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Tips for adopting senior dogs

The words “pet adoption” most often conjure images of puppies and kittens, but often it is a senior dog that needs our help most. Approximately 6.5 million pets are placed in shelters, and 1.5 million pets are euthanized annually in the US. The majority of these animals are adults, and many of these are over 7 years of age—the common benchmark for defining a pet as senior. 

Here we’ll discuss advantages of senior pet adoption, and offer some tips for welcoming an older dog into your home.

Adopting a Senior Dog

One major advantage a senior dog has over a puppy is that the older animal has usually acquired some basic house manners. Older dogs are likely to know some basic commands and are already accustomed to taking their cues from a person. Senior dogs that were raised with children or with other pets, may already know dog etiquette (e.g. “no jumping on people”). Another advantage of a senior dog is that it has long ago worked out (often) destructive puppy energy, and thus, is more likely to have a relaxed demeanor. 

Older rescue dogs, it is often said, love more deeply. While there is no scientific measure for love, anecdotal experience tells us that an older dog is especially receptive to forming a deep bond with a loving owner.  

Tips for Adopting a Senior Dog

When welcoming an older dog into your home for the first time, be patient. There will likely be a “feeling out” period where both you and your pet become accustomed to each other. Some older animals may show some early reluctance to eat, but most can be enticed with some aromatic treats. 

Create a comfortable and safe place for your senior to sleep and identify places for play. Dogs, like people, are creatures of routine. By establishing a consistent daily pattern of activities (feeding, walking, play), you will let your adoptee know what is (and is not) expected of him. And of course, provide lots of love and affection!

Senior Dog Health Concerns

Since older pets are more likely to experience deficits associated with aging (decreased mobility, joint stiffness, hearing or vision loss, etc.), you’ll want to get your new adoptee to the veterinarian for an initial assessment. This serves two purposes—it alerts you to any existing health conditions that may require attention either now or in the future, and it serves as a baseline to gauge any changes in behavior or condition over time. 

While a common concern of adopting a senior pet is the increased cost of veterinary care, be aware that you are saving the immunization and spay/neuter costs incurred when adopting a young animal. 

Editor’s Note: Lori Fusaro, a professional photographer for Best Friends Animal Society, dedicates her services to senior shelter pets. In an interview with Figo, Fusaro stated, "My goal when taking adoption photos is to capture that animal's personality. I want people who see the photo to think, 'Wow, that's a cool dog (or cat) I want to go meet them.'"


Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.

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