If you are approaching your golden years (65+) or know someone else who is, you may wonder if adopting a rescue dog is a good thing. Certainly, as we age, there are a few things to think about before we invite a new furry friend into our life. The positive side of senior pet ownership has been well documented and points to several mental and physical health benefits. And, yet, there are some drawbacks such as the additional cost of pet care on a fixed income. Additionally, you will want to consider the physical demands required to care for a dog each day.
Fortunately, most seniors who are still fairly mobile and have some discretionary income find they are able to adopt a shelter dog. These lucky older adults and their new canine companions develop loving and meaningful bonds, which often endure for many years. Some of the things to consider are the daily management of a dog; the cost of providing for a pet; the remaining lifespan of the dog and owner; the best type of dog for an aging person; and whether or not training or additional support will be needed for a rescue dog.
First of All, Consider the Many Benefits of Senior Dog Ownership
Probably the number one benefit of having a dog in your senior years, is the loving bond and companionship you will have with your new furry friend. There is nothing like the unconditional love we receive from our pets, and the little kiss/licks they love to give!
MarketWatch posted on August 19th, 2021 a Mayo Clinic study of 1,800 people which showed improved heart health for the people who owned dogs. Some were even smokers who did better than the non-dog owners. They attributed these results to the increased walking and exercise that dog owners did plus the reduction of stress levels.
Primary Benefits of Dog Ownership:
- Increased exercise
- Reduction of stress
- Improved cardiac health
- Improved blood sugar levels
- Reduced pain
- Better Sleep
- Reduction of loneliness
- Increased feelings of love and affection
- Increased social connections
- Adds daily structure into a retired person’s routine
- Decreased sense of isolation and depression in senior adults
- Greater sense of purpose
- Increased home security (thieves usually avoid barking dogs)
Overall, seniors who adopt dogs experience an increased sense of well-being and happiness when they adopt a dog.
After my retirement I worked at home as a consultant. But I missed the routine of seeing my staff and other people during the day. I walked occasionally and went to the gym, but I often lacked enthusiasm. A year into my retirement I adopted two rather energetic 6 year old siblings who made me smile, walk every day (they insisted), and a renewed purpose in my new home routine. See my page About Us for more on this story. I often say that my rescue dogs rescued me!
Be Aware of the Demands and Responsibilities of Owning a Dog
Certainly, owning dogs bears with it increased responsibility and can be physically demanding at times. My two dogs have a lot of energy, and even though they are medium sized dogs, they are incredibly strong! I found it necessary to purchase a head halter to attach to their leash, so they would not drag me off. I gradually increased our daily walks from 20 minutes up to 2 & 1/2 hours, so they could get all of their pent up energy out. It has sometimes been taxing, but my doctor was very pleased at my last visit with my lowered blood pressure and improved blood sugar levels. I had also lost some weight.
Both dogs need regular vet visits for their annual vaccines and other minor health checks. Bathing these dogs is harder than the two Beagles I owned in my 30’s. They are heavier and very hard to lift into the tub. So, I take them to the groomer 4-6 times a year and either hose them off in the backyard on a hot day or sometimes wash them in the tub in-between groomer appointments.
The other responsibility of owning a pet is to ensure that they do not become a nuisance by barking excessively or starting a fight with another dog or cat. I purchased additional personal liability insurance just to be safe, since one of my dogs can sometimes become a little aggressive while on-leash. And the other one loves to chase cats! See my post How to Stop Your Dog from Chasing Your Neighbor’s Cat about how they terrorized poor Huckleberry, my neighbors cat.
Weigh the Cost of Owning a Pet on a Fixed or Limited Budget
When I initially considered adopting dogs again, I added the cost of dogfood into my budget. Ironically, the cost of dogfood was the least of all of my expense! There were vet bills, beds, treats, doggie day care, toys, poop bags, grooming fees, medicine, and a lot of other miscellaneous costs. the first month, Georgia ate a rubber door stop which caused a G.I. obstruction and a $1,700 vet bill. Fortunately, she was eventually ok. But now I have pet insurance.
