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Senior Dogs

The following article was written by PAW volunteer Lynne Keffer. It was inspired by Pixel, a wonderful mature dog. Please share this article with folks thinking about adding a canine or feline to their family. It's also valuable reading for anyone with a mature pet.


Ask anyone in animal rescue and they will tell you that kittens and puppies are usually the first animals to be adopted. Even when people want animals past the potty-training stage, and seek out slightly older ones, the senior cat or dog is usually the last to be considered for adoption, if she is considered at all. Many people claim they are afraid the dog won't bond with them, or will have a personality "set in stone." They fear losing the animal just as they are getting attached to him, while the other side of that coin is understandable reluctance to face large vet bills right off the bat.

There is some basis in fact for all these fears and misunderstandings. However, perhaps because of such apprehension, there is nothing so rewarding of adopting an older dog or cat into your life and heart.

It has been found that many of these animals, who prefer stability in their older, more sedentary lives, earnestly seek out their owners for companionship and love. Everything they relish about life they get from their human companions. They have little desire to be off exploring with their canine housemates, or running about until they are exhausted.

Senior pets and senior citizens share many lifestyle similarities, and senior dogs can be a blessing for those folks with less active lifestyles. Older dogs, in most cases, require less exercise than their younger counterparts. This is not to say that senior dogs (or senior citizens!) should not get exercise, only that they more than likely will be happy with a nice stroll around the block rather than a vigorous game of fetch.

Other benefits of having an older dog are that they are long past the chewing stage, have often outgrown other destructive behaviors, and tend to be housebroken.

The overabundance of older animals in shelters and rescue groups results from the fact that dogs and cats are living a lot longer than they used to, thanks to several factors: improvements in veterinary diagnosis and treatment of diseases, better nutrition, more awareness among owners of the benefits of spaying and neutering, and responsible owners keeping their companion animals inside instead of allowing them to roam. The downside to all of this is that older animals are considered more expendable than their youthful counterparts. They are often given up by thoughtless owners who no longer want to bother with them because they are old.

Dogs, like people, age in different ways. It is said that certain breeds, like the Schipperke from Belgium, mixed breeds in general, and small dogs, tend to live longer lives. The larger the dog, generally, the faster the dog will age. But these are just broad guidelines. With proper care, it is not uncommon for many dogs to live to be 14 or 15.

As dogs age, they require some additional care, and your older adopted friend will be no exception. Special attention should be paid to her dental hygiene, skin and coat, which tend to become more dry, nutrition, and joints and muscles. Older dogs can benefit from a twice-weekly gentle go-around with a piece of gauze on their teeth and gums.

And senior dogs generally require less protein, to take any stress off their kidneys, and possibly less fat, if they are less active or are putting on weight. Senior dogs enjoy a gentle rub, and massages can ease their older bones and tenderly stimulate their muscles. It also gives the owner an opportunity to check for suspicious lumps. Older dogs, especially short-haired ones, appreciate a nice sweater in the winter, a warm and cozy place to sleep, and all older animals should be carefully watched in the warmer months to see that they don't succumb to heat.

You can help keep your older companion animal healthy by keeping his weight down, through good nutrition and the proper amount of exercise; keeping his teeth clean (next to obesity, periodontal disease is the one most commonly seen in the vet's office, and can lead to all manner of additional health problems); getting him to the vet for regular check-ups; being observant about symptoms that might indicate a health problem and getting prompt and appropriate veterinary attention. Be alert to signs of distress such as labored breathing, coughing and muscle weakness.

None of the health problems associated with aging should discourage adopters from considering an older dog or cat as a companion. With some extra care and vigilance on the part of the owner, a senior companion animal can bring a great deal of joy and pleasure to your life.

Some helpful web sites for those interested in adopting an older dog include: http://www.srdogs.com/index.html and http://www.seniordogrescue.org/


For more Dog Tips about pet care, adoption and the work PAW does, visit our website at:

Partnership for Animal Welfare, Inc.
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768

Last Updated: April 26, 2018 (LET) PawSupport