Adopting a senior dog
February 19, 2022 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some perspective on adopting a dog. I have so many questions.

The dog in question is about ten years old and is a mixed breed, probably part miniature schnauzer, but no one is sure. He's a little guy, smaller than my cats. His owner passed away, and another family member took him in but doesn't like how clingy he is. She says she doesn't feel attached to him and has considered taking him to the shelter. I was kind of looking for a dog that would be chill and just sleep on my lap most of the time, so I think he might be a good fit, but I haven't had a dog since I was a kid.

One of my biggest worries is my work schedule. It's a hybrid where I am home two days and the rest I have to go into the office. It's a 45 minute commute with the standard eight hour work day, so I think he would need either doggie daycare or a dog walker to come in. If I invest in those would he be okay? The current owner says that he whines and cries if they crate him during the day so I think he probably has separation anxiety.

I worry about integrating him with my cats too. The dog currently lives with other dogs and cats and does okay with them, but I read that schnauzers have a high prey drive so that's kind of concerning.

Being a senior, I know he will have increased medical expenses. I already know he needs some dental work, but I can handle that. I don't know what else I should be expecting on that front. I'm not so well off that I can drop 5k at the drop of the hat.

I know I am rambling, but I kind of fell in love with this little guy. I really want to give him a home, but I also want to do right by him and make sure he has everything he will need. Are there things I haven't considered that I should be thinking of? Can a newbie dog owner take something like this on or am I pants-on-head crazy?
posted by MaryVictoria to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We adopted a 7 year old rescue terrier who had been heartworm positive but was most of the way through her treatment. I expected that there would be some medical expenses, but I didn’t anticipate how much time and effort it would be to clear up all her medical issues. Between normal new rescue vet visits for shots, an ear infection and an anal glad infection she came to us with, a case of kennel cough she got in her first month, some heartworm related follow up we knew we would have to do, dental treatment (the most expensive), and kidney issues that are now under control with some reasonably priced specialty food, I think she was at the vet every 2-4 weeks for the first 6 months. We spent around $3k on veterinary care in the first year, none of which was covered by pet insurance because it was all considered to be preexisting conditions. It was also tricky because she was scared of the city at first and bad at waking outside so actually getting her to the vet was an ordeal, and the side effects of a dog with anal glad and kidney issues are… not fun.

Once we got it all cleared up, she’s been a dream of a dog - a lazy, sunbeam-snoozing lapdog who loves going for walks. She was pretty clingy at first but has gotten much better at being separated from us as she settled in, which took 6-12 months.

Since your family member has the dog right now, you probably have a much better understanding of his medical needs than we did with our pup. I’d say to go for it if you like the pup, think you can figure out the cat situation, and can commit to working on his separation anxiety.

On edit: My dog is supposed to have a high prey drive, but she literally doesn’t react to any animals other than dogs - rats, squirrels, and bodega cats run across her path and it’s like she can’t even see them. The breed does matter for the prey drive but the individual dog matters more - ask her current owner/foster if she’s reactive on walks.
posted by A Blue Moon at 8:33 PM on February 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It's a good sign that he already lives with cats and is okay with them. You will still need to observe them together closely at the beginning.

Do you not have insight from your family member about the state of his health? There's no doubt that senior dogs can rack up the vet bills. But this can be carefully managed; a good vet understands a guardian's financial limits, and, if worst comes to worst, many of the more expensive treatments, like some kinds of chemo, honestly could be foregone in good conscience in favor of palliative care in senior dogs. If he's been to the vet relatively recently and he doesn't have existing major problems, though, that's a plus.

It sounds like you're living by yourself right now? A dog is real work for a single person, since there's no one to pitch in at odd times with care. But it's doable, and the better your finances, the more doable. I would look into how much dogwalkers and day care cost in your neighborhood--they're shockingly expensive in mine--just to make sure you can actually afford it. Most (not all) separation anxiety can be managed. And not liking to be crated while the household goes on around them is actually not quite the same as separation anxiety. I know a little guy who has no problem with being in the crate--as long as you're actually leaving the house! It's not the crate he minds, it's being excluded from the fun!

A ten-year-old dog left at animal control is in real danger of being euthanized after a few scary weeks in a strange place. Can you give this dog a better life than that? Almost certainly. There's no need to make the perfect the enemy of the good in these kinds of situations. But you should be honest with yourself. Introducing a dog into your household will change your life. Hopefully, mostly for the better; but it will change.
posted by praemunire at 10:33 PM on February 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

We adopted a schnauzer December of 2020. He was found on the streets in downtown Atlanta. The vet thinks that he’s around seven years old but that’s just a guess. Heartworm positive, had to have 18 teeth extracted, multiple skin and ear infections and now takes a daily pill that’s almost $1 a day. He’s having a fatty mass removed tomorrow, no telling what that will cost but he’s one of the best things that has ever happened to our little family. He’s so happy and grateful whenever he is with any of us. He just exudes love and wiggles whenever he sees us. The absolute best little man. He was my first rescue and it was really outside of my control freak comfort zone but it has been the best gamble that I ever took. Give him a chance, there will be challenges but the rewards are worth it.
posted by pearlybob at 4:49 AM on February 20, 2022 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I adopted a ~9 year old toy mutt last year into my house with another small 9 year old dog I've had his whole life. The most important thing to internalize is that when you're getting an adult dog every dog is different. You can't know a lot of these things. An adult dog is coming to you pretty set in it's personality, you really just have to meet them where they're at.

