It's easy to see why adopting an older dog is so attractive - they're sugary sweet, low-key, and you get to provide a loving home for a pup in need to live out their later years.
And yet, senior pups are some of the last to be adopted from shelters. This hesitance to adopt an older dog increases their risk of being euthanized. There are common misconceptions about senior pet adoption that deter people from considering it, but these older dogs can still be playful, healthy, and have many years ahead of them.
Adopting senior dogs takes them out of the shelters and into a loving home, which is a beautiful thing. But dog ownership is a big commitment that requires careful consideration, especially in senior dogs, who tend to have more health issues and different needs than a younger pup.
Follow below as we talk about the realities of adopting old dogs and whether or not it's the right option for you.
Should I adopt a senior dog?
Adopting older dogs could literally save their lives, so please consider adoption if you can. Shelters are overcrowded, and workers need to make difficult decisions about euthanizing pets to combat overcrowding issues.
Senior dogs are warm, loving, and relatively easy to care for once you're educated about their different needs.
If you want a low-energy sweetie to snuggle up with on the couch, a senior dog may be just what you're looking for!
First-time dog owners
A first-time owner is perfectly suited to adopt a senior dog.
Older dogs have more manageable energy levels, especially compared to a young pup. A 6- to 12-month-old dog is at its energy peak, surging with growth hormones that give them a little (or a lot of) extra zip.
After this time, hormones level off, and a dog's energy becomes more balanced. A dog's energy levels slowly decline over time, so an 8- or 9-year-old furball will need a lot less exercise than a brand new puppy.
Senior dogs usually have a solid hold of the essential training skills, like house training and basic commands. But can you teach the old dog new tricks? Absolutely! You will likely need to do a bit more practice with them, depending on the situation they've come from and their past life experiences. But, a lot of groundwork is already done for you.
Senior dogs have a much shorter life expectancy than a young dog. A 9-year-old dog may live another 3-4 years, depending on breed and healthiness. Adopting a senior dog is a fantastic way to get a dog if you're worried your circumstances might change, and a 15-year commitment doesn't seem feasible for you.
How long does it take for an older dog to get settled in a new home?
The adjustment period for a dog entering a new home is incredibly different from dog to dog. An emotionally well-adjusted dog will adapt to his new home within the first days, and his personality will begin to emerge within a month.
For dogs that have been abused or have some emotional issues, it can take longer. Expect to wait three months until your dog seems comfortable in their new home. If there are some emotional and behavioral issues, it's helpful to consult a professional trainer and get advice on how best to proceed to help your pup adapt.
If the dog feels pressure and frustration from your end, the process can extend even longer. Be patient, and let your doggo adjust in their own time.
Senior dog adoption: special considerations
We've explained why having senior dogs can be more comfortable (lower energy levels and previous training), but some old dog care needs are slightly different from puppy care. Here are a few things you may consider before deciding to adopt a senior as your newest family member.
General health issues
Degenerative health problems affect dogs as they age. A senior dog may have vision and hearing issues, which will make communication with your new pet a little more complicated.
For older dogs with vision problems, using your voice often comforts and gives the doggo the signals he needs. Creating a safe space that is clear of too many obstacles will help keep them safe and confident moving through your house with limited or no vision.
For dogs with hearing loss, visual cues are more important. Teach your dog hand signals for the basic sit, stay, and heel commands, and give positive affirmations with a loving touch.
Older dogs are also more prone to cancers, dementia, heart problems, and kidney issues. The likelihood of your dog requiring costly surgeries or medication compounds as they age. If your budget is tight, it could be best to hold off on dog ownership until you've saved up a decent chunk of cash for a pet emergency fund.
Incontinence can also become an issue for an older pup. Cleaning up a wood, tile, or hard-material floor is relatively simple, but if your home is fully-carpeted, this could quickly become an issue.
Much like humans, dogs' joints and muscles degenerate over time. Some breeds are more likely to develop joint issues because of their genetic make-up, like the Dachshund. German Shepherds, Labs, Great Danes, and Rottweilers suffer from joint and arthritis problems and need help getting around as they age.
Obesity is more common in less active, older dogs, which becomes a vicious cycle as the excess weight puts more pressure on a dog's arthritic joints. By monitoring your dog's diet, keeping portions appropriately-sized, and purchasing high-quality food, you can keep obesity at bay.
Incorporate fish oil into your dog's diet to keep their coat, skin, heart, and joints healthy. The regular use of fish oil can help alleviate some of the symptoms of arthritis in pups.
You can also purchase a few tools to help your senior dog keep their independence as they age. A dog ramp for the bed, couch, or car lets your little one get on and off without your help. Buying extra soft and supportive dog beds and pillows can also ease the pain of sore joints.
Senior dogs and children
Senior dogs have had years of experience before they make their way into our lives. A lot of these experiences are unknown to us and may have been quite traumatic.
Seniors dogs often have a massive vault of patience for children that young pups don't often possess. They are some of the best around children, usually being "over" puppyhood's rough play phase. They are some of the best babysitters in the best of times.
But individual senior dogs have had traumatic experiences that make them a bad fit for living in a family household. They may be afraid or aggressive toward little ones, so do your research on the specific dog you’re considering adopting.
Ask the shelter what they know, bring your children in to meet the dog, and check out the pup's comfort level around kids.
Senior dogs and other pets
Similarly, consider the other pets that already exist in your household. How will they feel about a dog living with them, and is the dog open and friendly around other animals?
Some dog breeds are most likely to dislike other pets, as their animal instincts kick in, and they may consider the little ones their prey. Akitas, Dobermans, Pit Bull Terriers, Boxers, and German Shepherds don't generally make great matches for households with other pets, but it will also depend on their personality and temperament.
Final notes on adopting an adult dog
Senior dogs have a mountain of love to give a willing and patient owner. Many of them, especially young seniors, have zero health issues and years of life left in them.
Their general temperament makes them an excellent match for a senior owner, a household full of children, first-time owners, or someone looking for a low-maintenance pet that doesn't need to burn off an endless bundle of energy.
Financial considerations are important. There are higher costs associated with an older dog, but they also won't be with you as long as a brand-new puppy, which will cost you more in the long-run.
Setting a senior pup up for success in their new living arrangement isn't that difficult. It requires some research and planning on the owner's part to adapt to any health issues for the senior dog.
If you decide that senior pup adoption is for you, we thank you for helping to make a dog's end-of-life better. We wish you both a beautiful life together!