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Big Dogs And The Elderly: What You Should Consider

Many senior citizens consider dogs as more than just companions; they see dogs as protection. Elderly people who live alone often rely on dogs to scare off burglars and would-be muggers. As a result, many seniors look for big breeds like German Shepherds and Mastiffs for maximum protection. Nevertheless, is a big dog the best choice for seniors?


Big Dogs And The ElderlySeniors should carefully think about their ability to care for a dog, especially a big one. Evaluate your ability to give a big dog a good home and a healthy living environment, before you bring one home. Here are a few things to consider:


Senior Community Standards. A big dog may not be allowed to live with you. Some senior assisted facilities ban pets altogether while some have size restrictions. If you currently live in a senior community, or if you’re considering it, realize that a big dog will restrict your choices.


Financial. Seniors on fixed incomes need to budget for the big appetite of big dogs. Realize that all dogs will require regular checkups and medication. Veterinarian bills can add up. Keep in mind that certain large breeds are susceptible to medical problems like hip dysplasia.


Travel. Big dogs are harder to transport. Will you be able to take your dog to the vet regularly? If you’re no longer driving, understand that taxis and buses may not allow you to board unless your pet is in a carrier. This may mean that if you can’t carry your dog, you can’t travel.


Control. If your physical health is waning, will you have the strength to control your dog? With proper obedience training you can minimize the need for brute force to control your dog, but you should have the muscle to constrain your dog.


Clean Up. How can we put this nicely? Big dogs make big messes. Do you have the energy to stay on top of cleaning up? A healthy and happy dog requires regular bathing and grooming too.


Activity. Many big breeds were bred for speed and open spaces. If you live in a small apartment think about how you’ll make sure your dog gets the exercise it needs.


Grand Kids. You may want a ferocious attack dog to keep you safe at night, but is that the kind of animal you want around your grandkids? Choose a breed that is kid-friendly if you have small grandchildren. (Editor's note: A Golden Retriever like the one in the photo is an excellent example of a big dog that can alert you to trouble but will be gentle with little ones. For more, see 9 Big Dog Breeds Good With Children.)


Lifespan. Some breeds of big dogs can live 12 years or more. If you’re an advanced age think about who will take care of your pet after you pass on.


With the right amount of living space and good dog training, a big dog can offer seniors friendship and security. However, before you select a pet to protect you make sure you can give that dog the protection and nurturing it needs.


Thanks to Brian McGovern for this post. Learn senior safety tips and get expert eldercare advice at


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Photo credit: Pete Markham

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