Tips for Adopting a Senior Pet

In honor of Adopt a Senior Pet Month, here is a special tribute to Izzy – a true example of the joys that adopting a senior pet can bring.

I lost my last Newfoundland, Rudder, to side effects of drugs to treat his chronic illness, called Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA). IMHA is a disease in which the body attacks its own red blood cells. It is a fatal disease if not treated, not uncommon, and comes on suddenly. But, and it’s a big one, this devastating disease may go into remission if treated properly.

Rudder and I fought this disease for five long months with various medications, including drugs to suppress his immune system, but in the end, his body could not handle the side effects, so I chose euthanasia. On a side note, many dogs do make it to remission, so the fight was worth it.

But this story is not about the sadness of losing Rudder, it is about the joy of getting a chance to adopt a dog Rudder’s age – an 8-year-old Newfoundland named Izzy.

Many people don’t think of the many benefits to adopting a senior dog. Senior canines are many times easier to live with than a puppy or younger dog. They are generally laid back, and can be a good match if you don’t have the lifestyle or energy for youthful exuberance.

It is as crucial to prepare for a senior (or even adult dog) as it is for a puppy. I wanted to have everything ready for adoption time.

Protection & confinement

For instance, Rudder was used to my pet birds, but Izzy has never been exposed to birds, except in the wild. I could imagine the disaster if 120-lb Izzy jumped up on my Amazon’s 6-foot cage, or my cockatiel’s smaller one. I decided to get some North States panels to put around the cages.

Being mindful of the little things that might spark a new canine housemate’s curiosity is foremost on my mind. I searched the house for small objects (coins, needles, thread, dental floss, etc) and got them out of reach. When I adopted Rudder at 18 months, we had issues with prescription bottles which involved many calls to the veterinarian and dosages of hydrogen peroxide, so medications are already stashed away.

I know that Izzy is used to a crate so I have one set up for her. She’ll get the run of the house as all my dogs have had, once I feel I can trust her.

Sweet dreams

Lucky Izzy had many Newfs before her, so I have orthopedic beds in most rooms. Newfs generally like a cool floor (also accessible to her), but older dogs appreciate snoozing on a soft spot. I’ll have to see if she’s a “curler upper” or a “spread-out sleeper”. I just may need to get her a new bed that fits her particular sleeping style. Update: She is somewhere in between, so a Classic Super Deluxe is perfect for her.


Although I have a ramp built especially for big dogs, there are areas of my house where going upstairs is required. Izzy did not want to go up the minimal stairs I have at the front of the house, but with positive reinforcement including treats, I was able to teach her to use them in an afternoon.



I had to make sure I knew which kind of food Izzy was used to, and have some on hand. Switching foods, if I choose to, is best done gradually.

Since Izzy is known to be very food-motivated and a counter surfer, I have to make sure to keep my food out of reach and have her food in in a storage container.

Senior joints

Izzy has good hips, but I do not want to take any chances, since I have had a Newf with hip dysplasia in the past. I had some geriatric blood work done, and even though Izzy has great hips, I will give her a joint-support supplement to keep her joint flexibility as healthy as possible.


Izzy will be my first female Newfoundland. I got her a pink collar and pink lead for training!

collar lead-2

Training is essential even for older dogs. It provides a great bonding opportunity, teaches older dogs who’s boss, and gets both of you used to each other’s habits. She’s already been in the lake and walks well next to me, so I anticipate much joy in my life because I chose to adopt an older dog.

I’d love to hear any advice, tips, or stories any of you might have about adopting a senior dog.