Please note the text size on this blog post is larger on purpose – this is not an accident.
It’s because my grandmother wants to read this post <3
This article is more than just a bullet point list of breeds seniors should avoid. This article will help you, hold your hand, guide you through the important questions and thought processes you will have when choosing the right canine companion in your later years.
It will address difficult topics, including the financial side of pet ownership, and the topics of health and mobility.
Not everyone finds it easy to talk openly about these things, but unless you are honest with yourself about all of the factors, you will make the wrong decision for yourself – and for a dog – in the long term.
And – as a vet and a fellow human being – I don’t want that.
Let’s get started, shall we?
AVOID: The Large And (Potentially) Unruly
Anything that is a) strong enough to pull you over, and b) requires strict and consistent training to prevent it from being a menace to society, is probably not the breed of choice for you, my senior friend (there will be exceptions/experienced individuals who can handle these breeds even in their senior years).
I routinely see burly, strapping young men in their twenties and thirties being dragged around my consult room by bulldogs and German shepherds that they are completely unable to control, physically or verbally.
This is annoying at best (especially when trying to conduct a veterinary examination, or even a simple nail clip), and at worst is unsafe if the pet is in any way reactive.
You need to consider whether you are really confident with the prospect of meticulous and thorough training. Accept this challenge, and you will need to put in the hours, day-in, day-out, especially whilst your dog is young, but also throughout life.
If you can’t be 110% sure that this is you, I’d strongly advise you to stay away from this category of dogs.
The ‘Large And (Potentially) Unruly’ category includes (but is not limited to):
- Bulldogs and Pitbulls
- German Shepherds (Alsatians)
- Labrador Retrievers
- Rhodesian ridgebacks
- Mastiffs, of any sort
- St Bernards
- Cane Corsos
- Belgian Malinois
- Dogue de Bordeauxs
Also be sure to consider the fact that large dogs are very expensive in terms of food and vet’s bills – I’m talking in the thousands yearly. Be sure you can comfortably cope with this before settling on a large breed dog .
AVOID: The Medium Sized And Temperamental
Especially guard dog breeds! For example, this category includes:
- Chow Chows
- Airedale terriers
- Staffordshire bull terriers
- Shiba Inu
- German pinschers
- Shar Peis (frankly, I don’t recommend anybody keep a Shar Pei. Some vets and many groomers won’t even see ‘em; not worth the risk of losing a hand)
Look, I understand the logic: a guard dog will keep me safe.
But a guard dog can also prevent you from getting your mail; put every delivery driver who visits your property at risk; and prevent friends, neighbors and possibly even family members from wanting to visit.
They can be a nightmare to control without exceptionally careful rearing and training (see above) and a pinch of good luck in terms of the genetics and innate temperament.
You have one of these, never did any training and it’s a lovely dog? Congratulations. You got lucky. Next time you might not be.
AVOID: Anything Super High Energy
Look, some seniors have better cardiovascular fitness than I do. I’m fine admitting it.
But unless you really can honestly say that you’re of significantly above average in terms of your activity levels (ie, happy and physically able to walk at a brisk pace for at least 2 hours daily) you should steer clear of these dog breeds. This rule applies to would-be owners of all ages, by the way.
It breaks my heart how often I am brought huskies for howling problems, collies for “destructive” behaviors like chewing up the couch cushions, and so forth, when actually the real problem is the lack of adequate daily exercise and mental stimulation.
You also need to consider your possible future circumstances. Again, this applies to every dog owner, but may be especially pertinent for seniors simply due to the honest fact that frequently health and mobility tends to decline as we age.
Before selecting a canine companion that requires daily extreme exercise levels, ask yourself:
– Who will cater for these needs if I am no longer able to, for example, if I am convalescing from an injury, or my health or mobility circumstances change?
– Is there a friend or family member who would be happy to help me with this rather large commitment?
– Can I afford, if necessary, a daily dog walker?
– And, if not, what is my back-up plan for if I’m no longer able to fulfill these needs?
Bear in mind that rescue centers are truly bursting at the seams and so this may not be an option, or at least, may result in your dog being prematurely put down.
‘Anything Super High Energy’ category includes:
- Herding breeds eg Border collie, Kelpie, Australian shepherd, Welsh sheepdog
- Sled dogs eg Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute
- Other “working” breeds eg pointers, Weimeraners, Vizlas
- Springer spaniels
AVOID: The High Maintenance
Unless of course, you want to spend every waking second literally going over him or her with a fine tooth comb.
These breeds are no joke when it comes to their grooming requirements. Neglecting these requirements will result in a companion who is not only unsightly and smelly, but also very uncomfortable. Fur mats encourage parasites such as fleas and lice; are heavy and tug at the dog’s delicate skin in a manner that is painful; and can disguise a multitude of skin diseases preventing these from receiving appropriate medical treatment.
This list also includes breed that tend to require routine (2-3 times weekly) ear cleaning and care to prevent recurrent ear infections. As a vet, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that you pet owners are frankly awful at keeping on top of cleaning your dog’s ears! I’m sorry, but it’s true.
High Maintenance breeds include, but are not limited to:
- Afghan hound
- Portuguese water dog
- Lhasa Apso
- Bearded collie
- Basset hound
- Cavalier King Charles spaniels
- All other spaniel breeds (from an ear maintenance point of view)
- Basset Griffon Vendeen
- Shetland sheepdog
- Siberian husky
The poor, persecuted huskies of course have already earned a red flag for being a particularly boisterous and energetic working breed…but I hereby bestow upon them a second red flag, for the amount of hoovering they require.
