Senior animals, particularly cats and dogs, can make wonderful pets, and animal shelters tend to overflow with these seasoned companions. Older animals may already be housebroken and trained. They may be calmer, gentler and better behaved than their younger counterparts. At the same time, geriatric animals require special care and accommodations.
What steps can pet lovers take to make adoption of an older animal easier and more comfortable for the animal and the entire household?
Consider these eight practical suggestions.
1. Consult a veterinarian before adopting the older pet.
A skilled veterinarian can evaluate the senior animal’s health and identify any special needs he or she may have. Pet training and care professionals may offer helpful tips as well. This expertise may prove particularly valuable during the adopted animal’s first days in his or her new environment.
2. Procure appropriate food, medications, and nutritional supplements, if needed.
If possible, the senior pet adopter will obtain all needed supplies before bringing the new animal home. Ideally, this will include at least starter portions of the same food and medicines to which the pet has already grown accustomed.
A change of feed can disrupt an older animal’s health. If such a transition is required, it is usually best done in stages, offering an evolving ratio of diminishing portions of the previous product and increasing portions of the new one.
Does the newcomer need joint supplements, pain relievers, or geriatric pet vitamins? It pays to be prepared.
3. Set up the home to accommodate the senior pet’s special needs.
Does the older cat, dog, or other adopted animal need a ramp to enter and exit the home? Does incontinence or another issue dictate that he or she be enclosed by gates, an indoor corral, or a pen? Is an elevated feed and water station needed? How about an extra soft pet bed or a heating pad?
An older cat may need to have access to litter boxes upstairs and downstairs, if mobility is an issue.
It’s best to obtain these items ahead of time, so the geriatric animal may use them immediately upon arrival.
4. Start the new pet in one room.
This may be of particular importance when adopting an older cat. For a few days, a smart pet owner might place the kitty’s food, water, and litter box in a single room with a door that can be closed. This allows the newcomer to adapt gently, with members of the household visiting in small groups and short stints. Once the pet grows more familiar and comfortable, he or she may be ready to venture out.
5. Create a secluded spot for the senior pet’s privacy.
A box, crate, pen, or private room can be a welcome spot for an aging pet. The older animal, in particular, may need an occasional refuge from the daily ruckus or other creatures.
6. Introduce the new pet gradually to other animals in the home.
Older creatures may take a little longer to assimilate to new surroundings, and the added stress of becoming acquainted to other pets can be stressful to them. Savvy animal lovers may help their newcomers to step into the four-legged family gently and in small doses.
7. Build a consistent daily routine.
A set schedule, especially for feeding, exercise, and potty breaks, is critical for the older animal. This can minimize anxiety and prevent accidents.
8. Give the senior adoptee time to adjust to the family.
Personal bonding with an older pet may occur quickly and smoothly, or it may take longer than expected. The most important thing is to allow the animal to grow familiar and build trust at his or her own pace with each member of the household.
Try to hold off on parties and crowded events in the home for a while, if possible, to give the aged newcomer time to settle in with minimal stress.
Eventually, the seasoned animal may become an accepted and beloved part of the family. He or she may even learn a few new tricks.
Overall, the key to helping an older pet setting into the household is to minimize stress as much as possible. If the animal begins showing signs of anxiety or distress, it’s a good idea to consult a veterinarian immediately for examination and a care and treatment plan.