What to Know: Adopting a Senior Pet

Michael Kearley, DVM
Written by:
Published: August 8, 2022
What to Know: Adopting a Senior Pet

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What Age Is a Pet Considered Senior?

Pets are living longer thanks to better veterinary care and better nutrition, which means there is a good chance that when you are searching for that next companion, it may be a little older than you would expect.

Senior pets, or those defined around the ages of 5 to 7 years and older, unfortunately tend to make up a good population of animal shelters. They are often overlooked by potential adopters because it’s presumed that that given their age, older pets must have a significant health or behavioral problem. This is an unfortunate stigma, as senior pets have so much good they can offer you and your family, and making them part of your forever home will provide them with a second chance at receiving love in return!

While age is not considered a disease itself, it may bring with it multiple conditions that a potential adopter should be aware of prior to making such an important commitment. Senior pets have the perk of already being potty trained, socialized, and possibly have their temperament established. However, they are more likely to experience several health-related conditions, and the time you get to spend with them, may unfortunately be shorter than desired.

How Do You Prepare for a Senior Pet?

Congratulations on giving a senior pet a second chance. By providing a loving forever home for a senior pet, not only have you given it another lease on life, but you have opened your heart to receive so much love and affection in return. Acclimating your senior pet to its new life can be a bit challenging at times, but do not fear. By following a few simple recommendations outlined below, and making some preparations ahead of time, you can more easily make the adjustment.

Prior to giving a senior pet a second chance in a comfortable and loving home, be sure to discuss the following with the shelter staff:

  • What is the age (or best guess) of the dog/cat?

  • What led him/her to live at the shelter (owner abandonment/relinquishment, lost or stray, confiscation, etc.)?

  • Past medical history including any diagnostics and/or treatments performed

  • Current medical history including additional medical conditions determined

  • Current behavioral and/or temperament analysis (is it good with children, other dogs/cats, etc.?)

  • Is the dog/cat potty trained, crate trained, able to walk on a leash, etc.?

  • Does the dog/cat know any tricks, and if so, which kinds?

  • Are there any in-house low-cost testing options, coupons, or discounted medical care available to help with future costs?

  • What special diet is the dog/cat on? How much food is provided and at what times? What other options can be considered if the special diet is not available?

Senior pets are more likely to experience arthritis and a general decline in their senses such as vision and hearing, as well as a decrease in their cognitive abilities. So slight changes to the environment can make huge impacts on their physical and emotional well-being, including:

  • Bedding—decreases pressure on aging bones and joints.

  • Ramps, toe-grips, floor rugs—increase its ability to grip while reducing the likelihood of slipping and falling.

  • Raised food and water bowls—prevent your pet from leaning down too much to eat and drink, thereby reducing pain.

  • Larger, walk-in litter box—enables easier access, limiting pressure on aging joints.

  • Night light—aids with failing vision.

  • Harness and/or Help ‘Em Up harness—reduces the stress when lifting your dog up stairs, or in and out of cars, etc.

  • Supplements—such as Senilife (brain health), Dasuquin (joint care), or Denamarin (liver health).

  • Environmental enrichment— such as food puzzles, as senior pets may not be able to be as active.

  • Consistency/daily routine and minimizing changing or adding furniture—facilitate easier movement and navigation around the home.

Senior Pet Food Diet

Additionally, as older pets tend to lose muscle and have slower metabolisms, senior diets are often recommended. These diets usually aim to help conserve protein and maintain a healthy body weight.

Senior food contains fats and antioxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids, which help slow neurologic damage and provide additional energy sources. Pets with certain medical conditions such as urinary stones or kidney disease may be prescribed a specific type of diet to help manage the condition.

As senior pets also experience a decline in their taste buds, enriching the flavor of the diet by warming it up or adding canned food may be helpful. The right kind of diet for your senior pet is a great topic to discuss at that first visit with your veterinarian.

Questions for your veterinarian, after they have reviewed the shelter records, should include:

  • What kind of diet should my pet be on, and how much of it?

  • Should he/she be receiving any supplements or medications? If so, what does the follow-up care and frequency of rechecks look like?

  • What kind and how much exercise should the pet be provided with each day?

  • Should any tests be performed today? (Tests such as bloodwork, urine, and stool testing, and even radiographs might be recommended to screen for hormonal disorders, ensure adequate kidney and liver function, or determine the extent of any arthritis.)

  • How often should he be brought in for routine check-ups and examinations? Most senior pets have a recommended blood panel that should be performed at least once a year, if not more frequently depending on type of medication they receive.

What To Expect Adopting a Senior Pet

There’s plenty to consider when adopting a senior pet including a host of great benefits. For many, their temperament and health conditions are already understood and it’s easy to know if they would get along with your other pet(s) or child.

They tend to require less training as they may have already been potty trained, crate trained, or even trained in other areas such as playing fetch. They may also come with a variety of tricks such as sit, stay, and roll over. You will also avoid puppy phases that are certainly challenging and time consuming, including multiple overnight trips outside to eliminate. Don’t forget that senior dogs can make great companions for people with a more sedentary lifestyle.

When considering adopting a senior pet, it is also prudent to understand that the time they spend with you may be less than desired. Additionally, most health-related conditions they may experience are manageable, meaning that there is no true cure, but there may be medications or supplements prescribed to manage the side effects, or treat the signs related to the disease. 

In addition to greying in the coat or a stiffness when walking, senior pets often experience the following conditions:

  • Arthritis

  • Cancer

  • Cognitive dysfunction (similar to Alzheimer’s in people) and anxiety

  • Dental disease

  • Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and liver and kidney disease

  • Loss of vision, hearing, and taste

  • Lumps and bumps

Even if your pet doesn’t currently have any of the problems outlined above, regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help identify and manage those conditions as they arise, leading to a better quality of life over the long term.

Long-term Management of a Senior Pet

In order to make the most of your pet’s golden years, it’s recommended that you partner with your veterinarian to establish a timeframe for follow-up visits. This will not only ensure your pet’s comfort level and overall quality of life, but it allows for follow up bloodwork and other diagnostics as needed. They most likely will be on chronic medications and supplements, so frequent rechecks are needed to ensure there is no harm to the organs, and drug level effectiveness is monitored.

With a combination of frequent medical care and environmental enrichment, creature comforts, and enhanced vigilance and care on your part, you can rest easy knowing that your senior pet will live out their best years in a comfortable and loving home.

References

  1. American Veterinary Medical Association. Senior Pets.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Joey Hamlin


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