Adopting an older dog

September 09, 1999

RustyBy ERIN HEATH / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Are you thinking about adopting a dog? Before you decide which pet to take home, don't pass over the older dogs. Senior dogs can be great companions, especially for people who don't have time to give round-the-clock care and supervision.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Shelly Moore, executive director of Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says that senior dogs often are overlooked just because they aren't as cute and active as puppies.

"Most people that come in do want to adopt a younger dog," Moore says. "But what we find is that there are so many older dogs that would make excellent pets."


A few years ago, Moore says, the SPCA was seeing a lot of younger dogs that came from litters. But now with the growth of animal spay and neuter programs, the shelter is getting more and more senior pets. Most of them come from people who feel they have to give up their pet because they are moving or have experienced another change in lifestyle, she explains.

"I think one of the biggest advantages (of adopting a senior dog) is you don't have all those behavioral issues to deal with that come with puppies. A lot of people don't have the time to invest in a puppy. It really depends on your lifestyle," she says.

Unlike puppies, senior dogs already are housetrained, they are out of the chewing stage that comes when puppies get their adult teeth, and they normally don't need constant exercise or supervision, Moore says.

Last year, the SPCA took in 4,476 animals, Moore says. Of those, 630 were adopted and 406 were lost pets reclaimed by their owners. The rest were euthanized, she says, including 11 dogs and eight cats that were put to sleep because of their age.

Nationally, about 65 percent of animals in animal control facilities are euthanized each year, according to the American SPCA Web site.

John Barnes, a veterinarian at Hagerstown's Cumberland Valley Veterinary Clinic, says senior dogs can develop many of the same health problems as people, including arthritis, obesity, cancer and problems with the heart, liver and kidneys.

"They probably should be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year for a general health checkup," he says.

By the time a dog turns 10, owners should watch out for signs of health problems, such as changes in appetite or energy level, pain or stiffness when moving and weight loss, he explains.

The life span of a dog varies with the size and breed, Barnes says, but generally it is 15 to 18 years for small dogs and 7 to 9 years for large dogs. Generally, small dogs become seniors at 12 and large dogs at 6 to 8 years old.

Moore has adopted four senior dogs, including one that lived to be 16. Older dogs are great for her, she says, because they fit her busy lifestyle.

Angie Harsh, who runs the Pet Hotline at the Shelter of Saint Francis in Hagerstown, says she also takes in a number of senior dogs. One common misconception people have about older dogs is that they won't want to become attached to their new owners.

"I've seen few dogs that won't rebond. They're not like people. You serve their needs, and they'll bond with you," she says.

Most of the senior dogs housed at Saint Francis came from owners who provided a detailed description and history, Harsh says. Shelter workers also can observe the dogs to find out how they react to different things.

The best thing about getting a senior dog, Harsh says, is that you can learn about its history and choose the right dog accordingly.

"You know the dog's personality," she says. "It's not a hit-and-miss thing. An older dog can be a wonderful companion."

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