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What You Need To Know Before You Adopt A Senior Pet

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Bronwyn Gruet/The Dodo

One of the greatest joys in life is welcoming a new pet into your home. No matter the size, breed, or even species, pets bring so much comfort and happiness into our lives. But when preparing to adopt a senior dog or cat, you need to ask yourself how you can provide that same happiness for them. So we asked Dr. Amanda Schnitker, medical director at Companion Animal Hospital River North in Chicago, for advice on creating the perfect home for a senior pet. Here are her tips for keeping your newly adopted furry pal healthy and happy.

Remember: Seniors are extra grateful for all that love

First and foremost, while most pet parents understand that adopting a senior dog or cat comes with some specific challenges, it’s important to remember not to dwell on the negatives. “[A]s long as people go into it with the right mindset, that you’re there to give your pet the fullest life you can, you're that pet's savior,” Schnickter says. “Going into it thinking how much of a difference you can make in that amount of time can be more rewarding than any other kind of adoption. Because without you, can you imagine the life that pet would not have?”

Bronwyn Gruet/The Dodo

Assess and adjust your home’s layout 

Depending on the type of home you have, your pet may have to go up and down stairs, use an elevator, or face longer walks before they can rest. The question you need to ask yourself, according to Schnitker, is how you can help your pet handle the stairs without burning yourself out. “You really shouldn’t start carrying them because the idea is to get them comfortable moving around in their home,” she says. A harness or sling that you can use to carry your pet is a perfect solution for senior dogs or cats with mobility issues. Find one that has full body support so your pet stays comfortable. If your home is accessed by elevator, a harness can help older dogs sit or stand during the wait. And if you’re worried about accidents in the elevator, packing yourself a little makeshift clean-up kit (wet wipes, baggies, paper towels, etc.) can be a lifesaver for dogs with incontinence issues.

Create comfortable nests around the house

Whether your pet is a senior or they’re dealing with a chronic illness, one of the most important facets of their everyday care is to make sure their bed is a good fit for them. According to Schnitker, some of the most common ailments of older pets are arthritis and mobility issues, which make it impossible for them to be comfortable in a regular dog bed. Pay attention to where they feel the safest, and show and encourage them to have their own safe place that’s just theirs. “A new pet may not know what a bed is,” Schnitker says, “so you should use treats to show them that they should sleep in this very soft bed.” Keep multiple beds in areas around the house so that they don’t have far to go in between cushy landing pads. Look into orthopedic beds with memory foam, too -- they ensure full body support for your pup.

Bronwyn Gruet/The Dodo

Find the perfect pet food

Finding the right pet food for a senior pet’s specific needs is imperative for overall health and wellbeing -- and Schnickter is a big fan of Hill’s Science Diet brand since it supports everyday vitality. Recipes vary, but they include things like powerful antioxidants, unique fibers, fruits and vegetables, and varied proteins. “It’s top-of-the-line, quality ingredients, and the food is well-studied,” Schnickter says. “You’re confident recommending as a vet because you know it’s going to be a consistent product for long-term feeding; you aren’t missing vitamins and minerals, and the balance will be perfect.”

Ramp it up

Literally. If your dog loves to share the bed but jumping up has become a challenge, look into getting a set of soft doggy stairs or a ramp to help them up with ease. If your house’s stairs are shorter or less steep, try placing a sturdy wood board on the side of the staircase to create an inexpensive ramp. Elevating food and water bowls will also help prevent them from bending uncomfortably or losing their balance during meals or drinking. 

So if you’re thinking of adopting a senior pet, we’re rooting for you all the way. No matter what challenges you and your new best friend may face together, having a good plan (and a few super-comfy beds) in place will not only keep your pet healthy, but happy, too, so that you can share many more adventures to come.