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Should You Adopt A Senior Dog?

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

Last updated

Senior dog gazing

Should You Adopt A Senior Dog?

If you are considering adopting, you may want to adopt a senior dog. Adopting older dogs is a great way to get a low maintenance, settled canine you can enjoy their golden years with. Often overlooked at shelters, adopting a senior is also a rewarding experience. Older dogs are also good choices for older or retired people who want to avoid the demands of a puppy.

Still, these dogs do pose several challenges, so how do you know if adopting a senior canine is right for you?

Benefits of Adopting a Senior Dog

In general, dogs attain senior age at 7, but it changes for small and giant breeds. The larger the dog, the earlier they become seniors. Small breeds live much longer and reach old age at ten or older.

Giant breeds like the Irish Wolfhound and the Great Dane have shorter lifespans and can attain senior age as low as five years. No matter the year your pooch becomes a senior canine, there are many benefits to adopting an older dog. 

You Give Them a Forever Home For Their Golden Years

Pet lovers often come across the term “adopt don’t shop” as they look for a pet. Adopting gives dogs in dire situations a chance at happiness in a loving home. Old dogs are in particular need of love as they approach the sunset of their lives.

Older dogs tend to struggle to be adopted because most people favor puppies or younger adults over them. This means older some senior dogs end up spending their final years in a shelter without knowing the love of a family. In shelters where space is a premium, for this reason, they’re more likely to be euthanized. When you adopt a senior dog, you’re saving a life in need of rescuing. 

They Often Require Less Effort & Training

Most senior dogs have outgrown destructive behaviors such as nipping and chewing that are common in puppies. They usually don’t have the energy or the inclination for destructive behaviors such as digging, excessive barking, or other shenanigans. A senior dog may also be an excellent choice for people who lack the energy or the time to train a dog from scratch.

Most senior dogs are also fully housetrained, unlike younger dogs, which is a major bonus. The chances of returning to a house full of poop are relatively low with these aged pups. 

Along with the training they already have, senior dogs take well to any extra instruction. Their level of maturity allows them to be good students. The idea that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is wrong. In fact, seniors can learn fine. 

You Get a Calm and Relaxed Dog That Can Be Left Alone For Longer

Advanced age comes with a more relaxed disposition. Senior dogs have grown out of the random bursts of energy and the jitters that come with youth. Your senior pooch will likely be perfectly content snuggling with you on the couch for the bulk of the day or taking long naps. 

Their tendency to sleep for most of the day is also a benefit for busy owners. If you need to leave for work, it’s easier to leave a napping older dog than it is to leave an energetic young dog that needs far more attention and activities.

Lower Energy Levels and Requirements

If your lifestyle is relatively sedentary and you’d like to keep it that way, opt for a senior dog. Older dogs have lower energy levels compared to their younger counterparts. Your elderly pup will enjoy a daily walk, but their energy requirements are low. 

This also means that senior dogs are ideal for seniors or adults with mobility issues. They’re less demanding than puppies and generally easier to care for. So for an older person enjoying a quiet retirement, adopting an older dog is ideal.

However, it is important not to neglect elderly dogs’ exercise requirements altogether. A chronically inactive dog will develop issues like obesity and muscle loss which is harmful to their health.

Challenges of Adopting a Senior Dog

Whether you’re opting for a puppy, a senior dog or something in between, all dogs have the potential to present certain challenges. The good news when it comes to rehoming a slightly older pooch is sometimes you’ll have all the information you need. Depending on the shelter or rescue charity, they might have a comprehensive detail of the dog’s past (although this isn’t always the case). But here’s a few things to be aware of before you commit to your adoption. 

Health Issues That Can Be Expensive to Manage

A dog's health can deteriorate as they age. Declining health can sometimes mean ever-increasing vet visits and bills. Common conditions among older dogs that require constant medical attention include arthritis, heart murmurs, and urinary incontinence. In larger dogs (especially larger pedigree dogs) conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia are also common. 

Age-related medical issues plague dogs in their old age and take their toll on the owners. Tissue degeneration in the ears and eyes causes varying degrees of deafness and blindness. Osteoarthritis is a common ailment that causes pain for which there is no cure. Dog incontinence can cause house-trained dogs to alleviate themselves in the house. 

If you want to read more about how to keep your older dog healthy, see our article here.

If you want to read more about dog incontinence, you can read here.

If you would like to read more about doggy dementia, make sure to see this article

Dog dementia, a form of cognitive dysfunction, is a particularly difficult product of aging in senior dogs. Watching your dog gradually forget the things they like and even you as the owner in advanced stages of dementia is challenging. 

Prior to getting a senior dog, have a look at the medical issues present in the dog. Consult a vet to advise you on the monthly expenses of managing the health conditions. Make sure to get comprehensive pet insurance to cover any exorbitant vet’s bills. 

