The ASPCA estimates that approximately 3.1 million dogs enter animal shelters across the country every year. These dogs come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and breeds – some get adopted while others may end up being euthanized. Unfortunately, most of these shelters only see senior dogs adopted 25% of the time versus the 60% younger dogs, and puppies that get adopted. Bringing home an older dog can be rewarding, not only for you but for the dog itself.
Dogs age differently than humans do. For most of us, we take the number of years since the dog’s birth and multiply it by seven to get their approximate age. There are other types of calculations you can do to figure out your dog’s age, but regardless, each size and breed has its own age in which it is considered a senior.
Small breed dogs earn their senior titles when they are about 11 years old, whereas a medium-sized dog will age to senior at around ten years. Large and giant breed dogs will reach senior maturity around seven and eight years. For example, a Great Dane will become a senior before a Chihuahua.
Identifying an Older Dog
Much like humans, dogs exhibit signs of aging. When you visit a shelter to adopt a new dog, you can observe some of these characteristics, which may include:
● Vision loss
● Hearing loss
● Weight gain
● Lack of energy
● Arthritis and other joint problems
● Loss of muscle tone
● Missing teeth
● Possible organ failure (liver, kidneys, heart)
● Loss of skin elasticity
● Hair loss
● Lack of immunity
● Loss of mental acuity
Most older dogs also don’t exhibit the same attitude or habits that a puppy does. These dogs are often house-trained (unless they suffer from incontinence), do not chew up household items, and are less destructive (unless nervous). You will also find that these dogs know basic commands if their previous owners worked with them.
Don’t be disheartened by the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” there is little truth to this. Most older dogs are adaptive and capable of learning new skills – they may even be more likely to settle into a new home quicker than younger dogs and puppies.
Adopting a Dog Requires Preparation
No matter the age of the dog you adopt, an ample amount of preparation is involved – the only difference is the type of preparation required. When adopting an older dog, you may not know the circumstances in which they come from. There are all kinds of reasons why this particular dog ended up in a shelter. Some of the most commonly seen reasons for surrender include:
● Death or relocation – the dog’s original owner may be moving to senior living or is deceased. After being with one owner for so long, it may be difficult for the dog to adjust to a new living arrangement.
● Financial situations – older dogs tend to have more health problems, which the owner may not be able to afford. The owner may be forced to surrender the animal to find someone who can take care of the dog.
● Lifestyle changes – disruptions like divorce, job loss, and cross-country moves can be difficult for senior dogs. The owner may not be able to take the dog with them or give them the necessary care and attention they need anymore.
● Inability to care for an aging pet – sometimes, just trying to take care of a dog who has gotten older is impossible for the owner, and they have no other choice but to take them to a shelter.
Getting Ready to Bring Home Your New Pet
Shelters try their best to create accommodations for the animals they take care of. And there is a priceless expression on a dog’s face when they get their new bed that is priceless. You know that look – think about how you feel when you slip between freshly laundered sheets; they feel the same way about a new, plush bed.
Whether you are bringing home an older dog as its new owner or as a foster parent, you will need to make special accommodations for it. First and foremost, make sure you create a space for them that is soft and comfortable, perhaps a designer dog bed that will help them feel loved and safe.
Set up a veterinarian appointment so that you can have your new dog examined and come up with a healthcare regimen tailored fit for them. What type of food is best? What kind of flea and tick prevention is best for senior dogs? All of these questions and more can be answered during your dog’s first visit with the vet.
Your new dog will need to spend some time getting acclimated to their new environment. Some dogs will sleep for days; others may end up filled with anxiety – all of which you need to be prepared for. Be patient — encourage your new furry friend to come to you rather than you always going up to them for interaction. Understand that your new dog already has a complex personality. It will be rewarding to figure out what their likes and dislikes are. Getting to know your new pet more will help you build your friendship with them.
Giving the Tribute Your Dog Deserves
Losing a pet is tough, especially when you have been through thick and thin with them. Even if you could only spend a few months or a few years with your senior dog, you will feel immense love and adoration for them. Creating a pet memorial for your senior dog is a great way to keep their memory in your home for years to come.
When we bring pets into our homes, no matter what their age, they become a part of our family. We take care of them and we make sure all their needs are met, just like any family member. We value them in life and honor them in death – whether through gravestones or traditional urns. You will find that closure comes for you, your kids, and the rest of the family when you choose to rem