Home Caregiving What do You Do with an Elderly Parent’s Dog?

What do You Do with an Elderly Parent’s Dog?

by Zac Martin
old man with a dog

People love their pets, and that love never really goes away, creating a particular problem when an elderly parent’s dog can no longer be cared for. People don’t just wake up one day and hate animals. But what do you do about your elderly parents’ dog? As they advance in age, it is going to become more difficult for them to take care of it on a regular basis.

You know they love Fido; you know he’s been a member of the family now for eight years, but now? Now Mom is dealing with needing a walker to move about the house and she’s barely able to take care of herself. How is she going to take care of a dog as well?

This is an all-too-common situation in the modern world that can easily leave one confused as to what the right choice is. There’s no denying that a choice must be made, but what is the advice that can help us rest in the peace that we’ve made the decision that is the best for all parties? You may find the below information to be of service here…

Is It Necessary to Find a New Home for the Dog?

The first question that should be explored is to whether it is absolutely necessary to find a new home for the dog. If it’s not, then you just saved everybody a whole lot of trouble and heartache.

old man charles bridge

It’s very likely that the senior will be able to keep their dog, they just need some help on a daily basis. There are a number of resources available online that can help one to find people who can be hired to perform these services. Resources to check include:

It is very likely that at least one of these above resources will direct you to somebody who is able to be hired to assist in daily tasks of keeping the dog healthy and happy. And if that can be done, then the dog doesn’t have to be gotten rid of to begin with.

Also, are there modifications that can be made to the house that will make taking care of the dog easier for the senior? If regularly getting up to let the dog out into the yard to use the bathroom is difficult/painful due to chronic knee pain, perhaps the addition of a doggy door could solve the dilemma.

If bending over to put a bowl of food and water on the floor is unsafe, could a ramp be made that allows the dog to walk up to the bowls? This would eliminate unnecessary bending for the senior, while making for an easy way to eat for the dog.

Should the dog have an accident in the house, are there tools one can use to clean up the mess without having to get down onto the floor? Perhaps a pooper scooper, a mop, and a disinfectant could accomplish the job?

The point is that sometimes this situation requires a bit of creativity. But, if you can think up a new solution, you may be able to avoid the hassle and heartache that accompanies the rehoming of a well-loved dog.

Benefits of Keeping the Dog

There are some benefits to keeping the dog that are worth considering, if this is a question you’re considering. For starters, keeping a dog may keep your elderly parent more active. Dogs require being let out to go to the bathroom, regular play, and regular walks. All those activities will get a senior out of the recliner and into the yard, increasing their daily levels of exercise – so long as it’s the right breed.

This, in turn, can lead to beneficial health effects for the owner. One study of 1000 Medicare patients actually found that when compared with pet-free patients, dog owners had 21% fewer doctor visits. All that daily activity adds up when it comes to long-term health. Considering that most of us don’t get enough daily exercise as it is – often lacking the initiative or desire – owning a dog can be a great added push to get one to move more.

Somehow, dog ownership also helps people to live longer. This is likely due to the combination of increased exercise and the constant companionship that they offer, but a metanalysis looking at research all the way back from 1950 showed that this is indeed the case. Fido is good for your lifespan.

If you’re familiar with the story of Roseto, Pennsylvania, you know how important a social life is to heart health. Dogs seem to help with this as well. Research has shown that 40% of dog owners have an easier time making friends than do pet-free people. Dogs serve as a great means of breaking the ice, allowing further conversation to follow.

A dog can provide increased levels of security for their owner as well. According to one survey done on twelve former burglars, the sound of a barking dog was one of the chief reasons they would avoid breaking into a house. If you’re concerned about the neighborhood that your parents are living in, this may be a fact to consider before you look at rehoming their dog.

When Re-Homing is Necessary

In some situations, the only truly viable option is to rehome the dog. There are a few signs that will help you to come to this realization. Some of these signs include:

  • The older parent has been diagnosed with a memory loss condition.
  • The home regularly reeks of urine.
  • Dog poop is scattered about the floor.
  • The dog is losing weight.
  • The older parent is no longer mobile.
  • The dog goes blind/deaf.

There’s Been a Recently Diagnosed Memory Loss Condition

If somebody has been diagnosed with a memory loss condition, they are not going to be able to take care of themselves. They most certainly are not going to be able to take care of a dog as well. To leave the dog with the owner in this situation is only possible when both the dog and owner are being moved to a location where they will each receive full-time care. Otherwise, the dog will not receive the daily level of care that it needs.

The Home Regularly Reeks of Urine

There are several reasons this could be taking place, but the meaning is always the same: the dog is not receiving the care that it needs. In addition to this not being fair to the dog, it also creates potential health problems for the senior.

Feces and urine are harbingers of disease. Illness is spread via contact with them, they pose slipping hazards, they decrease property values, and they attract pests. None of these are desirable outcomes.

