Adopting A Senior Small Dog

posted: 05/15/12
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What You Should Know About Adopting a Senior, Small Dog
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Have you ever considered adopting a small, older dog? It would feel so good to know you saved a life, right? But could you actually do it? And how old is old? With small breeds, "senior" means roughly 10 years and older. A senior dog has noticeably slowed down, has gray around the head and muzzle, and might even have cloudy eyes.

If you're adopting a small senior dog, try to focus more on health than age. An active, healthy 14-year old dog won't seem as old as an unhealthy, overweight 10-year old dog.

"Much more important than age is whether he has an underlying medical issue or is overweight," says Lisa Freeman, Ph.D., DACVN, professor of clinical nutrition at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. "Obesity can be a big problem as dogs age."

Be aware that often shelters and rescue organizations don't know the full story behind the animals they take in, which means they can't know the exact age of the dog -- they can only wager a guess. You also may never know your adopted pet's complete health history. Unless the person turning in the dog has provided correct information, you only have the rescue organization's veterinarian to go on. You may never know how senior your senior is, only his present health.

For every dog, but especially with small seniors, consider exercise and dietary needs. Small, senior dogs will need less exercise than younger, bigger dogs, but healthy activity is still important for every pet. Seniors aren't guaranteed couch potatoes. If your new furry friend is overweight, he'll need to go on a diet and up his activity. Since there is no general rule regarding diet and exercise for small seniors, a close relationship with a vet is crucial -- it depends on the dog's breed, his health and your situation.

Small breeds, like toys, are bred for companionship, so by nature, they're lapdogs and snugglers. Their petite size works well for people living in smaller, more urban living spaces. They make good travelers since they fit into bags and can be carried easily.

Fans of senior dogs point to behavior as another benefit -- what you see is (usually) what you get. Once you get them away from their shelter situation, they settle down quickly into a routine. Unlike puppies, seniors tend to be house-trained; they've grown out of the chewing stage; they are happy to relax and sleep much of the day and they make immediate, attentive companions.

So, are you the right owner for an adopted, small, senior dog? Next time you're in the shelter, don't go straight to the puppies, give an old guy a chance.

We'll cover some more specific tips next for those of you serious about adopting a small senior dog.

Tips for Adopting Old, Small Dogs

Before you fall in love and come home with a new best friend, check out these tips to make the process work the best for you and your new, small senior dog:

- Adopt from a reputable organization. Find an organization that works with you to find the right dog for you and your family.

- Before you adopt, chat with everyone in the rescue organization who has spent time with the dog. Ask about his personality, habit, likes and dislikes.

- Learn as much as you can about the dog before you take him home.

- Read up on the breed, or breeds, even if you're adopting a mixed breed. Be aware of health issues that a certain breed might face as it ages.

- Visit a vet. Even if the rescue organization has had the small senior checked out by a veterinarian, it's always a good idea to get a separate opinion. This way you'll be aware of any current health issues.

- Spend time. Before you bring the small senior home, spend some time with him. Take him on a walk, sit with him awhile and see whether it feels like a good fit.

- Take your time. Sometimes you can get carried away with the excitement of the first meeting and getting a new dog. Ask the organization if you can sleep on the decision so that you make the right long-lasting choice for you and your family.

- Keep an open dialogue with the shelter or rescue group. After you bring your new, small senior home, questions will arise. Be sure you have the names and numbers of people to call if you need advice in the early days.

Adopting a small, senior dog will change your life. Enjoy every moment and know that you made a wonderful, lifesaving difference in the life of an older dog.

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