The Pet Connection: Advantages to adopting an older dog or cat

She flies down the hall to greet me, mouth open in a toothless grin. She chivies our other dogs out of the way when treats are on offer, no matter that they are two and three times her size. She rocks nose-work class.

If it weren’t for the gray on her tiny pointed muzzle and the almost complete lack of teeth, you would be forgiven for thinking she’s a much younger dog.

When we adopted Gemma almost two years ago, the shelter estimated that she was 12 or 13 years old. Even if they were off by a year or two, that means she’s now at least 13 or 14. You couldn’t tell it by me.

She has a heart murmur that’s being monitored by our veterinary cardiologist, but otherwise she’s in good shape, based on her latest lab work.

Her teeth were rotten when she was pulled from the shelter, but the rescue group that took her in paid to have them removed, all but the two lower fangs. It doesn't slow down the rate at which she scarfs her food.

What possessed us to adopt a dog who, I must admit, was less than attractive at first glance, not to mention up there in years? As far as I’m concerned, we would have been crazy not to.

Gemma embodies all of the rewards of adopting a senior dog or cat. Adopting a golden oldie has more benefits than you might realize:

▪  They are a known quantity. You know their personality and that they’re not going to get any bigger.

▪  They are restful. If you want a pet to hang out with you while you watch TV or read, a senior is the way to go.

▪  They aren’t necessarily inactive. Gemma is the only dog I’ve ever had – including the retired racing Greyhound – who takes me running, at least for the first five minutes of our walk.

▪  They are usually house trained. They’ve lived in a home and they know the drill, whether it’s going outdoors to potty or using a litter box. Every once in a while you meet one who isn't, but older dogs can learn just as quickly as youngsters if you take them out consistently, keep them on a schedule, and don’t give them the opportunity to make mistakes. For older cats, simply putting a litter box in an accessible place and keeping it clean usually does the trick.

▪  They are wise in the ways of the world. Older animals are observant and they know how to learn, either by watching other animals in the family or from picking up on your cues. Watching them and seeing what they know and how they apply it to their new lives is fascinating. (Gemma clearly came from a home where burrowing under the covers at bedtime was a regular occurrence.)

They come with a senior discount. Many shelters reduce or waive the adoption fees for older pets. An “older” pet may be one as young as 3 years old. Some veterinarians may offer reduced exam rates for adopted seniors.

▪ They give us the opportunity to save a life. Older animals face a lot of rejection for no good reason. They often fit easily into a home because they are already experienced at living with other animals and people. And they can have more good years left than you might think.

▪  They give us the gift of their love and joy. Some people say that older dogs are grateful because they know you gave them a second chance. Maybe that’s true. All I know is that Gemma makes me laugh every day. That’s priceless.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Dr. Becker can also be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.