Pet Talk: Older dogs and cats make excellent pets

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117511053430673.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.coastalfarm.co‘, ‘“Many times, older pets are available for adoption and are in need of homes. They can make excellent companions, but are often overlooked.”—Dr. Lore Haug, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University‘);

COLLEGE STATION, Texas—If you’re looking for a good pet companion, think old—consider adopting one with a little gray hair, maybe to match your own.

Puppies and kittens, although irresistible at first sight, can be a handful. Soiled carpet, chewing, whining and jumping are just some of the behavior challenges new owners may confront.

“Many times, older pets are available for adoption and are in need of homes,” says Dr. Lore Haug, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University. “They can make excellent companions, but are often overlooked.”

Older pets are defined as mature animals that have reached approximately two-thirds of their life expectancy. Before choosing a pet, each person should analyze his or her specific needs and desires, recommends Haug.

“For example, older pets can make excellent companions for senior citizens by improving their mental attitude, overall well being and keeping them physically active,” she explains.

There are many advantages to adopting an older pet. One significant advantage is that the new owner will already know the size and basic temperament of the pet.

“Many mixed-bred, and even purebred, puppies and kittens attain sizes that are unexpectedly larger or smaller than predicted. With an older animal, the mature size of the pet is already known,” Haug explains.

“Even when the pedigree of a puppy or kitten is known, the adult temperament and behavior is still difficult to predict. An older pet’s behavior around children, seniors and others may be more easily identified,” according to Haug. “Because of desired lifestyles, cats are sometimes more suitable than dogs. Cats tend to require less exercise and are more independent in nature.”

Although many older pets still demand a significant amount of time and energy (normal feeding schedule/maintenance, regular exercise, bathing, etc.), puppies and kittens generally require even more attention and commitment (behavior training, housetraining, playful interaction, etc.).

“For instance, all pets require regular exercise, but puppies generally need much more,” says Haug. “Most older pets are usually already housetrained and may know simple behavioral commands. If they have not been previously trained, older pets can learn new behaviors.”

One reason why older pets may not get adopted is that people feel they have more health problems and require more money to maintain. While this can certainly be true, it isn’t always the case.

“Although older pets often require more preventative health care and screening, the expense of routine puppy/kitten care is typically comparable,” Haug explains.

Potential adopters may also feel older pets may have some other undesirable quality, but there are many reasons healthy older pets are available for adoption. “There may be structural changes in the family such as a death, birth, etc. which leave an animal up for adoption,” says Haug.

“Moving or a change in renting policies can also force owners to relinquish pets for adoption. Other times, animals may develop specific behavioral problems unsuitable for the current owner,” Haug added.

Before adopting an older pet, Haug recommends a few simple steps to maximize the likelihood of a good match.

“Interacting with the animal before adoption may help a new owner become acquainted with the personality and unique behavioral characteristics of the pet, but keep in mind that the pet’s true character may not be apparent at the adoption facility,” she says.

“Additionally, the pet should receive a thorough veterinary exam before being taken to its new home if at all possible, Haug added You might consider adopting an older pet because it can bring much joy and companionship.”

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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