Downeast Dog News

Celebrating Older, Seasoned Dogs

By Susan Spisak | Nov 01, 2020

November is recognized by many nonprofits as National Senior Pet Month as well as Adopt a Senior Pet Month. Both focus on highlighting older dogs and the benefits they can add to our lives. For those seniors in shelters and rescues awaiting homes, they’re worth considering, as they bring gentle companionship, unconditional love, are often low maintenance, and can blend into a home seamlessly. For middle aged to senior dogs already in a great household – perhaps you even adopted him as a pup – be prepared to help him live his best life with each passing birthday.

Caring for your Older Pet

Board-certified Gail Mason, DVM, MA, DACVIM, co-owner of the Bath-Brunswick Veterinary Associates (winner of DDN’s Best Veterinary Practice) and Chief Medical Officer and Staff Internist at Portland Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Care, said in healthy younger dogs, an annual exam with diagnostics is important to establish baseline health and detect any treatable disorders. “The recommendation is a complete blood count (CBC), full chemistry panel (organ functions), and a urinalysis. This combination provides a plethora of information about your dog's overall health,” she explained. A thyroid level may also be recommended if you have an at-risk breed or if your vet detects any signs of hypothyroidism.

As they age, smaller breeds under 50 pounds are considered "senior" at 7, while larger and giant breeds over 5 are “senior,” so it’s best to increase to twice-yearly exams at this time. Chat openly at appointments and share any behavioral changes, ask about supplements (think hip and joint chews), and meal options. “Good quality protein in a senior diet is paramount in slowing the loss of muscle mass. High fat foods or treats are not recommended for any age dog, so keep ‘em lean.” Dr. Mason added if there are any abnormalities with your dog's gait, or if there is ongoing lameness, then survey x-rays are helpful.

Don’t neglect his oral health - dental disease can be painful, and tooth loss can result. “Dental problems are more common in this age group as well and can lead to complications in other internal organs,” she added. Discuss if a professional dental cleaning would be beneficial and be sure to brush several times a week. (I use a vet-recommended enzymatic paste, squeeze on my finger and swipe across teeth.) Add in a dental foam to further combat plaque and tartar, and it freshens breath, too.

As far as exercise, walking older dogs at least 15 to 20 minutes each day is imperative - activity provides physical and mental benefits. “It also helps to maintain muscle mass thereby maintaining mobility. Like in humans, it is ‘use it or lose it,’” said Dr. Mason. Entertain with games like puzzles. And yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. Bond together and have fun by teaching him a few.

Purchase a pet ramp to make climbing stairs or into cars easier – or build one if you’re handy. Slowly train him on it so he’s acclimated when it’s needed. (I bought a used one when Brady couldn’t do deck stairs anymore. Unfortunately, I waited too long, and the ramp frightened him.) If his sight isn’t what it was, use “baby gate” stairs to avoid accidental spills. (Ask your vet if a visit to an eye specialist is in order, and research for tips on making your home safer.) Pick up a few comfy supportive beds so he can rest in various spots without extra steps.

Adopting an Older Dog

Old Dogs New Digs is a nonprofit that supports and partners with shelters, veterinary clinics, and individuals who need to find loving and comfortable homes for this special group of dogs. Since they advocate for seniors, they know a great deal about adopting older dogs.

Martie Crone, Vice President and Case Manager for Old Dogs New Digs, shared several senior benefits. “For most of them, you can skip the basic training. They are usually house-trained, know their basic commands, and don't need as much exercise as a younger dog.” Unfortunately, older dogs are often overlooked in a shelter - the environment can be stressful and their true personalities, “often exceptionally mellow and sweet,” said Crone, don’t shine.

The reality is that adopters gravitate towards younger, energetic dogs. Crone emphasized those adopters may not realize the work involved with young dogs – they require continual physical and mental exercise, not to mention training. And potential adopters are wary of an older dog’s lifespan. “A lot of people are afraid that they won't have the dog for very long. They don't understand how fulfilling it is to give a senior dog the best life possible for their last years or months.”

Seniors deserve a loving and comfortable final home. “Some of them gave their first family many happy years, but just about the time the dog needs extra care, their special person may be unable to provide it.” They’re hopeful for a compassionate and understanding person. “They are so grateful when they find their loving family. We believe that senior dogs, like senior people, should be loved and doted upon.”

Case in point is cover boy, Jake. Old Dogs New Digs partnered with SPCA of Hancock County to find this 10-year-old Beagle a new home after his human passed away. He went into foster care and had a successful meet and greet with the Reifsynder family. They knew they wanted to call him their own, and he’s again part of a loving home. The plan is for Jake to have a satisfying day job, too. He’ll be the shop dog at the business his mom owns, Fabricate in Bar Harbor.

If you’re looking for a new companion, check out available oldies in a shelter or rescue near you. There are plenty of dogs hoping for a family or person and you may be surprised how well you click. If you’re unsure, check into becoming a foster home – you’ll learn how to care for and love a senior.

Based in southern Maine, Old Dogs New Digs has a network of foster families throughout the state willing to share their abode with senior homeless dogs. Their president moved west a few years back, and she’s working with Colorado and New Mexico shelters as well. For info and applications on fostering and adopting,