Anyone that has ever visited a canine shelter before will tell you that they are usually full of older dogs. A large portion of these animals once belonged to loving owners who could no longer care for them. The sad reality is that many older dogs live out the remainder of their lives in these facilities before finally being euthanized.

However, many dog lovers offer these senior canines a second lease on life by adopting them. This wonderful practice has been catching on for a while and is likely to continue growing in popularity thanks to the numerous pet care resources available online.

Caring for an older dog is a noble task to undertake. However, before you head down to your local shelter, it’s important to understand the challenges that come with adopting an older dog. This guide aims to familiarize prospective dog owners with what to expect when they take on ownership of senior dogs.

Why do older dogs end up in shelters?

People are often shocked to see how many older dogs end up in shelters. There are many possible reasons why these animals end up in these places near the end of their lives. Some common reasons include:

The owner passed away

A large number of senior dogs wind up in shelters when their owner passes away. Oftentimes, these owners do not have a next-of-kin who can look after the animal after their passing. Other times the owner’s relatives do not want to take on the responsibility of caring for a senior animal.

Economic hardship

Taking care of any dog tends to be a huge responsibility. However, even determined owners are not immune to economic hardship.

Many families struggle to make ends meet and end up homeless when the economy takes a turn. When you are living off the few savings you have left, you may no longer be able to afford to keep a dog. It can be especially heartbreaking to let go of the family pet that has been in your life for many years, but you may not have a choice.

Abandons and rescues

Some dogs are abandoned when their owners move and do not want to take their senior canine with them. This practice may or may not be for the better, especially if the owner has been previously neglecting their dog’s needs.

Other older dogs that wind up at shelters are rescues that were brought in by Animal Control Services at an earlier age. The dogs they rescue are removed from puppy mills, hoarders, or even canines found on the side of the road.

Challenges of raising an older dog

A lot of the reasons why people abandon senior dogs are related to the challenges associated with raising them. Senior dogs are prone to many problems in their old age, which can make caring for them more difficult and time consuming for owners.

Some of these difficulties are discussed below.

Health problems

The biggest challenge associated with adopting an older dog is the health problems they suffer from. Most canines inevitably develop health conditions as they grow older. Many of these problems, such as arthritis and obesity, need to be managed on an on-going basis with medication and exercise.

Other problems, such as tumors and cancers, require expensive surgery to treat. Owners in such situations have to choose between paying for treatment and extending their dog’s life for a few more years, or putting them down.

Senior dogs also suffer from hearing and vision loss. This occurs due to tissue generation in their eyes and ears. It’s rare for older dogs to go completely blind and deaf, but this reduction in their sensory responses can make it difficult for them to enjoy the remainder of their years.

Dogs with severe vision problems may start bumping into objects and hurt themselves by accident regularly. This can be especially troublesome if they reside in homes with stairs and exposed ledges.

Older canines with severe hearing loss can also be tricky to manage. These canines may not respond to commands and could display a change in personality as they age.

Behavior problems

Some older dogs may display behavior problems, such as aggression. This usually stems from poor socialization and/or years of abuse. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to fix these behavior problems in senior canines.

The adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” rings true in many cases. These animals need to undergo socialization at an early age, otherwise, they may act frightened or aggressive towards humans and/or other animals.

If you do plan to adopt an older dog, you will need to practice patience around them. You should also avoid leaving them alone around young children and other animals. In fact, it may be better not to adopt a senior canine if you already have other dogs at home.  

Difficulties with change

Many older dogs have a harder time adapting to change. This could be due to the reduction in their cognitive ability and adrenal hormones that occurs with age. If your dog was used to a fixed routine at the shelter, they may not be pleased with the new arrangement in your home. As a result, they may not eat as often as they should, or they may beg for food more frequently than required.

If the dog was not used to being taken for walks at the shelter, they may not be very upbeat about going for walks around your neighborhood. This can be problematic because older dogs do require a moderate amount of exercise to prevent them from developing certain health problems.

However, with enough time and effort, you can help your canine get used to their new life. As they get more comfortable with their new setting, they should open up more and learn to get along with your family.

The challenges of raising an older dog should never be underestimated. If you believe you are up to this task, get in touch with your local shelter and ask which older dogs are available for adoption.