Adopting and Caring for a Senior Pet

Recently adopted senior dog being pet by his foster parent
Each year in November, Adopt a Senior Pet Month reminds us that many older pets are currently languishing in shelters as they await a forever home. Because of their age and potential for health problems, senior dogs and cats are often passed over for adoption. Often these are pets whose owners have passed away or have moved to care facilities that do not permit animals. Offering a forever home to a senior pet can be an intensely rewarding and fulfilling experience, both for you and the pet you adopt.

Let’s take a look at senior pets, their care requirements, and why adopting a senior pet may be the ideal choice for you.

What Defines a “Senior” Pet?

Generally, when we talk about older cats or dogs, we’re referring to animals over 7 years of age. For large-breed dogs (Great Danes, Akitas, Mastiffs, etc.), whose lifespans tend to be shorter than those of their medium- and small-breed cousins, however, the senior years begin at age 6.

Advantages of Adopting a Senior Pet

There are some compelling reasons to adopt an older pet. Here are just a few:

  • You’ll save a life. Older pets are at greatest risk for euthanasia in overburdened shelters.
  • Less training. Most senior pets are housebroken, so you’ll be getting a pet that already knows its manners.
  • Less puppy (or kitten) energy. Younger pets are packed with energy and can occasionally be destructive to carpets, drapes, shoes, etc. Senior animals are usually well beyond their rambunctious phase.

Caring for a Senior Pet

Elder pets, much like elderly people, may need a little extra help and care. Here are some key areas to watch:

  • Nutrition. The nutritional needs of senior pets differ from those of younger animals. Ask your vet or pet store about a senior diet brand for your pet.
  • Exercise. Obesity can stress your dog’s system and can exacerbate existing problems such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, or cardiovascular disease. A program of regular (but not too strenuous) exercise is sufficient to keep most senior pets at a healthy weight. If your elder pet struggles with obesity, your vet can recommend a safe diet and exercise program to help your pet achieve a healthy weight.
  • Comfort. For many senior pets, even getting in and out of a litter pan or jumping onto the couch can be daunting. Be sure your pets are able to navigate their daily physical challenges. Like humans, older pets are likely to experience more aches and pains.
  • Love and Play. All animals need affection, and many senior dogs and cats still enjoy some playtime. Affection and play reinforce the bond between you and your pet and can provide you both with a much-needed mood boost.

Health Problems among Senior Pets

One reason senior pets are often the last to be adopted from shelters is their potential for developing health problems. Older pets are vulnerable to many of the same conditions that affect humans, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Disease
  • and even Dementia.

This does not mean that all senior pets acquire one or more of these conditions—but their risk for illness does increase with advancing age. That’s why it’s important to know and recognize the warning signs of a potentially life threatening health problem in your pet.

Recognizing Signs of Illness

When healthy, most pets tend to be creatures of habit. As you bond with your new adoptee, you’ll get to know its food preferences, toileting habits, sleep patterns, and exercise needs. Any changes in these basic activities should be viewed with caution. Potential signs of illness may include:

  • Mobility Problems (e.g., difficulty climbing stairs or jumping onto a chair)
  • Changes in Appetite (e.g., loss of appetite, increased or decreased thirst)
  • Gastrointestinal Problems (e.g., diarrhea, vomiting, hard stools)
  • Anxiety
  • Increased Protectiveness
  • Aggression
  • Confusion

If you notice these or any other significant changes in your pet’s habits or behavior, it’s time to give us a call. Our skilled vets and technicians are here to help you care for your older animal, and are ready to offer helpful care and advice to maintain your pet’s wellness.

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