists, to support any medical conditions your dog may be facing. Innovative alternative healthcare options really helped Preston, including hyperbaric, acupuncture and laser therapy.
Maintain Health through Proper Grooming and Quality Nutrition
In addition to your host of experts, remember to maintain their health through regular grooming like brushing, bathing, tooth brushing and nail trims. Brushing teeth is as important as ever because older dogs are at more risk going under anesthesia than their younger counterparts. Dental disease can impact their organs as well, and nails that are too long can affect their gait, exacerbating problems like arthritis. Regular brushing and bathing can not only keep them clean and feeling well, but it can also help alert you to any new lumps, bumps or skin sensitivities.
As your dog ages, consult with your veterinarian about senior diet options that are best for your dog. Maintaining a healthy weight is important, and some dogs may have waning appetites. Be sure to report major changes to your
veterinarian and be mindful that a refusal to eat can be pointing to an underlying disease. Try to remember that your dog may not just be “picky,” but may not feel well. I love feeding a raw diet, but as Preston got older, he preferred a gently-cooked meal instead. You can also help your dog eat well and finish meals by adding warm water to increase the smell, as smell is extremely important for dogs to eat, or add other items to their meal, such as boiled chicken, bone broth or other nutritious toppers. There are numerous kinds on the market!
There is No Greater Gift than the Love of a Golden Dog
Whether you’re thinking about bringing home a new, gently-used dog for the holidays, or any day of the year. I promise, you will never regret giving a senior dog a chance. Even if you’re not ready for a forever commitment, you can help a senior dog transition out of the shelter more easily by fostering older dogs in need.
So. Are you thinking about fostering or adopting a senior dog? I would love to hear about your experience, and answer any questions you have. The gratitude of a golden dog is priceless, and I wish you all the best in your journey! If you have any additional tips I’ve missed, please tell us in the DOGTV Pack Facebook group.
Laura Nativo, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP
Founder of Nativo Pet Family
Executive Director of The Preston’s Planet Foundation