8/26/2022 | By Terri L. Jones

For senior adults, adopting a senior dog may be the perfect match, writes dog lover and Seniors Guide contributor Terri L. Jones. She looks at the upsides and downsides of adopting older pets from a shelter.

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you know the rewards. And those rewards only become greater as you age.

Of course, there’s the companionship that comes with having a dog (and yes, even many cats!) and the physical activity of taking care of them. On top of that, pets have been shown to offer health benefits like reducing stress and depression and lowering blood pressure. Not to mention, having someone who relies on you for their every need can give you a sense of purpose and even motivate you to take better care of yourself.

People of all ages warm up to a dog, from kids to seniors. You just have to watch nursing home residents’ faces light up when a therapy dog comes into their room to recognize the value of pets to seniors.

Age matters

At a certain age, adopting a pet for the first time or getting a new furry friend can seem daunting, if not just plain unrealistic.

Take John and his wife, Louise, for example. When the couple, who are in their 80s, lost their cat in 2020, they were lonesome, already having to isolate from friends and family because of the pandemic. After much thought and encouragement from their kids, they decided to adopt two rambunctious kittens, Ziggy and Lila. In those early days, the couple lost a lot of sleep listening to the mischievous brother and sister chase each other through the house all night long (with the occasional crash when they collided into lamps and such).

John, who’d had a stroke the year before, found the off-the-charts level of activity in the house nerve-wracking. And Louise, who was primarily responsible for the kittens’ care as well as damage control, was exhausted. While the companionship was invaluable, the chaos that they brought to John and Louise’s life was a bit overwhelming in those first months. Two kittens did not make the perfect match for John and Louise – older pets might have worked better.

Related: Are you too old to get a pet?

A senior dog: the upsides of an innovative solution

To help seniors realize the upsides of pet ownership with fewer of the downsides, many shelter and rescue organizations have instituted programs that place lower-key, lower-maintenance senior pets in homes with seniors.

Often these shelter programs offer the owners a discount off the regular adoption fee or waive the fee altogether. Plus, they match each senior with the senior dog or other pet that perfectly fits their lifestyle and physical capabilities.

Related: The benefits of pets for seniors

A perfect match

man with dog beside him on a sofa - photo by Jomkwan Dreamstime. For senior adults, adopting a senior dog may be the perfect match. A look at the upsides and downsides of adopting older pets from a shelter.

Older dogs are a better match for seniors for countless reasons. Typically, they require less training, exercise, and stimulation than their younger counterparts. Older pets often are perfectly content to lie at your feet or cuddle up in your lap for hours at a time. They’re less likely to be destructive than a puppy.

When you’re younger, it’s sad when your pets pass away before you. But as you grow older, it’s even sadder to think that you’ll pass away before your cat or dog and potentially leave them homeless. Senior animals, on the other hand, aren’t as likely to outlive you and end up in a shelter. But conversely, many of these animals have plenty of good years left to keep you company and add richness to your life.

Senior dogs are often overlooked in favor of the younger, friskier version in the next cage. They need you as much as you need them – giving them a home could save their life! If your life, like his, has slowed down, you will have the time to give him the love and attention he deserves.

A senior dog is likely to have greater medical needs and issues such as hearing and vision loss or arthritis, but a mature owner – perhaps one who has his own aging issues – is more likely to empathize.

Related: When to get a pet after one dies

Considerations before adopting

When you adopt any animal – old or young – you should be able to lift the animal and get them to the vet should they become ill. (Vets who make house calls are another option, but be sure these are available in your area before committing.) You should also have the financial means to pay for food, medical care, grooming, boarding (during travel or your own hospital stays) and the occasional unexpected expenses for your senior dog.

In the event that you do pass away before them – or even if you become ill and can’t care for them – it’s important that you plan for your fur baby’s future. Find a friend or family member who will take them after you’re gone, or worst-case scenario, make arrangements with a rescue organization that you trust. Put your wishes in writing and also put aside money for their care, if you’re able.

“Whether you have your dog for three months or three years, each day will be filled with gratitude and love,” said Cara Elsas, who adopted a senior dog from a shelter in Illinois. “These senior pets KNOW they have been given a second chance, and to witness the transformation that happens when a despondent shelter dog turns into a happy family dog … well, it’s hard to not smile.”

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones