Guest post from: The Grey Muzzle Organization, a group that improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries and other nonprofit groups nationwide.

There are many benefits and joys to be had when you adopt a senior dog and the Grey Muzzle Organization shares a few.
Senior dogs already know their manners, have at least some house and obedience training, are more focused and more mellow. They know what NO means and are happy to just be with you so you have not only an instant companion but also, time for yourself (including during the nighttime hours when they will sleep straight through).  With an older dog who has already grown into his personality as well as his paws, you have a new best buddy who is so grateful for a second chance at a forever home.

Senior dogs need homes just as badly as their younger counterparts but often get passed over at rescues for the cute puppies. Many were once owned and loved by someone while others are waiting into their golden years to have that special human they can wag uncontrollably over.

Senior pets who find themselves in a shelter because of a death or other tragedy in their former human family usually go through a mourning period themselves – they must adjust to changes they don’t understand. Once they are adopted however, they usually want nothing more than to please their new best friend, and it gives a terrific pet parent like YOU the opportunity to make sure a dog or cat’s later years are truly golden by having him spend them with you!

The Grey Muzzle Organization is striving to change the world for senior dogs. By providing more than $1.5 million in grants to rescues and shelters around the country, Grey Muzzle has helped thousands of older dogs obtain medical care, making them not only healthier but also more adoptable, allowing them to live out their golden years with a forever family.

Meet Scrappy!  His sloth is his FAV toy – they are inseparable.  Scrappy also loves sweaters, holiday ones, flannel pajamas and blankets. He is a Velcro dog who loves belly rubs, prefers being carried up the stairs and always wants his mom near. Scrappy has a medical condition and needs to get “poked” twice a day with meds. This medical care is made possible by East Coast Corgi Rescue, thanks to a grant they received from The Grey Muzzle Organization.

The Joys Of Adopting And Caring For A Senior Dog

When 10-year-old Betty White arrived at Fulton County Animal Services (in GA), they were concerned she might not make it because she was so sick with a severe respiratory infection, heartworms and a heart murmur. She was depressed and lethargic. Thanks to the Grey Muzzle grant received by PAWS Atlanta, not only did Betty White get treatment for all her ailments, she also received a dental and began smiling again.

She went into their foster program when someone reached out to ask about possibly meeting and adopting her. At that moment, her foster mom realized she could not let her go and adopted her herself! And, the other couple was glad Betty White had found her forever home and adopted another dog!

Don’t worry when you adopt a more mature fella or lady dog that you may only have a short time together.  Although that could be true, none of us knows how much time we have. Some animals live short lives while others live much longer.

A dog could look old but be look and act quite young. What is important is that you make the most of whatever time you have together. You can really make those remaining days, weeks, months or years precious for an older animal and for yourself as well.

It’s true medical ailments have a greater chance of manifesting once any of us get older, that too is not a given. Some pets go through a plethora of medical treatments at an early age while others live their whole lives healthy and strong.  As we age, both canines and humans experience many of the same aging patterns: graying hair, aches, pains and stiffness, sleeping more and slowing down. One big difference though is that our dogs can’t tell us what hurts or what isn’t working as good as it used to. Your veterinarian can be a great source in determining your pet’s needs, but you are even better since you see can observe your dog every day! Pay attention, really get to know your older best pal and observe any changes so that they can be brought to your vet’s attention at onset.

According to Grey Muzzle Organization Advisory Board Member and “America’s Veterinarian,” Dr. Marty Becker, “A dog can have up to 75 percent loss of kidney function and still appear just fine on the surface. Schedule lab tests twice a year for golden oldies to keep tabs on their internal functioning and catch problems early, when they are more manageable.”

Decreased activity and loss of muscle tone can result in constipation, arthritis, degenerative joint disease and cognitive dysfunction, so get those paws moving, but always speak with your dog’s second best friend, his veterinarian, before starting any new regimen to be sure of the best course of action.

