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Discover the benefits of adopting an older pet


In the Colorado AARP office where Suzanne volunteers, she is privileged to work with Julie, cat rescuer and advocate extraordinaire. During Suzanne’s most recent volunteer day, Julie was considering adopting a 16 year old cat from an animal shelter and wanted to know if her two much younger resident cats would be more likely to accept an elderly female feline compared to a younger one.

That got us to thinking about the advantages of adopting an older pet. While a mature dog will require some extra supervision while he adjusts to his new home, we can avoid the hassles of housetraining. Housetraining a puppy requires us to be constantly on our toes, and probably several trips outside in the middle of the night for a few months. While puppies are cute and adorable, by adopting an adult dog we can forego that annoying puppy chewing and nipping phase as well. Although kittens don’t require extra housetraining time, their ability to create havoc during playful antics is often even greater than that of a puppy.

The “mental outlook” of a mature dog or cat may be more in line with an over-50-view of life. Although many seniors still enjoy being active, extreme activities and that constantly on the go approach to life isn’t as important as it used to be. Compared to their wild ancestors, dogs and cats tend to remain somewhat playful throughout life, but in their middle to later years they are usually more willing to “go with the flow” and “hang out”, rather than needing to be constantly entertained.

Our 9 year old Irish setter Coral is in great shape and ready to go for walks, runs, hikes and road trips at the drop of a hat, but she’s also content to hang out on the couch while we’re on the computer, or enjoying dinner at home with friends.

If you are concerned that an older pet may be more prone to health problems, this may not necessarily be true. Our biggest veterinary expenses for Coral occurred during the first 2 years of her life, including a $5000 surgery to repair a congenital hernia. In the last several years, all she’s needed is regular wellness care.

It’s a good idea to obtain a good veterinary evaluation before adopting an older pet, to rule out existing conditions that could require more care and expense than you are willing to take on. With great veterinary care, a healthy diet, and regular exercise, cats can live close to twenty years, and the average lifespan of a dog can vary from 8 years or so for the largest breeds, to 13 years or even older for smaller breeds. Those in our age group may no longer be willing, or able, to commit to that many years of pet ownership, but by adopting say a 7 year old dog or a 10 year old cat, the years we’d share would decrease to a number that might be a better fit.

There’s something particularly endearing about the gray faces and knowing eyes of older pets. You can see in the accompanying picture how Coral has turned white around her eyes in her later years. And with the majority of people wanting to adopt puppies, kittens, and relatively young pets, by choosing an older animal, you may very likely be giving the gift of a second chance at a longer life. And who among us wouldn’t appreciate someone doing that for us?


Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration.

[Photo courtesy by Suzanne Hetts]

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