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Adopting a Senior Dog: 8 Things You Need to Know

Couple adopting senior dog
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If you overlook adopting a senior dog at the shelter, you might regret it! Why? Well, most pet parents who have adopted older dogs agree that they are some of the most lovable companions they’ve ever owned.  

Senior dogs are often house-trained and full of personality. They are often playful at times, yet low-key and easy to hang out with. They provide all the benefits of a dog without all the training of a puppy. Of course, while senior dogs make wonderful pets, that doesn’t mean they don’t come with challenges.

We’ll dive into both the benefits of adopting a senior dog and what you should know before you add an older dog to your family.

Senior Dog Adoption Statistics

Despite rave reviews from pet parents, many older dogs have difficulty getting adopted due to their age. In addition to breeds like Pit Bulls or Chihuahuas, older dogs are one of the most overlooked demographics at shelters. The ASPCA reports that senior dogs have a 25 percent adoption rate compared to the 60 percent adoption rate of younger dogs and puppies. 

So why are younger dogs adopted at higher rates than older dogs? Many potential adopters state they fear the risk of getting attached to a dog they may lose in a few years. But most senior dog pet owners say the benefits far outweigh the risks. 

What Age is a Dog a Senior?

Not every dog ages at the same rate. Many factors – such as breed, genetics, and environment – contribute to when a dog becomes a senior. Most scientists agree that the biggest factor affecting the timing of senior status is a dog’s size. 

In general, large or giant breeds become seniors between 5-7 years of age while smaller dogs become seniors closer to 8-11 years of age. Most experts agree that a dog is a senior dog in the last 25-30 percent of their life, though this is not an exact science.

Benefits of Senior Dog Adoption

Senior Dachshund getting treat

When you ask pet parents about the benefits of adopting a senior dog, be prepared to listen to hours of stories! Here are some common reasons that many people love older dogs.

They’re semi-trained. Though not always the case, many senior pets are already house-trained and have some degree of general training. A lot of senior dogs also know basic commands such as sit and lay down. This can make integrating an older dog into your home a lot easier than a puppy who needs lots of training and supervision.

They’re laid back. For many pet parents, one of the best things about a senior dog is their laid-back vibe. They will often be low-key but still have spunk and personality! The reality of puppies and younger dogs is that they require a lot of time, consistency, and physical and mental energy. Many senior dogs will already understand human routines and habits. They will be more relaxed and less needy.

They have interesting personalities. A really fun part of adopting a senior dog is discovering their unique personalities. Many older dogs have established personalities and know what they like and don’t like. You feel like you’re constantly learning something new about them, from their dinnertime dances, to their disdain for broccoli, to their love of leaf piles. Every day feels like a pursuit of finding their favorite things, and for many people, seniors are full of surprises and funny habits!

They have a lovable nature. The truth is that many older adopted dogs used to have a human that was their best friend. Losing that person and ending up at a rescue or shelter can be really disconcerting for senior dogs. As with many shelter animals, they seem exceedingly grateful once placed in a new home. More than anything, they’re waiting for someone to come along and love them again.

It feels good to help a pet in need. There’s something to be said about the feel-good nature of providing a dog both comfort and happiness near the end of their life. Some of them were given up due to unfortunate circumstances or in bad situations and were not cared for in the way they deserved. Stepping up and providing an old dog with a safe, happy home can be a genuine act of kindness. 

8 Things You Should Know Before Adopting a Senior Dog

Woman hugging old dog

Now that we’ve covered some of the amazing benefits of adopting an old dog, here are a few things that should also be considered. 

Higher chance of medical conditions. Just like older humans, older dogs are prone to more chronic diseases than their younger counterparts. Nearly every senior dog will have dental disease and arthritis as they get older. Keeping up with their health will require establishing a relationship with a local veterinarian. If your senior dog has a known disease, it’s also important to work with your veterinarian to create a plan for managing, monitoring, and treating it. 

More frequent vet visits. Because dogs age at faster rates, most veterinarians recommend that senior dogs go to the vet for their wellness visits every 6 months and as needed for any signs of illness. Changes can happen at faster rates in older dogs, so being prepared for more frequent vet visits will help you accommodate better.

Financial preparation. At some point, many senior dogs will require special medications or diets. Getting financially prepared with something like pet insurance as soon as you adopt your senior dog can be highly beneficial, allowing you to make choices based on their quality of life and needs, rather than finances. An alternative is having a saved budget estimating your senior dog’s needs prior to adopting them.

Potty accidents. While most senior dogs are house-trained (a big benefit), they can sometimes have trouble controlling their bathroom habits as they approach their geriatric years or end of life. Ways to support this are with pee pads (which many senior dogs can be trained to use), belly bands, diapers, more frequent outings, and veterinary care to see if the problem is fixable.

Adjustment period. When adopting most senior dogs (or any dog, really), expect to have an adjustment period as they get used to your home. Depending on the dog, it could be a day, or it could be weeks or even a few months until you both find a routine that works for you. Many senior dogs have varied histories, so try to be patient with them as you learn each other’s needs. 

Understandably, after losing the home they knew and being in a shelter or rescue, an older dog may have anxiety and difficulty relaxing until they understand that your home is their forever home. Talking to your veterinarian about calming medications or supplements can be helpful. 

Mobility issues. As we mentioned, the majority of senior dogs have arthritis. Learning how to help keep them comfortable with veterinarian-recommended supplements and medications can make a huge difference. Using non-slip rugs in the areas of the house they frequent most can also be helpful, along with utilizing dog ramps or stairs as needed.

Less time. Because they are in the later part of their life, senior dogs will likely not be part of your family for as long as a new puppy would be. Though we are not guaranteed any amount of time with any pet we own, it’s helpful to try to cherish the time that you do have and provide the best life and care for your senior pet.

End-of-life decisions. Learning how to say goodbye to a pet is hard no matter how long you’ve had them. For many senior pet owners, having an understanding of end-of-life decisions and quality of life is really important. Be sure to work with your veterinarian to gauge these needs so you can be as prepared as possible. 

Where to Find Senior Dogs for Adoption

Wondering where to adopt a senior dog? The good news is that senior dogs can be found pretty much everywhere. Local shelters and rescues will often have senior dogs ready and available for adoption.  

There are even senior dog-focused rescue groups all over the country, like Muttville, Susie’s Senior Dogs, Camp Golden Years, and many more. And if you need to rehome a senior pet, be sure to reach out to a senior dog rescue for more information. 

How to Prepare Your Home for a Senior Dog

Man hugging senior pug

Prepping for your new senior dog is exciting, and there are several things you can do in advance to help get your home ready for them. 

Most senior dogs will need a soft place to lie, so an orthopedic bed can be key. Keep in mind that many senior dogs (if allowed) love to relax on a couch or bed as an alternative, so having a sturdy ramp or stairs to help them get up and down can make it easier on their joints.

Consider getting non-slip rugs or mats for wooden or tile floors. Senior dogs tend to have less muscle mass, which makes it more difficult to navigate these slippery areas. Putting their food and water bowls on top of a yoga mat or non-slip rug can also help ensure that they don’t lose their grip. 

Lastly, prepare to bring your senior dog to the veterinarian within the first week of adoption. They’ll assess your pup’s health and discuss a good plan for supplements and diet moving forward. Consider starting your senior dog on pet insurance at this visit so you have coverage for any new conditions moving forward. 

For even more information on preparing for a senior dog, check out our Senior Dog Adoption Checklist.