Originally Published March 1st 2023, Updated February 14th 2024.
Senior pets often get a bad reputation. “They have mental or physical health problems,” or “They aren’t interested in forming bonds,” are just a couple of the common justifications from people looking to adopt. And if you gravitate more towards younger animals when looking to adopt, that’s very reasonable. Everyone has different lifestyles and needs when it comes to finding a furry companion. However, it is important to understand that no matter the animal you are looking to adopt, all ages come with their own trials and benefits. But no age group should be dismissed. So, read on to learn if a senior animal may be the right fit for your lifestyle.
First, to try and dispel some of the perspectives you may have about senior pets, let's define exactly what a senior pet is. Breeds play a large role in the lifespan of different animals, but generally, a dog’s senior years begin at around seven years of age, with a cat’s not starting until they’re eleven. In fact, because of the relatively larger lifespan cats have when compared to dogs, at seven years old a cat is merely middle-aged! For cats, who can naturally live anywhere between twelve to twenty-five years old, this title is in no way an indication of their impending passing. So, with so much life left to live, let's unpack why a senior animal may find themselves in the shelter in the first place.
For many animals, there are any number of reasons for them to be in a shelter. Sometimes Pets for Life get once-domesticated animals that have become untrusting and scared from being in the wild. All are usually no older than two or three years of age. This is why when older cats come in, it is almost always because they’ve had to be surrendered. And usually not for the same reasons as kittens, such as behavioural issues. Senior pets are surrendered most commonly because of accommodation issues, elderly people having to go into a nursing home, moving overseas or the owner passing away. At our shelter, we’ve seen kittens and young cats come with this problem for a multitude of reasons, from a lack of domestication, trauma from past experiences or even just adopters not comprehending the amount of effort it takes to care for a young, jubilant cat. Unlike this, older cats are usually not surrendered for any fault of their own, which does create its own problems when a surrendered animal is brought into a shelter.
Many of these surrendered animals have known the security of a loving home. They’ve had someone to snuggle and play with them day after day. And then, suddenly, it’s taken from them. They have nowhere or no one to give the love they feel. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many older and senior pets show some signs of depression when they are first brought into a shelter; not eating or coming out to interact with volunteers or other animals. They are in a completely different environment and generally sharing space with a lot of other cats, even if they have their own cage. Many are not used to so many people coming and going and this sets them on edge as well. Sadly, many of these pets stay in their shelters much longer than all the young animals around them. Sometimes they are granted a foster carer to give them love and affection for a period of time, but it’s never sustainable. There are more animals to foster and take care of so they are returned to the shelter, and they've become attached to another person who they've had to leave. These pets are lonely, and this will continue to impact their behaviour.
Yes, senior animals may contract or develop illnesses, but that is the case for every ageing animal. When you adopt a kitten or puppy, you also commit to adopting the needs they may have in ten to fifteen years. Or at any point in their life! A senior animal is actually more likely to develop deeper emotional attachments to their adopter, knowing the love and care they are able to reciprocate. They also have better manners and respect for belongings when compared to younger animals, having been socialised in human environments, or even with other animals, for years. This reduces the responsibility (and sacrificed couches) of adopters with new animals, not having to teach them right from wrong or wait out any destructive phases that may arise. Senior pets may care for a slower, less boisterous lifestyle and go at their own speed, or have a playful personality! What is a given though, is a transparent personality; what you see is what you get. So, if you believe you have the time, lifestyle and love to consider adopting a senior pet, please do not let any preconceived ideas stop you.