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.

Love doggedly,  

Laura Nativo, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP  

Founder of Nativo Pet Family 

Executive Director of The Preston’s Planet Foundation