You need to be realistic, whatever your age, and brutally honest with yourself about what your budget is with regards to pet ownership. If you are on a relatively tight budget, for example, a pension, this may be especially true.
Think about what providing for a pet will mean in terms of the affordability of other luxuries (and yes, a pet is a luxury and not a right) that you enjoy.
Should you choose to welcome a dog into your home, you’ll be fully responsible for health insurance costs and/or vets bills; feed; grooming costs; dog sitters/walkers/daycare if applicable, and boarding kennels should you go on vacation. These things add up much more than you’d think!
Here’s a couple of examples (correct as of 2023, for ballpark UK prices) of what you might want to budget for a couple of different breeds on a yearly basis (as a rough average; obviously some months will be more, and some will be less). Figures are given in GBP and USD.
|American bulldog||German Shepherd||Border Collie||Cavalier King Charles Spaniel|
|Pet insurance (with a decent, lifetime policy)||£800 / $975||£500 / $610||£400 / $490||£300 / $365|
|Vaccines, flea and worming||£300 / $365||£300 / $365||£230 / $280||£210 / $255|
|Food||£500 / $610||£500 / $610||£350 / $425||£300 / $365|
|Grooming||£140 / $170||£360 / $440||£300 / $365||£250 / $305|
|Kennels for a single two-week holiday period||£335 / $410||£335 / $410||£315 / $385||£315 / $385|
|Daily dog walker||£360 / $440||£360 / $440||£360 / $440||£170 / $210|
|Other eg toys, lead, harness, ear cleaner, oral hygiene||£100 / $120||£100 / $120||£100 / $120||£150 / $185|
|YEARLY TOTAL YOU SHOULD BUDGET||£2535 / $3090||£2455 / $2995||£2055 / $2505||£1695 / $2070|
Is owning a dog the difference between you being able to enjoy that annual cruise, or staying home?
Maybe you’d have to give up a hobby you particularly enjoy such as sailing or golf?
Cut back on food costs, that nice high-end whiskey or wine you occasionally enjoy with dinner, or a smoking habit?
It’s important to consider these factors in advance so that you don’t end up unable to afford necessities such as healthcare for your pet. That’s not a situation anybody wants to be in.
I would also advise doing careful research on whether your chosen breed is prone to any specific health conditions; the likelihood of these developing; at what age they tend to develop; and the likely associated costs.
Carefully insure breeds prone to developing expensive health conditions, such as those below:
- Labrador retrievers – hip dysplasia, skin and ear problems
- Spaniels – skin and ear problems, allergies, elbow dysplasia
- Bedlington terriers – allergies
- French Bulldogs – brachycephalic obstructive airway disorder (“BOAS”), allergies, skin and ear issues, early-onset spinal issues including paralysis
- Other bulldogs – bone and joint problems, skin and ear issues, allergies
- Pugs – BOAS, skin issues, ear issues
- Jack Russell terriers – luxating kneecaps
- Chihuahuas – luxating kneecaps, eye issues
- Dachshunds – early onset spinal issues, including paralysis
- Yorkshire terriers – periodontal/dental disease
- Greyhounds – periodontal/dental disease
Ok…So What Breed Should I Choose Then?
I’m so glad you asked.
Consider selecting a small-medium breed. Especially consider a mongrel or crossbreed, as these tend to be far healthier and cheaper in terms of their vet fees.
Consider adopting an adult dog, rather than a puppy. This allows you to assess the dog’s temperament fully-developed, so you can be sure it is calm, obedient and pleasant.
A further benefit is that you can expect an adult dog to already be house trained, and ideally obedience trained to at least some degree.
You will also be doing a very good deed by providing a desperately needed loving home to a dog that otherwise might spend it’s life in a shelter or be put to sleep, rather than encouraging the breeding of more puppies in a world where our rescue centers are already permanently bursting at the seams.
I recommend careful budgeting (including for insurance), and adopting as an adult regardless of the breed you choose…but, if you want me to recommend a few actual breeds, other than the glorious mongrel, I’ll oblige:
- Border terrier
- Cairn terrier
- Chihuahua (smooth-coat variety); do budget for dental care with this breed
- Chinese crested dog
- Fox terrier
- Italian greyhound
- Lakeland terrier
- Xoloitzcuintle (Mexican hairless dog)
This should really be the end of the post.
But this is VeryRealVet, the blog where it’s frankly impossible for me to finish an article without risking offending somebody.
So, without further ado – please enjoy as a bonus feature the breeds I will be leaning towards in my golden years, complete with reasons that are far too honest:
- English Bulldog – it won’t outlive me.
- Pug – it won’t outrun me.
- Shih Tzu – it will always look older than me, no matter how old I am.
- Dachshund – we’ll probably both end up with wheels for legs.
- Chihuahua – even with the cost of living crisis, I won’t have to choose between feeding it, or heating my home come winter time.
- Labrador Retriever – will be exceptionally handy when my eyesight goes.
- Siberian Husky – will serve as an alarm clock even once I’m mostly deaf.
- German Shepherd – to keep family members far, far away from my valuables.
- Yorkshire Terrier – we’ll share a gummy smile after all it’s teeth fall out (at the age of eight).
- Beagle – it will easily locate my body after I die.
Disclaimer: please note that the above 10 breeds are listed purely as a joke and I really do not recommend them for seniors, or for anybody else for that matter.
Are you a senior? Considering getting a dog? Let me know which breed you’re thinking of going with, or maybe you already welcomed a canine companion in which case let me know what breed you chose!
I really do want to know 🙂
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