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SIX Actions to Keep Your Senior Dog More Comfy

  • YOUR VETERINARIAN: Never miss a vet visit and ask how often your senior dog should visit. Every calendar year that passes approximates seven years in your dog’s life, so six months is three-and-a-half years to your pooch!  Fill in the gaps during these medical visits sharing with your professional all changes in habits and behaviors as well as discussing supplements and other modalities that might make your best friend feel better. Chiropractic adjustments, massage, stretching, aquatic therapy and acupuncture can make a world of difference in the mobility of some senior dogs.

“Most dogs are not ‘too old for a dental.’ As long as they are relatively low risk with underlying diseases stabilized, good dental care can greatly improve not just the quality, but possibly even the ‘quantity’ of life,” says veterinarian Heidi Lobprise.  Making sure your older dog can chew properly can affect his nutritional intake and the presence of bacteria in his mouth can be detrimental to overall health.  Proper dental care is a must, no matter a pet’s age.

  • NUTRITION: Depending on your dog’s activity level, he may not need to eat as much as he did during his more active years. It’s also possible some foods that once agreed with his system, may no longer process quite the same way.  “Keeping a dog lean has been shown to to extend his life and quality of life, hopefully avoiding or minimizing issues such as osteoarthritis and even diabetes,” shares Lobprise, also a GMO Advisory Board Member.

Elevating food and water bowls may aid in digestion and prevent dogs from gulping excess air. It also lessens the strain on older bones by reducing how far they bend.  Work with your veterinarian to find solutions for your breed and also ask if probiotics might aid GI issues.

  • POTTY BREAKS: As animals age, they often can’t “hold it,” and need more frequent bathroom breaks. Males with prostate issues may always feel “half full.”  Never lose patience with your loyal companion. Instead, schedule extra outside breaks even if you have to come home at lunch or install a doggie door to a safe and secure yard. Pick up water bowls two hours before bedtime and take pets out before you call it a night. Reduce clean-up by lining dog beds with plastic. Help your dog and help yourself by doing things that will make life easier.
  • BED TIME: All dogs should have a special place of their own, but senior pets should have a bed in a draft-free, dry location – something they can easily get out of (not a beanbag type cushion) but that cushions their aching joints. Observe your dog for his choice of location; some like the comfort of an egg-crate mattress while others prefer the coolness of the floor. Heavy-coated and short-nosed breeds need cooler temperatures while dogs with thin coats and arthritis need warmth. “Seniors often get a heat spike between 1-3am.  Keeping the house cool can reduce night-waking,” explains Kathleen Cooney, DVM, MS, CHPV and also on the Grey Muzzle Advisory team.
  • SPECIFIC CHALLENGES:  A dog with (even without) hearing loss must be protected by being kept on-leash when out of the house or yard. As senses dim, your pet won’t hear approaching traffic, children or other animals coming near. When startled he may snap or bite out of fear. Be aware of changes. Teach everyone to gently stomp their feet to create a vibration your pet can feel and call out when approaching a hearing or vision impaired pet. Use hand signals when your voice can no longer be heard – sometimes speaking in a higher register will make a difference –  Flick kitchen lights to teach a deaf pet that it’s time for dinner.

For visual-challenged pets, do not rearrange furniture! Dogs with fading sight memorize their pathways. Keep them safe by installing a gate near stairs so that they can’t take a tumble, and build a wide, sturdy ramp over steps your dog frequents. Also notice sharp corners on tables that your dog could bump into and move or cover edges to keep him safe.

And for most older dogs whose paw pads and muscles don’t allow for the traction they once had, placing runners on slick floors and/or adding toe grips to the paws just might increase your best buddy’s confidence allowing him to remain mobile and prevent injury from a slip.

  • QUALITY TIME SPENT WITH YOU:  If your older best friend cannot be on the go with you as much as in the past, make time for belly rubs and do whatever he can do…short walks, car rides, gazing at clouds or just being together.

Senior pets do best when they know they are loved and are still a treasured part of the family. No matter their age, they always have an abundance of unconditional love to give.

When you adopt a senior, that animal knows you have saved him and will forever leave his own unique set of paw prints on your heart!