Adopting a senior pet is a special kind of blessing. Older cats and dogs are often overlooked at shelters and face the highest chance of being euthanized first to make way for younger potential adoptees; many of them are even separated from their previous family due to rising medical costs, moving, the death of an owner, or even because owners think they are "too much" now that they are older and need more care. And despite all this, after you bring them home, you are showered by unconditional love.
However, this also comes with its challenges. As with any kind of pet adoption, there is an adjustment period, which could take a few days or a few months. It may take them some time to fully relax and trust you. And since they are older, they may also be dealing with some health issues.
There are plenty of good reasons to adopt a senior pet. By the time you get them, they are already set in their ways, so you'll have a good idea of what their personality is like and they'll probably have some previous training. This doesn't mean they can't learn new tricks; older animals benefit from mental and physical exercise.
They will already be trained and (in the case of cats) know how to use their litter box.
Since they are older, they tend to have less energy and may be up for cuddles more than their younger counterparts (while still enjoying a good walk or play session).
Senior pets are ideal companions for elderly people, who may worry about outliving their pets and not have enough energy to keep up with a younger, more energetic animal.
By adopting a senior cat or dog, you're making room in a shelter for another animal to have their life saved in the future.
And finally, if you're in a place where you can't adopt -- or you're just not ready to -- you can become a foster pet parent instead and provide a safe, loving home until your furry friend is adopted by their forever family.
A senior pet is a pet that is past their prime; cats reach senior status between 7 and 11, while dogs typically become seniors between 7 and 9 (this varies since smaller breeds tend to live longer).
While it's rewarding, adopting a senior pet comes with challenges and you should be prepared for that.
Before you adopt, you need to know if your lifestyle matches the senior pet you're looking to adopt. Older pets will most likely have less energy but may deal with health issues such as arthritis, digestive problems, loss of vision, hearing problems, hypothyroidism, heart murmurs, or incontinence, so you'll have to be prepared physically and financially to pick up after them. If you're lucky, then your new furry family member won't have to deal with any illnesses and they'll be as healthy as a younger cat or dog.
You should meet with a potential adoptee before you make the decision to bring them home to make sure your lifestyles fit with one another. Animal shelters, rescues, and foster pet parents will usually let you meet senior cats and dogs and have a play date to get to know them. You can also ask shelter volunteers and foster parents any important questions regarding their behavior and needs. Make sure you ask whether they will be comfortable in your home environment, specifically if you have other pets or children.
When I first brought home my senior cat, Nutella, she was 17 years old and had been diagnosed with renal failure. She had been surrendered by her previous family and had severe separation anxiety. Thankfully, that was easy to remedy since I worked from home.
I had the opportunity to play with her at a shelter several times before bringing her home and I was drawn to her friendliness, sweetness, and the way she followed me and pawed me gently for more pets when I tried to walk away. She was a perfect fit for my lifestyle: she loved other animals (even my rats!), children, and constant cuddles.
She had been given around two weeks to live but lived for another two years that were full of love and happiness.
After you bring your senior pet home, there are some important steps to take before you settle into your new life.
Shelters are a difficult place for animals to stay and they may have spent weeks or months in a crowded, loud, and cramped area while cooped up in a small kennel.
It'll take a little time (a few weeks or months) for your new family member to adjust, so be patient and give them the time, space, and care they need.
Make sure that you give them a cozy place that is their own, separate food and water bowl (if you have other pets), and monitor their eating, sleeping, and bathroom habits. It might take a few days for them to get used to their new surroundings.
If your older cat or dog is struggling with arthritis or general pain, give them gentle pets and get a memory foam bed and build soft, carpeted stairs for them if they have trouble jumping onto their favorite ledge or sofa for cuddles.
One way you may be able to tell they are dealing with pain is by looking for unusual reactions to being touched, such as tucking their tail, drooping their ears, or moving their head away.
If they are dealing with cognitive issues, they may show signs of anxiety or confusion. Talk to your vet for a diagnosis and specific information on how to best help your pet.
Elderly cats and dogs may also need help with cutting their nails (since they are less active and their nails can grow inward into the pads of their paws) and general grooming.
They'll also need help with general grooming. Keep baths to a minimum in order to not stress them out (unless it's a relaxing experience for them) and brush them gently to remove matted fur and excess hair.
Senior pets with vision and hearing problems should be kept indoors only, or at least supervised when they are outside, in order to avoid any accidents or threats from predators.
You should also find a vet and make an appointment as soon as possible. Even if they've had a check-up and tests done while they were at the shelter, it's smart to have a good vet on hand for the future.
Additionally, you should make a list of needs for your new pet. Do they have any diet restrictions or medication they need to take? Are there any surgeries (spaying, neutering, etc) that you need to prepare for?
When I first brought home Nutella, she weighed a mere 4.5 pounds and couldn't eat regular cat food due to her kidney problems. My first steps were to find a great veterinarian, special food that was safe for her kidneys, and put her on a diet to gain a little more weight.
Additionally, it's important that you visit a veterinarian regularly to keep track of your pet's health and needs. Regular check-ups and tests for bloodwork can help you catch a disease that can save your pet's life.
Medical bills are likely to be higher as your pet ages. Your first vet visit may run you around $100 or more without insurance, although there are shelters and rescues that may fund an initial free (or discounted) checkup.
Nutella's adoption and initial visit were free through the shelter since she was a senior. However, as she got older, she needed more care due to her failing kidneys.
At the time, I didn't know about pet insurance so the final cost I paid out of pocket was in the thousands. It's something I would do again in a heartbeat if it meant my furbaby had the best care.
These days, it's more common for pet owners to have pet insurance. While the rate of insured pets was low in 2015, it's been steadily growing since.
Pet insurers like Pumpkin and ASPCA don't have a maximum age for insuring pets, so no matter how senior your pet is, they can still receive coverage, saving you hundreds or thousands in the long run and giving your pet the best care possible.
For more information on covering your senior pets, look to our reputable services here.
Due to shelters being overcrowded, older animals may be euthanized to make room for younger, healthier cats and dogs.
Adopting an older pet will save its life and give them the love, compassion, and joyful life they deserve; and of course, in return, they will love you unconditionally.
Senior cats and dogs require extra medical care due to their age and any possible underlying issues. They may also need an extended adjustment period and may also have separation anxiety, due to being apart from their first owner.
However, adopting an older pet comes with plenty of information about your new family member: you'll have a good idea of their personality, they'll need less training, and older pets tend to have less energy, and therefore want more cuddles or pets.