Sadly, most people who are planning to bring a dog into their lives will be looking for a puppy, most likely from a pet store or a breeder. Older dogs and dogs with disabilities are often the last dogs people consider adopting, but it’s hard to understand why that is. Older dogs often require little to no training and have a milder temperament. They also require less exercise, and it’s extremely fulfilling to take care of a dog who requires special attention. Here are ten things to know before adopting an elderly or disabled dog.

1. Get Them a Comfortable, Heated Bed

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Many dog beds offer very little support and are made from cheap scrap foam and fiberfill. Even those that claim to be orthopedic are often not. Most dogs will get arthritis during their lifetime, so investing in a good bed, even for younger dogs, will keep them happy and living longer. To save money, you can use old couch cushions or even experiment with a toddler mattress. The heat will help ease the pain of their aching joints to help them fall asleep and allow them to get up earlier in the morning. Blankets are another option. 

2. Create a Safe and Comfortable Environment in Your Home

Add carpeting to slippery surfaces in your home and/or provide rubberized soles for your pup. Consider putting ramps in the house (also useful for getting in the car), so they can get on furniture or avoid using the stairs. Install nightlights to help them see at night and purchase elevated water and food bowls to avoid neck straining. Make sure there are no sharp surfaces for them to run into. Take their collar off when they’re inside the house.  

3. Invest in Their Health 

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Learn how to give pet massages and consider booking acupuncture appointments or canine hydrotherapy sessions. Exercise and walk on grass or sand when possible. Use a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement, probiotics, and Omega Fatty Acids. Invest in cold packs/heat packs and compression wraps.

4. Increase Vet Visits

This usually means visiting the veterinarian twice a year instead of once and getting blood and urine tests to detect diseases and health problems that can spring up in old age. Make sure you bring in a list of behaviors and physical issues you’ve noticed in your furry friend and any questions you might have to get the most out of each appointment. 

5. Make Sure Your Lifestyle Lines Up with Their Needs

Generally, older dogs do better with older people. If you work from home that is ideal because senior and special needs dogs need a lot of attention and care. They also have a harder time controlling their bladders and may need to go outside more frequently. Lastly, you must have a patient disposition to be able to deal with the inevitable challenges that come with taking care of an elderly or disabled dog. You must be able to put their needs first much of the time.

6. Don’t Startle Them

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Elderly dogs will often lose their sight and hearing. Approach them from the front instead of the side or behind to avoid spooking them. Be patient if they can’t hear you right away. For deaf dogs, you may want to teach them hand signals. If you have stairs, they could fall down or a pool they could fall into, make sure to block it off with something. Never leave them alone without letting them know you’re leaving first, or they can become very anxious. 

7. Monitor Them Closely

Pay attention to behavior that may point to an illness. Frequently waking through the night and restlessness can be a sign of joint pain. Needing to go out to pee frequently but not being able to go could be a urinary tract infection. Research the most common illnesses in dogs and any home remedies that can help. Check them weekly for lumps and any other physical ailments. 

8. Spoil Them

Take them on car rides. Forego the leash. Let them lead the way. Splurge on treats. Buy them french fries at the drive-thru. Take them on a picnic in your favorite park and whip up some homemade treats for you both. Rent a movie and cuddle up on the couch with them. Show them that they are loved and that whatever trauma or pain they may have experienced in the past is over, and they can trust you to help create a life for them that is filled with comfort, support, and friendship.

9. Don’t Feel Sorry for Them

Don’t treat them with pity or feel sorry for them. Dogs are very resilient and strong and just want to be treated like anyone else. You may have a blind, deaf, and three-legged dog with cancer, but that dog’s life may still be full of joy and wonder. Acknowledge your dog’s spirit, and don’t contaminate it with your pity. If you notice they are feeling embarrassed about their limitations, shower them with love and help show them how special you know they are.  

10. Get a Wheelchair or Harness

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A wheelchair is ideal because it will give them more independence and will be easier on you and them. Many people give up on thinking their dogs can accompany them on long walks when their back legs start to give out, but that’s not the case. A good wheelchair can add years of joyful walks and adventures to a dog’s life. 

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