5 Reasons to Adopt an Older Dog
Dogs, dogs, and more dogs! Yes, my life - for better or for worse - is all about my dogs. My friends know I recently added a second to my brood: a 13-year old super-mutt called Paco. Though fraught with a few unforeseen challenges, adopting Paco has been one of the best experiences of my life. He's calm, loving, and a joy to be around. If you're looking to adopt a dog, please consider giving an older gent or lady a chance. Muttville, the Bay Area's foremost rescuer of senior dogs, is responsible for introducing me to Paco. (Check them out if you're ready to fall in love!)
Why give an older dog a chance? Well...
Incontinence in Older Dogs
While your 7+ year old dog may be accident-free for most of the remaining years of his life, you may have to deal with urinary or fecal incontinence at some point. Accidents may occasionally happen even though your dog is clearly housetrained. Never scold him for an accident; instead, contact your vet for help. Friends have diapered their dogs, and there are even indoor potties (featuring patches of faux grass) and dog litter boxes to help mitigate issues.
Hmmm. Not so into cleaning urine (or worse) off your floors, courtesy of your adorable new puppy? One of the best things about older dogs is their ability to hold their bowels until the time is right. It's likely someone's already done the dirty work and housetrained your new buddy. You can typically leave your pooch for a few hours without having to worry about a soiled rug or floor. Best of all, they'll usually let you know when they need to go out instead of simply unleashing in the house!
In addition to fully formed personalities, older dogs are fully grown. This means your cute 15-pound dog won't double, triple, or even quadruple in size!
They're Calm (And Settled)
The photo below perfectly encapsulates how Paco spends most of his days: sleeping (and being harassed by the puppy). Described as "the very definition of an “easy-keeper”", Paco lived up to the hype. Older dogs like him have "been there, done that" and are usually content just lying at your feet.
Another advantage is that older dogs are settled and have fully formed personalities, so it is quite evident how they'll behave when you get them home. Puppies, on the other hand, are impacted by external factors (YOU, other members of your household, other pets, etc.), and may change from the docile, darling little bundle you brought home to an unruly beast. At least you know what you're getting with a mature mutt.
They're Trained (Usually!)
Puppies demand a great deal of time and attention. If you want a well-behaved dog, you've got to put in YEARS of training. Kinda lazy? Set your sights on a "pre-trained, previously owned" guy or gal. Older dogs usually know how to walk on a leash and will come when called. They can also be trusted to not destroy your possessions if left unattended. Be careful when letting her off leash, though; some dogs will run after a scent or critter when untethered, picking up the pace when you attempt to give chase, making it nearly impossible to catch her.
Move to Get Things Moving
Sometimes older dogs need a little help using the bathroom. A quick walk around the block in the morning and evening can help prevent accidents by getting things moving. You should also try walking your pooch after meals to cover all your bases.
They're Always Up for a Walk (Or Whatever You Want to Do)
Older dogs, especially large breeds, may be afflicted with painful, mobility-limiting conditions like arthritis or hip dysplasia. Though this may be the case for your new (old) dog, you should still walk him regularly. While he may not tolerate those hour-long jaunts you're accustomed to, he's probably still up for a walk or two around the block. Walks are essential for maintaining your dog's health and weight. If he's clearly suffering on your treks, swimming is an excellent alternative exercise.
Dogs clearly know the difference between being in a shelter and being in their forever home. An abandoned or surrendered dog will be acutely aware of the difference between home and her (hopefully) temporary den. Once she's had time to settle in, you'll have a friend for life who will try to be on her best behavior to show her appreciation. After all, you likely saved her life.
Tips for Caring for Older Dogs
- Brush: Caring for your dog includes making sure to brush her teeth several times a week. There are many helpful resources to show you how, but basically you'll want to make sure you're touching your dog's teeth and gums regularly, gradually introducing an enzymatic dog toothpaste and toothbrush. Good oral hygiene is of the utmost importance in older dogs as problems in your dog's mouth can cause serious health problems elsewhere in her body. You should also have her teeth professionally cleaned once a year, selecting a vet who does not use anesthesia to minimize potential issues (it's also less expensive!). In addition to brushing and having your senior's teeth professionally cleaned, make sure you're feeding her dry kibble with each meal. The kibble will clean your dog's teeth as she eats.
- Exercise: Obviously, walking your dog is incredibly important. Hoofing it with an older dog is especially critical since exercise helps your dog (and you!) maintain a healthy weight - paramount to alleviating the symptoms of arthritis.
- Observe: Keep an eye out for any changes in your pup's condition. Limping, struggling to stand, shaking, and/or lifting of paws likely indicate an emerging mobility issue. The ASPCA advises you call your vet if you witness "shortness of breath, coughing, weakness, unusual discharges, changes in weight, appetite, urination or water intake... increased vocalization and uncharacteristic aggression or significant behavior change" in your dog.
- Supplement: Add a joint supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to your senior's food. Such products can help relieve symptoms of arthritis. Olive oil can also be added to give him a yummy treat, keep his coat healthy and shiny, and treat the dry skin often found in elderly dogs. Coconut oil also works well for this purpose and boasts a number of other health benefits, such as diabetes prevention and weight reduction. Start slowly by adding a 1/2 teaspoon to each meal; adding too much oil too fast can adversely affect your dog's digestion (read: poo 'splosion).