Many of us are aware of the pros and cons of adopting a senior pet, but from the veterinary perspective, there are some things prospective owners should be aware of. It may be a little different based on the experience of having pets previously, but don’t count out the older pet. When it comes to adoption, many of us think about younger pets because we like the idea of enjoying all the stages of our pets’ lives. Still, there are some significant benefits to adopting an older pet, especially for those who have had pets before and for whom the novelty of having a young pet is not a priority. Even for those who have not had a pet before, adopting an older, an experienced pet comes with certain benefits we may not consider.
The term senior can be a little vague in and of itself, and that can play an important role in any decision adopting an older pet. We will often categorize any pet over the age of 8 years as a senior. Still, the lifespan of dogs can be very variable depending on the breed – a smaller dog who will live to be 16 years would be thought of as “younger” at the age of 8 years than a larger dog that may live closer to 12 years. Cats can vary in age from 15 to 18 years on average, so thinking of them as seniors at 8 years of age may be premature.
Cats and dogs tend to be creatures of habit. That means that once they get settled into a certain daily routine, they are generally content to continue. Most of this revolves around eating, sleeping, affection (attention) and bathroom habits. An older cat or dog will be used to most owners’ schedules. They will often be used to the owner going to work, are usually well house-trained, and in the case of dogs getting fed on a schedule 1-3 times per day (2 usually works well) and getting walked 1-2 times daily. Most cats will be used to litter boxes and will prefer to use one if available.
They are also often used to being with people and living in houses. Any pet can be trained to an extent, but it may be a little more difficult for a pet who comes from a home where they are used to being allowed on furniture to adjust to a home where they are not. On the flip side, some pets are trained not to go on furniture and can usually adjust well into any home. In the older pet, mobility may limit how much they wish to jump onto furniture anyway and are often more content with a comfortable bed near a heat source.
Other habits, such as begging, may be harder to overcome, but not insurmountable. Remember that cats and dogs have been living with people for a very long time and are quite intelligent. They are aware of you at all times and are watching your expressions and body language even when you may not be aware of them. If they sense displeasure from you, they will learn and adjust. Most of the time, however, an older pet usually comes well-adjusted and decently trained with few surprises.
There are some health considerations that are more likely to be present for the older pet. They are more prone to mobility problems due to arthritis, may be dealing with weight problems and may have variable amounts of dental disease. A small percentage may deal with underlying metabolic conditions (conditions affecting the liver, kidneys or adrenal and thyroid glands). If you are adopting from a shelter, keep in mind they will often perform thorough health evaluations (including blood work) on the pets and may even perform routine procedures such as dentistry before adoption. If you are adopting outside of that framework, you may want to consider getting a thorough physical examination and blood work performed by a veterinarian.
Mobility, weight and dental issues are challenges that are not life-threatening and are usually manageable. The average indoor cat will tend to adjust habits based on their current mobility levels. As long as the home is reasonably accessible (few stairs to manage and area rugs on slippery floors), dogs can adjust as well. Supplements for arthritis may also be helpful and coming into a new home is the ideal time to make adjustments in a pet’s caloric intake with an appropriate diet to aid in weight loss. Dental disease can also be dealt with by scaling and extraction of diseased teeth. The loss of some teeth is not a big factor for a pet’s ability to eat kibble or canned food, and the improvement in mouth odour and the pet’s comfort are often dramatic. Many metabolic conditions can be managed as well, although prospective owners may want to consider their abilities to manage the pet before taking them on.
In the end, adopting an older pet has its rewards. These are pets who have often lived in supportive environments and are in need of care through a combination of factors and no fault of their own. They are often overlooked as they are less desirable, and so are harder for shelters to get adopted. They may come with certain habits in place, but many of those habits still make them excellent pets. They are also usually able to adjust to a new home and a new family, or owner much better than many of us would expect. Even if you haven’t had a pet, they have had an owner, and they know how to handle us and fit in with our lives.
If you have any questions about senior pets, please don’t hesitate to give us a call at 416-282-8516.
Written by Dr. Thompson