The Dog is Losing Weight

This is because the dog is not being fed enough food daily. While Meals On Wheels has discovered that financially strapped seniors will often feed their dog before they feed themselves, there could easily be situations where the dog is not being fed enough food.

Whether this is because of forgetfulness, finances, or apathy, the final verdict is that the dog needs better care.

(On a side note here, should the senior in your life be on a very limited fixed income that is impacting how much they can feed their dog, Meals On Wheels does offer a service to assist in providing food for pets.)

elder man with dogs on a road trip

The Older Parent is No Longer Mobile

If wheelchair-bound, the senior is going to have a difficult-to-impossible time of taking care of a dog. This isn’t to say that people in wheelchairs should never have pets, but an older senior is likely in a wheelchair because of severe mobility problems that limit their range of motion. This can make it so that they cannot feed or take care of the dog as is necessary.

If these signs have been recognized, it’s time to rehome the dog. When it comes time to do that, first, see if there are any nearby friends or family who are happy to take the dog in. Let these be your first resource for rehoming. If this doesn’t work, try an online classified board, such as with Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or the newspaper.

Should nobody be able or willing to adopt the dog, you are likely going to have to give the dog to an animal shelter. These shelters are scattered throughout the country and receive “estate dogs” daily. They are no stranger to this happenstance. Perhaps the easiest resource for this would be the SPCA. They have facilities scattered throughout the United States, and likely in your town.

The Dog Goes Blind/Deaf

Not all reasons for rehoming a dog are the senior’s “fault.” Sometimes, the reasoning for getting rid of the dog is simply because of the dog itself. Older dogs are prone to going blind and/or deaf. When this is the case, the level of care that they require increases substantially.

The dog becomes a tripping hazard, will use the bathroom all over the floor, startle easily, and not be able to participate in much. If this is the case, when combined with other variables, it may be best to rehome the dog.

Taking the Pet to a Long-Term Care Facility

There are senior living facilities out there where pets are welcome. In this author’s experience, this tends to be strictly assisted living facilities – not nursing homes. Nursing homes are stricter and keeping dogs or cats within one is likely not going to be an option. This isn’t to say nursing homes with pet-friendly policies don’t exist, but they’re most certainly not prevalent.

an elderly parent's dog

If moving to either a senior living center or a nursing home in the near future and leaving one’s dog behind seems unthinkable, PetFriendlySeniorLiving.com may be able to help. This is a fairly complete directory of all the senior living and nursing home facilities throughout the United States that permit pets on the premises.

Should there not be any local facilities in your area found via that resource, we recommend calling the individual facilities in your area to inquire about their pet policies. It may very well be that they are not identified on PetFriendlySeniorLiving.com yet.

And if that fails, other options are going to have to be resorted to. 

How to Have the Conversation

Having difficult conversations – particularly with people we love – is never fun. This can be compounded if you have a stubborn parent to deal with. However, sometimes the conversation must take place. If you find yourself in the situation where you believe the best bet is for the dog to be rehomed away from your elderly parent, here are a few tips that we recommend following:

1) Speak the Truth in Love

Don’t lie to your parent. There’s no reason to here. Tell them the truth. You’re concerned about the dog, and you think it would be best that the dog lives with somebody else. Don’t be a jerk about this either. These are your parents we’re talking about. As an adult, you are perfectly capable of telling them the truth in as loving of a manner (loving does not equal condescending) as possible.

2) Get Them to Think About What is Best for the Dog

You’re not only doing this for the parent, but for the dog as well. Your parent likely loves the dog, wanting what’s best for them. If they can see that what is best for the dog is for it to be with someone else, and there is clear evidence that they can’t provide the level of care for the animal that they used to (e.g., poop all over the floor), then they may have an easier time with being okay with the final decision.

3) Assure Them You Are Looking for the Best Options Possible

If you go into a “let’s-rehome-the-dog” discussion passively and nonchalant, you are going to make your parent angry. They care about that dog and need to know that you are not dismissing that affection they feel for the animal.

One of the ways to do this is to assure them that you want the best option possible. Part of that convincing involves showing what the options are. When one can walk up to somebody in a dilemma and say, “Listen, this needs to be addressed, I’ve thought about it, and I really think we have four options. Here is what they are…” the person can see that care has been involved in the thought process.

In contrast, if one just walks up and says, “Hi, Mom. We’re getting rid of Sparky,” there’s likely to be a problem. You need to show that you have done your homework and empathize with your parent on this being a difficult decision.

Lessen the Blow

Nobody looks forward to having to rehome a well-loved pet, but there are times in one’s life where that may be just what needs to happen. Rehash the above advice though to see if that is a current stage of your life. Does the dog need to be rehomed, or are there other options available? And if not, how can you tell your elderly parents your thoughts on the matter while keeping our three above tips in mind?

What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you have more to add to the conversation here? Let us know in the comment section below.

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