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When illness strikes our aging parents, what happens to their dogs?

As many of us know from personal experience, getting older “ain’t pretty.” With advancing age may come physical illness, memory challenges, and sometimes both. When a senior’s abilities to care for him/herself become affected, others are naturally impacted too — including a beloved pet.

As a longtime dog trainer here in Tucson, AZ, I’ve  fielded phone calls from dog  owners with questions on a wide  range of topics. I normally conduct dog training lessons with all age groups, lately I’ve been  getting many calls from concerned adult children whose  aging parents seem increasingly  unable to care for their pet dogs. This is due to many reasons but the main reason is some type of memory loss illness or confusion issue. 

Being loved always feels great!

unconditional love is a great thing for all of us!

 While this can present a heartbreaking scenario – no one wants to separate a pet parent from their beloved pooch — I begin each conversation by asking the caller a few key questions. My recommended course of action depends on the answers.

One recent caller sought advice about his mother who lived with her dog in an assisted living facility. I began my fact-finding by asking, “Does your mom sometimes forget that this is her own dog?”

I then described an elderly client who used to wake up confused and afraid of her dog. She would then chase the poor creature out the door, leaving it outside. The dog, of course, was bewildered as to why it suddenly found itself locked outside! Although this caller’s mother was not doing this, it opened his eyes to the fact that such a scenario could become an eventuality. 

Then I asked for details as to whether his mother’s care of the dog was beginning to go awry. Yes, he said, his mother was being very rough with the dog, and it was soiling inside the facility. It was important that the caller had noticed these changes. In many cases, the physical and mental condition of the dog will mirror that of its elderly owner. A dog’s poor hygiene (such as toileting inside), physical condition (such as weight loss) and/or behavioral state (such as frequent escapes) can mean that the owner is no longer able to care for it.  Next I asked whether the dog had been checked by a veterinarian to ensure it had no hidden health issues. The caller said this has been done and the dog was declared healthy.

I then was able to recommend that the best step would be to re-house the dog. Fortunately, the caller said a facility staff member had already agreed to take the dog. The caller then asked if I thought it was wise to allow the dog to visit his mother – whether or not that would make the separation harder. I suggested that he would just have to try it and see. The best possible scenario, I added, was that his mother could continue to enjoy being around her dog but be relieved of the stress of caring for it.  This leads me to advise every dog owner: Keep up with training your dog. We never know what life has in store for us! By maintaining your dog’s basic training and manners, we can help ensure the best outcome for its next life installment. A well-trained dog has much better prospects for re-homing into another loving home. If an aging senior in your life is beginning to show signs of being unable to care for their pet dog, these tips may secure the best outcome for both owner and dog.

This dog let’s his owner sit on the couch sometimes.

Invite the owner’s input — Allow the pet owner to have a say in the decision by asking who they would choose to keep their pet.

Adoption — Ask the senior’s friends to see if they can offer a new home to the animal.

Ask a variety of pet professionals — Veterinarians, dog trainers, pet sitters, groomers and others can link you to many good resources that can help re-house a pet. Animal shelters and breed rescues are also a useful option, and there are many non-profit organizations that will assist older adults in finding new homes for their pets.

Allow time for bonding — In the best circumstance, the current owner will help the dog transition to its new family. For example, the family might visit with the pet for several hours, take it for walks and/or engage in playtime. Then they could care for the dog in the new home for a few hours a day and then overnight before taking full-time ownership.

Keep in touch — The best adoption outcome includes ways for the previous owner to have continued contact with the pet.

Euthanizing a pet should be a last resort. Many seniors believe their beloved dog will never be able to bond with another person, but in most cases, this is simply untrue. A new loving family for a healthy dog ensures a happy ending all around.

Seniors and their Dogs

Dog Training Mobile

Helpful Links Below 

Explore pet health insurance. Pet insurance has gotten better over the years and can help save you money when unexpected pet illness happens.


Meals on Wheels of America will sometimes deliver dog food to those who qualify. Of course they help with human food too.  http://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/ 

 Humane Society of the United States website http://www.humanesociety.org/

Local Animal Control- Pima Animal Care Center PACC


About me:

My goal as a “family dog trainer” is to help my client and the family achieve their goals. Doing what’s best for the pack/family is key. https://www.dogtrainingtucsonaz.com/about-gerard-raneri/ 

We come to your home and help you with your dog in your home. 

Dog Training Mobile – Gerard Raneri – Family Dog Trainer/ Behavior Modification  520-440-8848  

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