Adopting Older Dogs
For this article I am considering dogs to be older if they are seven years or older. However in health and lifespan terms, medium and smaller dogs, such as miniature poodles and cocker spaniels, are generally considered older at 9 years and above because on average they have a longer lifespan than the larger breeds.
Whether you are reading this because you are thinking about adopting a dog or out of curiosity I hope to be able to dispel some of the worries you might have about adopting an older dog and help you decide whether it would be a good option for you.
Why do Older Dogs Need Adopting?
Whilst young dogs are sometimes brought into rescue because their owners have found them too boisterous or difficult to train or because they chewed things up when left, older dogs rarely come into rescue for those reasons.
Older dogs may be given up because: their owner has died or had to move into residential care where dogs aren’t allowed, their owner can’t afford to keep them, the owner has decided they would prefer to get a younger pet, their owner has had a baby and the dog has struggled to accept the baby or the owner no longer has time to care for the dog, the owner’s working hours have changed and the dog is being left for too long, they are no longer needed for breeding.
Why Do Older Dogs Come into Rescue Centres?
Do you Want to Adopt a Dog, but Work Full Time?
Not all rescues will home a dog to full time workers, but some will consider committed potential owners who work full time, for selected dogs on the basis that a good home is rarely going to be 100% perfect and there are always more dogs needing homes than there are homes available. You will need to demonstrate that someone will be available to drop in around midday each day to give the dog a comfort break.
What are the Advantages of Adopting an Older Dog?
Most older dogs will have been living in a home environment for a long time which means they are used to that environment and have usually learnt some basic house rules. There are exceptions of course. For example if you are adopting a dog which has been used for breeding it may have spent its life kennelled and therefore won’t be housetrained.
- More likely to be house-trained.
- Less likely to be destructive when left and past the stage of chewing things you'd rather keep whole.
- More likely to have a well-documented history passed to the rescue; for example whether it has lived happily with children or other pets.
- Often settle very quickly and gratefully back into home life.
- Likely to have lower exercise requirements then a younger dog, but this doesn't mean they are a lazy option. Nettle, my 16 year old German shepherd cross still enjoys a two mile walk at a gentle pace and Bruno my 11 year old Labrador will happily walk 10 miles at an energetic pace.
- Often a more suitable option then a young dog for people who work part time or in some cases even full time if someone pops home at lunch time to give the dog a comfort break.
- It’s very rewarding seeing any dog relax in your company and enjoy its new home, with older dogs you often get a real sense of relief and gratitude from them – especially if they have spent time in kennels before coming to you.
- Even the potentially shorter lifespan can be an advantage if you are confident about what your situation will be for a couple of years and would like to offer a dog a good home, but aren't so sure about the long term.
- May be much more suitable for an elderly owner then a young dog. Having said that, I know one 76 year old lady who was very cross that a local dog rescue centre would only consider her for an older dog because she liked to walk at least 6 miles every day.
Older Dogs can be Surprisingly Adaptable
What are the Disadvantages of Adopting an Older Dog?
You may only have a short time with them, but this can apply to any dog – because even a young dog can die unexpectedly. My feeling is it’s better to have them for a short time than for no time at all.
They may come with health problems which they can’t be insured for – this is true and you may have to decide you can’t afford to take that risk financially. Some rescues offer dogs with known health conditions on a long term foster basis, whereby they cover the veterinary costs for existing conditions. Otherwise you need to ascertain from your own vet how much it will cost to treat the dog for its condition each month and then decide if you can afford that. Relatively common conditions in older dogs which may need on-going treatment are arthritis, urinary incontinence, diabetes, dry eye or a heart murmur.
Some older dogs can be ‘set in their ways’. For these dogs it is usually helpful if they are adopted into a similar home to the one they have left. For example if they’ve been the single pet of an elderly owner who has died, they may find it easier to adapt to living with the same sort of person with a quiet home. However lots of older dogs adapt surprisingly well to change. It can be very rewarding to watch a lethargic older dog, who has been missing out on exercise because its owner had been too unwell to get out for a walk, develop muscle tone, fitness and a joyful spring in their step when a new owner gently reintroduces walks.
Where Can you Adopt Older Dogs From?
Most local dog rescue centres will have older dogs available for re-homing, but there are also a few charities, such as the 'Oldies Club' in the UK, who specialise in re-homing older dogs.
You may be able to re-home an older ex-breeding dog direct from the breeder.
Your local vet may be aware of older dogs within their client base needing a home.
Many dogs are advertised privately through newspapers or websites such as 'preloved'. A disadvantage of this is that there is usually no back up if the adoption doesn't work out for some reason.
- Oldies Club
Oldies Club - The Oldies Club helps older dogs find forever homes. Homes and volunteers needed across the UK. Oldies club is an excellent and well respected charity.
- The Senior Dogs Project
The Senior dogs project links up potential adopters with older dogs across the USA.
- Animal adoptions and shelters | RSPCA Australia | For all creatures, great & small.
The RSPCA is a community based charity that works to prevent cruelty to animals by actively promoting their care and protection. They operate re-homing shelters across Australia
There's Life in the Old Dog - Nettle, a 16 year old German Shepherd Cross, enjoys his walk
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