In the article above by MarketWatch, they estimate the cost of dog ownership to average about $1,838 per year. In a post by thesprucepets.com, they listed annual expenses that could range from $1,500–$9,900 annually. Since pet costs seemed to be all over the map, I did a tally of my own yearly basic costs:
|Dog Food||$ 850|
|Grooming (x 6 per year)||$ 600|
|Vet Visits & Labs||$ 260|
|Pet Insurance||$ 728|
|Heart Worm/Flea/Tick Medicine||$ 804|
|Day Care x 4 per year||$ 320|
|Boarding ( 14 days)||$1,400|
|Dog Walking||$ 118|
|Total for Two Dogs||$6,916|
Below is a chart of average (mean) annual income for senior households by age group. It includes the % of their budget that would be needed to pay for the annual cost of owning a dog. Note that this chart uses household income. The average income of single seniors may be less, and the % of dog care cost will be a higher portion of their income. I used my own costs above divided by 2 to get the cost of one dog per year. My costs are pretty representative. I live in California which is a more expensive state, but I purchase most of my dog products online.
Think About the Remaining Lifespan of Both You and Your Dog
This is something that is not mentioned much in posts and articles about seniors adopting dogs. It is also not a topic that I like to think about. But, I do worry and think about how much longer I will live and how much longer my dogs will live. My goal is to outlive them (which I probably will), so I can care for them for the rest of their lives. I also want to make sure I am able to stay in my current house with a small yard, a doggie door, and close proximity to the local parks for as long as I have them.
I have a back up plan in the event that I die before them or become incapacitated. When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020, I emailed a short document to my friends and family about the care of my dogs and who had a key to my house. I provided info about my vet and day care/kennel facility, if they needed temporary shelter or medical assistance.
They also have their dear “Auntie Jayne” who could help arrange for their welfare if needed. It is always good to have a back up person, especially for single dog owners.
But I also worry about the day when they may pass on before me, which is more likely. I wonder how grief stricken I may become without them. For some seniors who have already felt a bit isolated, the loss of their beloved pet can be overwhelming. Some people can drop into a deep depression following the loss of their best friend. Therefore, please make sure you have a good support system around you when that time comes. The average life of a dog is around 12 years and can range from 10-18 years depending upon the breed.
Consider the Best Type of Dog for Your Senior Life Style
Probably for most seniors, smaller breeds and toy dogs are the best. They can be picked up, eat less, and are overall, easier to walk and manage. Some small breeds may have more unique health and dental issues, but they make really good pets for older people. There are medium sized dogs such as Beagles and Corgis that are also great for seniors. They are lovable and fairly easy to handle. A gentle large dog such as a Golden Retriever or a sweet lab may also work for seniors, but may be a little more expensive to care for. Just make sure you find the best fit for yourself regarding manageability and cost of care.
Some Rescue Dogs Need Additional or Special Training
Dogs from shelters, both purebreds, and mixed breeds, often make really great pets. But just know that some rescues may need a little more TLC and special training. My mixed breed dogs are really energetic and did not have a lot of training in their first five years of life. They are both housebroken, but they were a little bit wild when I first adopted them. So, I enrolled them both in obedience training classes and also had a couple of different trainers come to my home for extra support with special problems like excessive barking and jumping. Check with the shelter or rescue facility about their personalities and traits before you adopt. Also, be sure to see my post, Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog for more information.
In Summary, Dogs Are Often a Great Addition to A Senior Home
For the most part, the benefits of owing a dog in your senior years outweigh the disadvantages. Dogs are loyal, loving, fun to be with, and can bring us a lot of joy and companionship. If you have space in your home and heart, and can afford an extra mouth to feed, a rescue dog may be just what you need! Not only will you bring more joy into your own life, you will be providing a much needed home for a deserving dog who just needs a little love!