There are many things to consider before adopting a senior pet, but the beauty and joy of giving a home to an older animal is immeasurable.
However, before embarking on your adoption journey, it’s important to learn about how dogs and cats age, the pros and cons of adopting older animals, and the best way to care for them.
How animals age
The senior designation for animals differs between species. For canines, their senior years are the last quarter of their life based on individual breeds’ life expectancies. For felines, the senior life stage is from 11 years old onward (cats 15 years and older are considered “super seniors”).
Much like humans, senior pets tend to sleep more and eat less. They’re generally less active and more susceptible to temperature changes. They may be more anxious and less well-equipped to handle stress. It’s important to keep this in mind before adopting.
The pros and cons of senior adoption
There is a multitude of benefits of adopting a senior pet, but the cons shouldn’t be taken lightly. Obviously, each animal is different, but below are some generalizations that should help guide you in your decision-making process.
- Loyal and loving
- Calmer and wiser
- Established personalities, so fewer surprises
- Easier to train
- Mental and physical abilities are fully developed
- Longer attention spans
- Older dogs are already housebroken
- Older cats already know how to use the litter box
- Contrary to popular belief, older dogs can definitely learn “new tricks”
- Less active (and less likely to destroy your house!)
- Require less supervision
- May have issues related to previous abuse or neglect
- May require retraining of bad habits
- Fewer cute, playful moments
- Health issues (some listed below) may occur sooner rather than later
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
- Dementia, which can present itself as:
- A withdrawal of the animal’s affection
- In cats, you may see aimless wandering and meowing
- Less time together
How to care for a senior pet
Caring for senior animals requires a different approach than caring for puppies or kittens. Upon first adopting, create a safe space for them in your home—a place where they can escape when they feel overwhelmed. If they’ve spent time in a shelter, lived life as a stray, or been abused or neglected in a previous home, they’ll need time to adjust to living in a safe, loving environment.
In deference to their advanced age, make sure there’s plenty of shade if they spend time outside, as well as a way to stay warm when the weather is cold. Regular checkups with your veterinarian are integral to their continued health—every six months is a good guideline but discuss it with your vet. Pay attention to behavioral alterations like changes in their water consumption, appetite, and bathroom habits. Feed them an age-appropriate diet, again, in consultation with your vet.
In addition to their safe space, provide them with a comfortable bed for sleeping—aging canine and feline bodies can ache just like aging human bodies! Install ramps or stairs for easy access if needed. For cats, consider adjusting the height of their litter box if mobility becomes an issue. Continue prioritizing exercise, but in an age- and mobility-appropriate way. Spending time together will be key, especially since playtime and training exercises will help keep their brains sharp.
As animals age, their personal hygiene may suffer. Brushing their fur/hair is important, especially with cats, who may struggle to groom themselves as they age. (It also provides much-needed tactile shows of affection!) Good oral hygiene will be important in preventing heart and kidney issues. As their exercise and play habits change, you may need to trim their claws (especially with cats).
An important reminder
Even with all there is to consider in adopting a senior pet, never forget—your time together may be shorter, but that just makes it all that much sweeter. Quality over quantity is the ethos here, and every animal deserves to live out their golden years with love, affection, and dignity.
This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual medical providers with respect to any information presented. Pets Best and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) make no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.