Adopting older pets has benefits for all

By Dr. Beth Leermakers

November is Adopt a Senior Pet month. Often overlooked by adopters, senior cats and dogs are at high risk for being euthanized in full animal shelters. And that’s a crying shame. Senior pets make wonderful companions. Cats are considered senior when they are between seven and 10 years old; dogs when they are five to 10 years old.  

Welcoming a senior cat or dog into your heart and home is truly a gift.
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Five great reasons to adopt a senior:

Many are already house trained. If they’re not house or litter-box trained, they usually learn quickly. Crate training is a great way to potty train a dog. 

They require less exercise. You won’t have to walk your older dog three times a day to wear her out. She’ll be content with a short walk and lots of snuggle time on the couch. While mature cats still need exercise, they won’t be as likely to zoom around your house in the wee hours of the morning. 

They need less supervision and training. Puppies and kittens go looking for — and find — trouble, so they must be constantly monitored — for their safety and the sake of your belongings. You don’t have to worry about your mature dog or cat chewing your favorite shoes or destroying the couch cushions.  

Fewer surprises. You know what you’re getting — personality and size-wise — when you adopt a senior. You won’t wind up with a 100 lb. behemoth when your “medium” puppy grows up. Kittens’ personalities can take a few years to develop, so you don’t know what you’re getting. Senior cats have already matured and established their character traits, so what you see is usually what you get (although cats, like dogs, can take a few weeks to settle into their new home). Foster parents — and sometimes the shelter staff/volunteers — can tell you about the cat or dog’s quirks and preferences. Is he shy with new people? Is he afraid of thunderstorms? Does he like kids?

They have just as much love to give — and they need you more. Welcoming a senior cat or dog into your heart and home is truly a gift. 

What to Ask When Adopting a Senior 

(or Any) Pet

• What is the age (or best guess) of the dog/cat?

• How did she wind up at the shelter (owner surrender or stray)? Why was she given up?

• Is she good with children, dogs, and/or cats? 

• Is the dog/cat potty trained, crate trained, able to walk on a leash, etc.?

• What is her medical history (including any diagnostics and/or treatments)?

• What medical conditions does she currently have (e.g., heartworm disease, skin conditions, arthritis)?

• Are there any in-house low-cost testing options, coupons or discounted medical care available to help with future costs?

• What special diet is the dog/cat on? How much food is provided and at what times? 

Health and Diet Considerations

Veterinarians recommend that senior pets have a checkup every six months, with blood work at least once a year, to detect health problems early. Senior cats and dogs may experience several health conditions, including dental disease; arthritis; kidney, liver and heart disease; and cognitive decline.

To spot periodontal disease, check your pet’s teeth and gums for signs of bacterial infection: inflammation, reddened gums and tartar. 

Your senior may need a special diet. Like people, older pets tend to lose muscle and have slower metabolisms. Senior diets help conserve protein and maintain a healthy body weight. Senior pet food contains fats and antioxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids, which help slow neurologic damage and provide additional energy sources. Pets with certain medical conditions such as urinary stones or kidney disease may be prescribed a specific type of diet to help manage the condition.

Senior pets experience a decline in their taste buds, so enriching the flavor of the kibble by warming it up or adding canned food may be helpful. Discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian. 

Supplements. Your arthritic pet may benefit from joint supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin or MSM. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish oil) can help relieve pain from arthritis and other causes.

Make Your Senior 

Pet’s Life Easier 

Help your senior, who may be suffering from arthritis and declining vision, by providing:

An orthopedic bed. An orthopedic or heated bed is more comfortable for pets who are suffering from arthritis or other joint conditions. A pain-free, restful sleep can improve mobility, reduce pain and improve quality of life for older dogs.

More litter boxes. The litter box should be close to where your cat spends most of her time — not on another floor requiring her to climb stairs. You may want to place a few litter boxes around your house so your arthritic cat doesn’t have to walk as far. Lower sides on the box make it easier for your cat to get in and out. 

Raised water/food bowls. Your dog won’t have to lean down to eat or drink, reducing pain. Put out several water bowls (throughout your house) so pets won’t have to walk as far. 

Night lights. Place night lights near water bowls and litter boxes, to help pets whose vision is declining. 

Ready to adopt a senior cat or dog? Visit to search for pets by location, age and breed. Or visit Dallas Animal Services or one of the other DFW-area shelters. This holiday season, give the best gift — the gift of life and love.