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Financial Considerations For Adopting A Senior Pet 

Lindsay Tigar  |  January 10, 2023

Bringing home an older pet can provide companionship, but it also may require a greater financial investment. Here’s how to plan for it. 

While some families are eager to adopt a puppy or kitten that will grow alongside their family, other pet parents might not have the energy to keep up with a rambunctious little ball of fur. Sadly, we know that many people put their older pets up for adoption when they can no longer care for them in the way they deserve. Senior animals often require more visits to the vet for health needs, including arthritis and other issues associated with aging. Thankfully, we also know that many people love adopting older four-legged friends. The benefits of adopting older animals is that they typically don’t need to be trained or housebroken, and there’s something incredibly special about signing up to be an animal’s caretaker in this life, until they’re ready to leave your side for the next. 

But while adopting a senior pet can be incredibly rewarding emotionally, it can also require a greater financial investment. Here’s how to make it work for you. 

When Is A Dog A Senior Dog? 

When do pets actually enter their golden years? According to Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM, chief veterinarian at Petco, it varies greatly depending on their breed. However, most veterinarians consider somewhere between 7 and 10 years of age to be when a dog starts taking on the qualities of a senior dog. (And if you’re curious, it’s around 11 years for cats.) 

“Smaller breeds tend to live longer, so they may be considered a senior at 10, while large dogs will be considered senior closer to 7 years old,” Dr. Miller continues. “When adopting a dog, if they are over the age of 7, it is important to consider the specific care he will need as a senior dog.” 

More Frequent Veterinary Visits 

For most pets, frequent visits to the vets are no longer needed after their first year of life. Veterinarians will typically recommend an annual check-up to examine their wellbeing and to give vaccinations as required. However, once they become senior, pets should see their doctor twice a year because they have a higher risk of developing health issues. 

“These checkups will include a thorough physical exam, though your veterinarian may also recommend dental cleanings or X-rays as well as a blood analysis,” she explains. “There are many health concerns common among aging pets that can be treated and/or prevented with more regular visits to the vet, such as urinary and digestive concerns, arthritis and weight gain.” 

Unique Dietary Needs And Restrictions

Though as babies, pets tend to nibble on anything and everything they can find, as a senior, they often develop dietary sensitivities and restrictions. As Vincent Birardi, a CFP and wealth advisor at Halbert Hargrove, explains, it’s hard to know at first what foods your new senior pet will tolerate. You’ll need to chat with your veterinarian and the local pet store to understand what foods are best. And while you shouldn’t assume the most expensive kibble is the best, you do need to be prepared to pay more than the typical pet parent, Birardi says. “If you find their preferred food on sale or available in bulk, you might want to stock up.” 

Additional Exercise Considerations 

Younger pups thrive on daily walks or having a (fenced-in) yard to roam free in. Cats tend to entertain themselves and roam free in the house to get in their daily steps. However, it can be trickier to prioritize exercise with a senior animal, Dr. Miller says. 

As she explains, older pets often develop issues with movement and may require different kinds of activities to get the exercise they need to support their health and wellness. Because exercise is critical for senior pets to avoid obesity, they may need low-impact workouts that are adapted to their specific medical issues like arthritis or sore joints. 

“Activities can include multiple short, easy walks, swimming or gentle play with items made specifically for senior pets,” she says. “If pets have trouble moving due to arthritis or sore joints, I urge pet parents to resist the urge to carry them since this prevents them from stretching and using their muscles. As the saying goes, a body in motion stays in motion.” 

Travel Needs 

You may need to think twice — or budget more — if you’re a frequent flier who wants to adopt an older animal. As Birardi says, senior dogs and cats may have difficulty traveling long distances at a stretch, especially if they’re cooped up in a traveling case. That’s why you’ll need to take a new approach to your traveling lifestyle to include shorter trips with breaks. If you intend to fly with your animal, most airlines will charge $100 each way. And if you decide not to bring them along for the journey, Birardi recommends researching costs for having someone to watch them, namely a dog sitter or a kennel you know and trust. 

Additional Supplies 

While your senior pet may come with an existing list of medications that help support their health, there are other supplies to consider when adopting a senior pet, according to Dr. Miller. “Older dogs and cats may benefit from ramps or steps to help reach higher places like the car or couch without needing to jump,” she continues. “They may also benefit from orthopedic beds to soothe joints, interactive toys to keep them mentally stimulated, and toys made with materials for sensitive teeth. Some senior dogs might have the additional requirement of relief pads or frequent, easy access to their yard.”

End-Of-Life Expenses 

Though you probably don’t want to imagine your senior pet passing away before you even bring them home, it’s essential to remember that you’ll be responsible for their needs up until their last breath. Another cost of pet ownership that many people forget to include in their budget, regardless of the pet’s age, is euthanasia, says Darcia Kostiuk, a senior veterinarian for ORIJEN and ACANA pet foods. The cost of in-home euthanasia, an option many pet parents choose because their pet feels the most comfortable, can be upwards of $200. “This expense can be shocking to many pet parents, and while it’s an unpleasant topic, it is important to consider before undertaking pet parenthood,” she says. “Being prepared will save you from additional sticker shock during what will undoubtedly be an already very emotional time in your life.” 

Research Pet Health Insurance 

Pets, like humans, unfortunately, incur additional medical costs as they age, Birardi says. “To defray what can be considerably high costs to care for your elderly pet, look into pet health insurance,” he says. “The older pets get, the more insurance will cost, so starting sooner than later will benefit what you pay monthly in the long run.”

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