Opening Your Home to a Senior Pet

Maybe your pet is now growing old. Or maybe you are one of those exceptionally compassionate people who open their home to a senior pet who was left at a shelter due to their medical needs or age.

We dump old people in rest homes so its no surprise that we dump senior pets in shelters. I saw a couple bring in a

19 year old Golden Retriever they'd had since a puppy, and leave him there because they were "moving and couldn't take him". This seems odd considering how long they had him. In discussing with them further and offering to help them find pet friendly housing, it turned out the real reason was the dog was having problems with back leg weakness and incontinence and the wife was mad he had peed in the house. The man and his son were heartbroken - and too weak on ethics, character, and courage to do the right thing (keep the dog and follow some of the solutions below). Despite his age, the dog was happy and loving and enjoyed walking. Fortunately a Foster was found that day, because the poor dog was confused and terrified at being left in a cement kennel after being in a home for 19 years. I would be too!

It is true, that a senior pet may not be the most "convenient" pet to have - but neither are puppies who pee and poop everywhere, chew your new Michael Kors shoes, and cry all night. Yet everyone wants a puppy  - and then returns same puppy to shelter when the reality of care and training hits. Teach your kids not to stuff you in a shelter a.k.a. rest home by doing the right thing with your senior pet.

Here are some great benefits of older pets:

  • They are already trained
  • They are not interested in racing through the house, leaping tall coffee tables in a single bound
  • They are happy to sit on the couch with you and binge watch your favorite TV series while sharing Hagen Daas Vanilla ice cream
  • They keep the bed warm for you in the winter so you don't have to get on cold sheets
  • They are happy and grateful for kindness, comfort, a heating pad, love, food, walks, Rimadyl, and companionship; they will give you much unconditional love in return.


Yes there are some realities - and some simple solutions for those, based on my extensive experience taking in senior and special needs pets. 

Ways You can Help your Senior Pet with their

Vision problems. 

This is remedied by giving them a safe space - with room to potty - while you're gone, keeping their food/water in the same place, and going with them outside. I found I did not even need a leash but I did need to monitor as sometimes I would find the dog facing the fence or house not sure where it was. A $5 baby gate from Goodwill kept my blind dog from falling down the stairs when I wasn't home, and it was low enough the cats couldn't jump over it (since the dog was older, he was not interested in trying to leap over it). Our article on caring for a blind pet has more information.

Potty problems.

Someday you'll be "old and ugly too" (see our blog and radio conversation on this) and incontinent. This is also easily solved with everything from safe spaces to doggy diapers. See our article on this topic which includes a video. When I took home Kenny, Mimi, Paxton and Biscuit, all elderly, all ill, all returned as "they could not be potty trained". Kenny was trained in 2 weeks; Mimi, Paxton and Biscuit between 2 and 4 weeks. Sometimes elderly dogs have accidents because their bladder loses its elasticity with age. Some heart medications cause cause excessive urination. Some foods do this as well. As dogs age, instead of being able to hold it all day, they can only hold it maybe 4 to 6 hours - or less. For Paxton, in his last year on this earth it was more like 2 hours.  There are incontinence medicines that depending on the cause of the incontinence, work very well. Other times, you simply need to use potty pads, doggy diapers, a safe space, or a combination of some or all. One great trick I learned was to place a potty pad underneath their beds, so if they went their beds, it did not soak through to the carpet/couch/chair/my bed. I kept extra beds so one could be in wash while a clean one came out, and a big box of potty pads, x large no matter what size the dog, on hand at all times. To avoid the potty pad slipping around, I secured it with double sided tape or masking tape on the corners. And as much as its tempting to not encourage them to drink water to have less potty trips or accidents, older pets - especially those on medications that act as diuretics - are in danger of becoming severely dehydrated. Wet food can help with this as its usually 80% moisture.

Arthritis and lameness.

There are many medications available from baby Aspirin to Rimadyl to MetaCam. I personally like Rimadyl as MetaCam gave 2 of my dogs bleeding ulcers, however every pet is different so always consult your Veterinarian. Walking helps keep the joints lubricated, but remember they can't do a dead run anymore trying to follow you on your bike, or your half marathon! And they are more susceptible to heat and cold then when they were younger. I always said I'd never dress my dog until I had an old dog that shook from the cold when I took him for walks in the winter. He ended up having a better wardrobe than me! Milo, due to his age and heart condition, I can't take for walks in the hottest months of summer until late at night when its finally cooled off.

For lameness, simple things like using a towel around the mid section to help them get up; or use it to hold up their rear as they go potty. There are specialty harnesses for this, and even wheelchairs now. Recently I looked into non skid booties for Stoops feet to help him get traction on slippery tile floors.

Baby gates can prevent falls by gating off stairs so they don't fall when you are away from home. Safe spaces help with this too. I talk about safe spaces in the potty training article, and the setting up a recovery room article.

There are also OTC items like NutriVets Hip and Joint gel, which I've found to be highly effective; more so than Glucosamine for my pets.

Lack of Appetite, Sensitive Digestion

Lastly, old age can cause the deadly duo of poor sight and poor smell, making it difficult to get them to eat. Currently my oldest cat, Duchess, is dealing with this, She is having trouble finding her food and also smelling it to stimulate her appetite. Besides buying wet food which has more scent - and more moisture - I sometimes have to hold some of the food on my fingertip and swab a little on her mouth to get her to realize there is food - and it's good!

Wet food, or at least moistening their dry food with some low sodium chicken broth, can help encourage eating, help hydration, and be easier on old teeth - or lack thereof.

I also find mixing in plain white rice can help with loose stools which can also, along with tummy aches, be common with senior pets. Salmon based foods are often helpful for sensitive stomachs and bowels, versus the higher fat contents of beef or lamb based foods. When my senior pets have bouts of tummy troubles, I cook up some skinless plain chicken breasts in a little water which I then use a broth, and add some white rice. Feeding that for a couple of days usually does the trick!

Shelter Stories: A Mr.Frisky Blog