Certain things in life are surefire sources of joy, among them babies, just-baked cookies, beautiful flowers, rainbows, and puppies—that is, until you bring home an eight-week-old furball who chews up all your furniture, can’t sit still, and whimpers all night. Young dogs and cats may be adorable, but the constant attention and training they require can prove taxing for owners who are overextended, elderly, or inactive. If you’re certain that you want a canine or feline companion but wish you could bypass such challenges as animal-proofing your home, teaching obedience lessons, and struggling to keep up with your six-month-old German shepherd as he traverses your street at a dead sprint, you’re in luck—adopting an older pet could fulfill all your wishes.
Beauty Is Wasted on the Young
Animal shelters are filled with lovable, well-behaved older pets, but most prospective owners overlook them because they can’t resist the fuzzy puppies and kittens beckoning from their cages. However, senior animals come with a multitude of advantages; what you lose in years by adopting one, you gain in other areas.
Older animals have more obedience training and potty training under their collars. For example, mature dogs realize that no means no, so they won’t tear up your wood floors, your shoes, and your couch with their claws and teeth as readily as mischievous puppies will. And while cats of any age aren’t trained as rigorously as dogs are, older ones will certainly be long accustomed to using a litter box by the time they arrive at their adoptive home.
Older pets have had time to become socialized and are therefore more likely to get along with adults, children, and other house pets.
What you see is what you get—not only are older pets full-grown (which means you won’t end up with a seventy-pound standard poodle when you thought you were getting a toy version), but they’ve also settled into their temperament, so potential adoptive parents are able to discern quickly whether a certain animal’s personality is a good fit for their household.
While owning young, hyperactive dogs and cats can be a demanding, nerve-racking experience, older pets are a soothing presence and can actually reduce humans’ stress levels, lower blood pressure, alleviate physical pain, and boost immunity.
If you adopt an older dog, he or she will be far less physically needy than a puppy and will be more content to cuddle up with you in front of the TV, lie on the kitchen floor while you’re cooking dinner, and take a leisurely walk around your neighborhood instead of wanting to charge up a mountainside. With that said, don’t forget that exercise is mandatory for dogs of all ages, so you should consult your local shelter or veterinarian to determine how much daily activity the specific breed you select requires.
Though it seems counterintuitive, a senior adopted pet may demonstrate more loyalty to its new family than animals who have been part of the same household since their infancy. Because many older dogs and cats in animal shelters arrived there from abusive homes or were picked up as strays, they’re so grateful to their adoptive owners for giving them a second chance to live in a happy home that they never forget the favor.
Older Pets, New Considerations
As honorable as pet shelters are in theory, some of their practices are devastating to animal lovers—and fatal to the animals themselves. When certain shelters are over capacity, or when older dogs’ and cats’ chances of being adopted appear slim, the “senior citizens” of these organizations are the first to be euthanized, even if they’re in good health. So if you’re considering adopting an older animal, take into account the fact that you’ll not only be gaining a valuable addition to your family, you’ll also be supporting the idea of a no-kill nation and saving a life at the same time.
However, people who plan to adopt older pets should be cognizant that the process involves special considerations that reflect aging animals’ particular circumstances. First and foremost, always have a prospective pet undergo a full veterinary examination. If the vet discerns that the animal has a health problem, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to you to move forward with the adoption and incur the expense of treating the condition.
Because senior animals sometimes spend years in a shelter before they join a family, they may be traumatized by that hectic, cramped environment and be especially sensitive during the weeks (or even months) following their transition into their new home. Symptoms of this stress may include disorientation, loss of house-training habits, or reluctance to interact. Cats in particular may resist human contact by hiding behind furniture or under beds for long periods of time. No matter how your animal reacts to your household, though, realize that any troubling responses are merely temporary; again, the advantage of acquiring an older pet is that he or she already possesses the building blocks of good training, and those habits will reemerge in time.
For adopted older cats in particular, the single most important step to help them acclimate to their new surroundings is to make them aware of where their litter box and their food and water bowls are. Once you’re certain that your new cat is oriented properly, remain hands-off until he or she comes to you. If you have children, be especially vigilant about restricting their contact with the cat until the animal is more comfortable with your family.
Cats may not actually have nine lives, but they do enjoy a long life span—sixteen years on average, though many feisty felines live into their twenties—so any type of older cat you choose to adopt is a safe bet in terms of your relationship’s longevity. Dogs’ life spans, on the other hand, vary widely from breed to breed; in general, large dogs live shorter lives, while small dogs, like fox terriers, can live as long as fourteen or fifteen years. Therefore, when you’re pondering your canine adoption choices, read up on the average life span of any breed you’re thinking about choosing, and make your decision based not primarily on looks, but on how much time you anticipate being able to spend with your new companion.
Older and Wiser
Adopting an older cat or dog can give both the owner and the animal a new lease on life. As you and your eight-year-old mutt take your serene sunset stroll past your neighbors’ houses each night, you’ll see them inside, sweating and cursing as they mop the eighth puddle of puppy pee of the day off their kitchen floor or attempt to reupholster the frayed armchair that their kitten unraveled. You might not have quite as many years with your furry friend as the owners of newborn pets do, but the depth of the bond you’ll develop with your older adopted animal and the adventures you’ll share are certain to make up for lost time.
A number of U.S. organizations are devoted to placing older pets in loving homes. If you’re thinking about adopting an older animal, the following groups may be able to help:
- The Shelter Pet Project (cats and dogs)
- The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs (dogs only)
- Senior Canine Rescue Society (dogs only)
- Purrfect Pals (cats only)
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