“How much is that puppy in the window?” A popular song that often reminds us of a sad fact— every day, hundreds of adult and senior dogs languish in shelters. Senior dogs spend more time in dog rescues and shelters but this doesn’t have to be a lasting statistic. More and more people are realizing that senior dogs make wonderful companions. If you are one of those people, be sure to know these five important tips for adopting a senior dog.
Tip One: Understanding the Senior Dog
One of the first tips I always recommend for potential owners is to really understand what a senior dog is. Most people think of a slow, tired dog with a gray face but this isn’t always the reality. Sure, your senior rescue dog’s muzzle may be grizzled with gray, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t as active as a pup with a full life ahead. Simply put, being a senior dog does not necessarily mean you’re old.
At one time, many vets agreed that dogs were seniors at seven. Over the years, we’ve come to understand that being a senior is more than a number. The size and breed of a dog, along with their quality of life, can affect when a dog is actually a senior. Even mixed breed rescue dogs, such as a German Shepherd Pitbull cross, are affected by this rule and often reach old age at 7.5 to 10 years old.
Following this guideline, potential owners should realize when old age hits. Toys and small dogs reach it at 11 to 13 years, medium-sized dogs at 9 to 11, large sized dogs at 6 to 9 years, and giant sized dogs reach it at 5 to 8 years of age. Keeping that in mind, expect more variety in the energy and capabilities of your senior dog.
Tip Two: Be Aware of Potential Health Problems
Always adopt a senior dog with open eyes as they often have health problems. These problems often equate to dealing with more medication, special diets, and treatments for your senior rescue dog than you would with younger dogs.
An age-related health problem seen in senior dogs is hypothyroidism, which is treated easily with an inexpensive medication. Hearing and vision loss are also quite common and adjustments to the environment may be necessary for his safety.
Finally, arthritis and other joint diseases are very common in senior dogs. This means that your senior may move a lot slower and you will have to take extra care managing his condition through proper exercise and nutrition. Limiting stairs is also important in helping your senior dog navigate his new home.
Tip Three: Consider the Added Cost
Young or old, dogs come with a cost but it is often much higher with rescued senior dogs. While your senior dog may not have many health problems, most rescue groups and shelters recommend a health check with a veterinarian within a few days of adoption. Although all rescue dogs can incur this extra cost, senior rescue dogs need additional testing, including a senior blood panel, which can lead to a cost of several hundred.
While it is not the case with every senior dog, you should expect to see the veterinarian more frequently. This can be due to a number of factors but as old age starts to take hold, more input and care from a vet may be necessary. Again, his care, quality of life, and breed will determine how often he visits.
Outside of vet care, senior dogs can require special diets and even special treatments such as physical therapy. These create additional costs when it comes to your pet care budget and anyone who is considering adopting a senior dog should look at whether their budget can allow for these treatments.
Tip Four: Plan for a Tired Canine
Whether young or old, there is no doubt that living in a shelter or rescue environment is stressful for a dog. For senior dogs, being at a shelter can be a harrowing experience that leaves them extremely tired when they first arrive home. And this trend can continue for the first few days and even weeks of being in a new home.
Remember, this is another new experience for your senior dog and he will need to spend time resting as he gets used to his new environment. During this time, the best thing you can do is to follow his lead. Don’t push for outside time, walks, or any type of playing. He is de-stressing from shelter life and there will be time for all those activities in a few days.
Finally, try to keep the house calm and quiet so your tired senior can get the rest he desperately needs. Don’t have a lot of visitors as the added attention can cause a lot of stress on him. By letting him sleep, your senior dog will come around to his new home and owners faster.
Tip Five: Ease Into the Transition
This brings us to our final tip of easing into the transition. Shelters are a busy place. They are filled with noise, smells, and chaos. Many senior dogs find the transition into the shelter to be very traumatic. The same can be said for a senior dog transitioning into a new home.
Before your senior dog arrives, set up an area in a quiet spot of the house. This will be his safe place where he can go whenever his new home overwhelms him. In addition, this will help keep him away from your other animals while he is acclimatizing. When he arrives home, allow him to get comfortable in his space. Let him decide when he wants to join the rest of the household when he’s ready.
In addition to his safe spot, you want to transition into all of your routines. Walks during the first few days should be short and leisurely. Allow your senior dog to explore his new neighborhood at his own pace. Introduce food, including a new diet or treats, gradually to prevent stomach upset. The best choice is to relax and spend the time bonding with your new pet.
Adopting a senior dog is a rewarding step in dog ownership. Following the tips above, you will have a grateful and loving pet with a grizzled beard. After a few days with a senior dog, you will ignore the puppies in the window because the love of a senior dog is worth more than gold.
If you are interested in adopting a senior dog, visit your local rescue groups or contact organizations such as Muttville Senior Rescue.