It's almost been a year now and I think my particular senior adoptee would be perfectly happy to be left alone most of the day. He's in great physical health (minus quite a few teeth) thankfully, but he is mentally ill (anxiety, stress response). (Dog drugs are pretty cheap though.) He and my first dog pretty much ignore each other, so that has worked out fine, even if it would be great for them to be buddies.

For the first while if you've got the space, let the dog have his own room while you're gone so the cats will leave him alone. Don't force interactions, just let him do his thing until everyone is ok with the new smells--this takes several days at least.

A thought: part of the crying while crated might be because they're home. How would you like to be shut up in a box while you know your friends are right there? The dog may be perfectly fine alone-alone, you don't have that data yet.
posted by phunniemee at 6:58 AM on February 20, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Ask the family to help with the current medical expenses. Senior dogs are much harder to place, and they have some responsibility.

With many cats, you don't have a lot of work to do. Even older dogs need exercise, and too many dogs get far less than they need. Your dog needs a couple of walks a day, with time to smell things, exercise, poop, pee.

Older dogs are less likely to chew everything, so choose a room the dog can safely stay in when you're gone. Crate train the dog if you can. Put her in the crate while you're home, in your office with her, and give her kibble. Feed her in a crate, door open. Make the crate a non-punishment zone. Short times, varied times, lengthen the crate time. It's a really good idea for a dog to have a space where they can't cause or be subject to problems.
posted by theora55 at 7:21 AM on February 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

If you take him home -- I think you should, because senior dogs are amazing -- there may be about a week or two at first when you're like, oh wow, what have I done? And you just have to chalk that up to getting to know each other.

This particular dog seems like a good match and I think you should go for it.
posted by mochapickle at 9:30 AM on February 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My dog is totally fine in her crate as long as I'm not in the room--so adding my anecdotal evidence to the others. That's been my experience with both the dogs I've had as an adult--it's been FOMO, not separation anxiety. I do keep her confined to one room (my bedroom) when I'm not home. The crate is in there as well so she is used to coming and going from it as she pleases.

Dogs also sleep and rest a LOT during the day, and as a senior yours may not be interested in or up for something like doggy daycare. When I go into the office, I give my dog a little extra attention and exercise morning and evening, and then she's fine all day. I check on her periodically with a little webcam and 90% of the time she's sleeping, sometimes in her open crate.

You've gotten good advice on the cats. My dog is a high prey drive mix (australian cattle dog, dachshund, staffy, all love to chase!) and has to be watched with other animals. Even so, I think she could coexist with cats as long as she had her private space and wasn't left alone with them. She ignores any animal she can't see or distinctly hear, so the dogs in the other end of the house don't exist unless they come right past our bedroom door barking.
posted by assenav at 9:47 AM on February 20, 2022

I am a newbie dog owner who adopted a senior dog. It is doable! Our dog also has separation anxiety and whines when we leave him alone but calms down after a little while. He is much better with us out of the house altogether than being in a different room.

When we got him he was very healthy but that was 5 years ago and now he is still active but has some medical stuff, including bronchitis, kidney disease (so he drinks and pees a lot) and poor balance (so now we carry him up and down the stairs). Get pet insurance if you are worried about unforeseen expenses -- it doesn't cover preexisting conditions, and it will be relatively expensive, but at least it will be a (more) predictable cost rather than rolling the dice.

The nice thing about senior dogs is that they have a lower energy level, so they can be much less work day-to-day.
posted by goingonit at 1:10 PM on February 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have a very new-to-me senior dog who is a gorgeous gentle sweetheart who snores like a buzz saw and is heartbreakingly delighted that she has her own soft bed and treats. Based on my experience of being the owner of a senior dog for less than a week, they are a delight, and I’m glad that people with experience think so too. Dog tax
posted by Kpele at 2:40 PM on February 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Senior dogs are the best. I've had my terrier mix since he was about a year, and at 11 he's super easy. Sleeps a lot, has energy when he wants to but is mostly pretty chill. My last dog was a similar situation to yours - a family member's 9-year-old Corgi that needed a new home. She was super chill, slept a lot, was fun when she wanted to be but very laid back (well, laid-back for a Corgi!).
posted by radioamy at 5:59 PM on February 20, 2022

Adding some things to the mix:
Do you have a remote camera set up in certain rooms while you are out of the house? This may relieve your anxiety about the pet's anxiety.
Do you have a backup plan if the dog needs care while you are gone? This is where a temporary pet walker/sitter can be enlisted until the routine is established.
Can you set up a whole room for the dog while you are gone?
Another idea is to use the pet crate as one of the dog's approved beds. The dog is familiar with the bedding, the location, the toys, etc. so it's not a punishment to go inside the crate. A second identical crate can be used for things like transportation.
posted by TrishaU at 9:13 PM on February 20, 2022

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