The Dog Might Have Had a Difficult Past

Some dogs at the shelter may have had abusive owners in the past leading to behaviors like aggression and anxiety. Some senior dogs may be set in their ways, making breaking out of undesirable behaviors such as being antisocial difficult. 

It’s not uncommon for older dogs up for adoption to have spent a lot of time living on the street. Whilst this lifestyle would have made them very self-sufficient, it could have also made them wary of humans and might take you a little longer to earn their trust. 

No dog is beyond saving, and with time and patience, your senior canine will get the hang of how to act. It may be a challenging process, but over time, they’ll be more receptive to your love and training.

You Have Limited Time With Them

It’s a sad reality, but old dogs will not be around as long as puppies. When you get a dog in the later stages of their life, the time left with you is shorter. It can be several years or even months, depending on the medical issues present.

What matters, however, is that you cherish every moment you have with your new dog. Remember that you have your dog for only part of your life, but for them, they have you for the rest of their lives. 

Guidelines for Caring for Adopted Senior Dogs

Senior dogs have specific dietary needs that you must meet for them to lead a healthy life. Along with the nutritional requirements, there are frequent medical checkups, among other steps to care for them. 

Nutritional Requirements of Senior Dogs

It’s essential to feed your senior pup a nutritionally complete diet to maintain healthy body functions. Generally, aging dogs need more protein as they age because the loss of muscle mass is a major problem for them. 

The food should be 30-40% protein unless they have renal or kidney issues. Dogs suffering from kidney problems should consume less protein. The fat content depends on the weight of the senior pup. Underweight dogs should consume more fat to gain weight.

Aging dogs with dementia or other cognitive issues will benefit from omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA for brain function. These fatty acids promote brain function which is on the decline in senior dogs. A small amount of MCT oil can help ketones cross the brain blood barrier to provide fuel for your aging dog’s brain, and improve their heart health. You can feed your senior dog fruits and veggies in moderate amounts as sources of antioxidants.

Older dogs should also get more:

  • Taurine
  • Vitamin E (above 300IU/kg)
  • L-carnitine
  • Arginine
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health
  • DHA

Frequent Veterinary Visits

Some older dogs can have underlying health conditions that severely affect their well-being. Aged dogs should visit the vet every six months to detect any medical conditions early on. Take your dog to the vet if you notice signs such as lethargy or vomiting. 

In addition to the overall wellness check, your vet can recommend some diagnostic tests like blood testing. These diagnostic tests help the vet gauge your dog’s health and whether any budding illnesses need addressing.

Couple walking dog on beach

Regular Exercise 

Even though dogs' energy requirements drop as they age, it’s still important to regularly exercise your dog as long as it’s not causing them discomfort. If dogs stay inactive for extended lengths of time, they will appear sickly due to a loss of muscle mass. Obesity is another risk associated with a lack of exercise.  

Breaking up the daily exercise into manageable parts will make it easier on them. Choose low-impact activities such as walking instead of running as they’re more gentle on your dog’s joints. 

The mobility limitations in older dogs shouldn’t prevent you from taking them out for daily exercise. Dogs of all ages require mental and physical stimulation to maintain healthy bodily functions.

Keep Up With Regular Grooming

Senior dogs are more prone to dental issues that could lead to serious health issues like heart problems. Brush your senior dog’s teeth at least once or twice every week to avoid tartar buildup. Canine periodontitis is a serious medical issue resulting from bad oral hygiene. 

How much bathing and grooming a dog needs depends on their coat, not their age. No matter how old they are, dogs with longer coats or double coats will need you to help keep them healthy and comfy. If you’re adopting an older dog with a longer coat who's been on their own for a while, it might take some time to get them comfortable being brushed but just take it slowly and gently.  Medical issues like incontinence which result in potty accidents will necessitate more frequent baths to clean the mess. Dogs with arthritis or visual impairments require more time and patience during bath times. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

At what age is a dog considered a senior dog?

Generally, dogs are of senior age at seven years. Small dogs live longer and can be senior dogs from ten years of age. Medium breeds tend to become seniors at around eight years. Large breeds are typically seniors at seven years, while giant breeds show signs of aging as young as five or six years old.

Are older dogs less likely to get adopted?

Yes, most people prefer younger dogs over older dogs in adoption agencies and shelters. Older dogs are more likely to spend more time in dog shelters than puppies. They are also more likely to be euthanized.

Should someone over 80 get a dog?

A healthy person over 80 can benefit from getting a dog. Dogs are excellent companions for people of all ages, including senior citizens. Studies show that dog-owing citizens enjoy health benefits like lower pressure. However, it is advisable to have a back-up home in place just in case one needs to spend time in hospital, so that the dog does not need to go to a shelter.

Final Thoughts

Senior dogs are an excellent addition to your family, provided that you watch over their health closely. Adopting a senior dog is giving them another chance at life, and they’ll be a source of constant joy. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise promote good health in your senior dog.