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Loving a Geriatric Dog

The Trials and Triumphs of Adopting a Gray Muzzled Dog

By Dr. Mary Gardner

Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice

A geriatric dog is not the same as a senior dog.  Most dogs are considered “seniors” around the age of 7. Geriatrics in dogs is related to size, with giant breeds (Great Danes, Mastiffs) considered geriatric at 7-8 years of age, Labrador size dogs would be considered geriatric above 10 years in age, and small breed dogs when they hit 12+ years would be one of our grey muzzled dogs.

There are differences in health issues and how to care for a geriatric pet.  For those who are considering adopting a pet, do not let concerns of geriatric health issues stop you; there are many joys that come from the companionship of a gray muzzled dog.   Understanding the ailments will enable you to devise creative ways to care for your geriatric pet so as to enjoy those “twilight” years of companionship.

The Geriatric Stage of Life

Most pet owners are familiar with the term “senior pet” and have been advised by their veterinarian to anticipate specific healthcare needs during those senior years – such as routine blood and urine tests, long-term medication use, routine screening heart and eyes, blood pressure, and diet and exercise changes.  However, when it comes to the “geriatric” stage of life, the needs are a not as well outlined – often, when a pet reaches this stage, the visits to the veterinarian become less frequent and even not at all.  The pet owner does not get a chance to use the healthcare team for advice on getting through the geriatric stage.

Creative Care of the Geriatric Dog

It is all about quality of life.  Just because a geriatric dog may not see as well, or have difficulty walking, it does not mean that they are a lost cause.  It is extremely beneficial to continue regular veterinary and grooming visits.  The veterinary healthcare team can serve as a great resource for advising a family how to modify both their home and petcare practices for the best interest of both pet and humans.

Additionally, other petcare practices will enhance the quality of life of a geriatric dog.  The use of:

  • Harnesses, mats, booties or other friction devices to aid walking
  • Baby gates to block areas of fall risks such stairs or certain rooms
  • Ramps to provide assistance with getting on a couch or bed
  • Nightlights for those pets with poor eyesight
  • Exercise to keep up the condition of those muscles and joints
  • Enrichment games to help with cognitive functions
  • Pheromone sprays to reduce anxiety and distress
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Medications for behavioral, as well as physiological, concerns.

A geriatric pet does not have to have “one paw in the grave” – making the effort to provide assistance to relieve some of the issues of this life stage can be a huge “pick-me-up” for both the pet and the humans who enjoy the companionship of the geriatric pet.

Adopting an Older Pet

Let’s face it, most people will gravitate toward a puppy or kitten when looking over a shelter full of potential companions.  In an ASPCA CARDS database study in 2015, 12% of intakes were senior dogs age 7 years and older – with many being strays.1  However, the adoption rate for this age group was only 25% compared to a 60% adoption rate of younger dogs.1  While the low % for older pets ending up in the shelter is a good statistical number, it is disheartening to see that those older pets are not being adopted out at a high rate at all.  What myths need busted in order to convince people that it is a great idea to adopt a geriatric pet?

Myth:  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  While a puppy is ripe for training, the requirement of time, patience and supervision is high for their first few months and continues into their first year as they progress through their development from puppy to adolescent to adult.  An older dog is also capable of being trained, and enrichment games are highly recommended for geriatric pets for improving cognitive functioning.  Fact:  You CAN teach an old dog new tricks and, in the case of the geriatric pet, enrichment games make for a healthier, happier pet.

Myth:  Older dogs cost more because they have more medical issues.  Fact:  Both puppies and older dogs have costs associated with them, and some of these costs are unpredictable no matter the age.  Spay/Neuter, skin problems, tumors, cancer, etc. occur at any age.  When a person decides to adopt a dog, any age dog, there must always be some planning for emergency situations.

Myth:  Adopting a puppy ensures that the dog will bond with family members.  Fact:  It takes work to build trust and bonds.  Both the puppy and the older dog will require some training.  Don’t think that only older dogs have “baggage” – some puppies already carry “baggage” from prior encounters with humans too.

Adopting a pet is an important decision.  Evaluate every angle, every age, every breed….  The point is, any puppy/kitten, adult, senior, or geriatric pet is a special relationship.  A relationship built on trust.  In the end, the rewards and triumphs of the relationship far outweigh the trials and tribulations.

BabelBark Connects Pet Parents to Pet Professionals. 

Author Nora Roberts said, “Everything I know, I learned from dogs.”  What can a geriatric dog teach you today?  Keep in mind, Nora Roberts also said, “Properly trained, a man can be a dog’s best friend.”

Take time to learn something from a geriatric dog… and take time to learn from pet professionals such as your veterinarian, groomer, pet sitter, shelter, and dog walkers.  BabelBark is the remote monitoring platform you need to stay connected with your grey muzzle friend. BabelBark provides an easy way to share health information, care instructions, track your dog’s activity, and monitor critical medications, as well as request appointments from your pet’s caregivers.

Calling all pet professionals –groomers, trainers, pet walkers, pet sitters, and veterinarians – what kind of care advice can you give to owners of geriatric pets?  What are some tips for those considering adopting a geriatric pet?  What about modifying the home or helpful tips for providing daily care?  Let’s encourage pet parents to reach out to those who can help navigate the daily trials of caring for a geriatric pet and have more triumphant days!


1Weise, Emily.  Thinking About the Seniors….  ASPCApro.  Available at

Pet Parents