It’s a sad fact of pet adoption, but older animals are often overlooked in favour of younger pets, and never more so than when it comes to dogs.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made headlines recently when it was revealed they had chosen an older dog, a beagle called Mamma Mia, to join their two canines.
“The duchess [was] holding Mia and was like, ‘We’re adopting her’,” Shannon Keith, an animal rights lawyer who runs the Beagle Freedom Project, told the Los Angeles Times. “She was like ‘No, we don’t want a Christmas puppy … We want ones we can help who are older.’”
With it being International Dog Day on August 26, we take a look at what goes into caring for an older canine.
At what age is a dog considered senior?
It’s a commonly held belief that one human year is equivalent to seven dog years; however, this notion has largely been debunked as dog years are more complicated than that, especially when taking different breeds into account.
“Some mathematicians feel that a one-year-old dog should be compared to a 10 to 15-year-old human. The second year, as development levels out, should equate to three to eight years of human ageing,” says VCA Animal Hospitals, which is headquartered in Los Angeles. “That would put a two-year old dog on par with a 13- to 23-year-old human. But that is still a big range.”
Canine age status is dependent on the size of the dog. Larger dogs such as great Danes or Saint Bernards are considered to have reached senior age around 7; medium-sized dogs, including German shepherds and golden retrievers at about 10, and smaller breeds — chihuahuas and terriers — at about 12.
The benefits of adopting an older dog
There are many pros to introducing an older dog into your home. Firstly, they can fit in better with busy families, as they are usually already house-trained, saving the time and effort that goes into training a puppy.
Going against the belief that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, older dogs can actually learn new commands faster than energetic puppies. You’re also likely to get a calmer, more relaxed dog when adopting an older canine.
“Adopting or fostering an older dog can be very rewarding,” says Amirah William, founder and manager of the Stray Dogs Centre. “In general they are house-trained, have calm temperaments, have manners and the ability to form deep bonds with their owners. Most senior dogs love to snooze, are low maintenance, don't demand attention and are happy to just chill.”
Caring for a senior dog
As dogs grow older, their needs can become more complex, and owners can struggle to adapt to the new reality of their ageing best friend.
“Keep in mind there might be higher medical bills,” says Samantha Vince, general manager at Dogwalk in Dubai. “Mobility can be an issue for older dog, so they can’t come along on long hikes.”
As dogs age, they become less able to regulate body temperature, and need to be protected from extreme heat or cold, particularly important in the desert climate.
Vets suggest more moderate exercise for senior dogs, but owners should also keep an eye on their pet’s weight as any extra kilos will put pressure on their joints.
Older dogs are also susceptible to cancer, dementia and incontinence. All of which means that they will require regular veterinary check-ups and their oral health needs to be maintained.
“If the dog is coming from a shelter then they may experience anxiety issues because they are used to the shelter routine and stability,” says William. “They require patience, understanding, love and care. Older dogs may have toileting issues, and arthritis which is common, and may need a special diet, such as mashed food.”
“Older dogs have a calmer disposition and quieter temperament than a puppy and are equally deserving of love and of having a family as any other dog, more so coming to the end of their life,” says Vince. “Dogs thrive on consistency and routine, and to feel safe and secure and live out however long they have.”