Adding a new pet to your family can be a balancing act, and if you already have a senior dog, the challenges can be even greater. Older dogs can be set in their ways and less tolerant of the antics of a new dog or cat entering their household. Here are some tips to help make the transition smoother and easier on your senior dog.
1. Recognize that your older dog considers your house and yard as his territory, and he may consider any newcomer to be a trespasser. When bringing home a new dog of any age, try to make the introductions on neutral ground, such as the local park. This will help your senior dog feel interested in the new dog, instead of feeling defensive about an interloper. Start with both dogs on a leash, until you see how things are working out, and if either one seems shy or concerned, feed him treats in the other dog’s presence so he comes to associate the other dog with good things.
When introducing a new cat, it’s important to go slowly and let the animals get used to each other’s smell before they ever see each other. In the beginning, keep your cat and dog separated, and when you are ready to make the physical introduction, allow your cat to run free but keep your dog on leash. This allows the cat to escape if she feels nervous and prevents your dog from chasing or harassing the cat.
2. With any new pet in your home, do not leave your older dog and the newcomer alone unsupervised until you are sure of how they will react. Your senior dog may not have the patience for the antics of a younger dog or the teasing of a playful cat, and may become aggressive if irritated. If you need to leave the pets alone, crate one of them or isolate them in separate areas of your home. Once they have established a peaceful relationship, after at least several weeks, you can leave them together if you feel confident neither will be hurt or annoyed.
3. Remember that your senior dog has bonded with you for many years. Rather than being excited about a new addition to the family, he might feel jealous that he’s losing exclusive access to your attention. It’s only natural to give your new pet lots of love, but be sure to balance that with focus on your senior dog. Give each animal one-on-one time with human family members. And if possible, keep your older dog’s routine as stable as you can. Dogs are creatures of habit, and the more things stay the same, despite a new addition, the happier your senior dog will be.
Be cautious with special toys and treats. To combat aggression and jealousy, give high value items while the animals are separated. This allows them to enjoy their treat without being hassled. It’s also helpful to do your training while the pets are apart. And don’t stop teaching your older dog new behaviors just because a new pet has entered your home. If you get a new cat, your dog might require special training, such as a strong “leave it” cue that teaches your dog to ignore the cat, while reinforcing good manners. Using "sit" or "down" commands can help set a good example for a new dog in the house.
4. Keep your senior dog entertained with brain-stimulating games and toys. This will help keep him mentally active and young at heart, and therefore a better fit for a new canine playmate. In the case of a new cat, the busier your senior dog is with his own activities, the less the newcomer will bother him. Games like hide-and-seek are suitable for older dogs. You can hide around the house or yard and encourage your dog to look for you, or hide his favorite toy.
5. Proper nutrition may also help your senior dog stay youthful and playful. Look for dog foods formulated specifically for seniors with beneficial supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and glucosamine. These supplements may benefit an older dog’s body by easing aches and pains, and may also benefit him mentally by improving memory and cognitive function. Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind Adult 7+ contains these supplements, as well as enhanced botanical oils. Studies have shown that these oils, along with cognitive stimulation, promote mental sharpness and alertness in older dogs and can potentially boost their activity level and interest in playing, as well as help them cope better with change. All of which would help them better handle the addition of a new housemate.